With a heading such as the above you might understandably expect to read that qigong is a martial art that has the potential to turn an oriental military into an army of Bruce Lees, each man capable of felling 40 to 50 opponents on any given day. Since qigong is often mistaken as a martial art – it is crucial to clarify at the outset of this article that the only thing medical qigong martials is the body’s life forces, rebalancing them, or reinstructing them to promote optimal health and well-being. It is effective against many diseases but here we will focus on its ability to help destroy the masses otherwise known as cancer.
Medical qigong is an ancient practice and is thought to be the father of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and known to be the direct antecedent of martial arts, including tai chi. It employs various combinations of gentle movement, breathing, posture and visualisation to manipulate the qi (vital life-force energy – pronounced chee) flowing in and around the body. Assiduous practice over decades can create a qigong master proficient not only in knowledge of the TCM model of the body, but in the acquisition of special abilities which assist in the diagnosis and treatment of illness or imbalance, as well as the teaching of qigong techniques that the patient can use to self-heal beyond the consultation.
A common criteria for measuring master level competence is that they have the ability to do foetus breathing for a minimum of 15 minutes. This means that for 15 minutes they do not use their lungs to breathe, only their skin. Ironically, this requires suspension of all thinking! For it is our thoughts that require oxygen, more than our bodies! Imagine if this was your final exam at the end of a 10 year degree!
A TCM description of cancer
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been treating and studying cancer for over two and a half thousand years. The “bible” of TCM, a volume known as the Huang Di Nei Jing is the world’s oldest classical text (500 B.C.E.) to mention cancer and even discusses its causes both generally and specifically for certain types. For example, uterine cancer, it suggests can result due to an imbalance of the emotions of happiness and anger or it can be due to an inability in the body to adjust to hot and cold. If either or both of these conditions is left unchecked then the natural flow of qi in the body will be disrupted and this pathogenic qi can stagnate and will eventually coagulate and cause a mass or lump to form.
The earliest reference to breast masses appeared in the Zhu Bing Yuan Hou Lun (approx 600 A.D.) and describes the tumour as “a tiny lump that stays in the breast and is shaped like a small irregularly formed stone”. By the Fourteenth Century study and research based on the Nei Jing had elaborated to a more detailed description: they suggested that if a wife does not enjoy a good relationship with her husband, or with family members and others, then chronic worry, anger, depression, and nervousness will accrue in her day by day. This condition if left unchecked will cause a spleen qi or digestive system disorder, as well as liver qi stagnation. Eventually this will cause a small lump within the breast that causes no pain or itchiness. Many years later, this lump can change shape (like a craggy rock with many holes) and may form a breast mass or cancer.
Hence we get the picture of a chronic pattern of behaviour and emotions amassing (pun intended) over a long period of time. Factors such as stress, lack of rest, emotional and psychological complexities which lead to over-thinking or alcohol consumption to drown out the over-thinking, all combine to promote what qigong would call a tightness or a pattern of constriction in the person’s energy configuration. The question arises – how does one break up this pattern of ‘stuckness’ and constriction? Relaxation is an obvious answer and more and more, meditation or The Relaxation Response (a secular adaptation of meditation developed by Harvard trained M.D. Herbert Benson) are being used to assist cancer patients to ease their tension. Another logical solution would be movement, exercise – to break up the pathogenic stagnation and rigidity. However, walking or jogging have not been shown to have a marked effect on cancer. So we are looking for something deeper – something that reinvigorates ‘good’ qi movement and exorcises ‘bad’ or pathogenic qi. One answer lies in the field of medical qigong.
Anti-cancer medical qigong
The most widely acclaimed form of medical qigong for the treatment of cancer in China is known as Guo Lin Qigong or ‘walking qigong’. This style was developed by Guo Lin, a Chinese woman who contracted uterine cancer in 1949 at the age of 43. In 1960 it metastasised to her bladder. After six surgeries she decided to concentrate her efforts on qigong. She already practised qigong but found that her style of practice did not work so well for her cancer. Her uncle, who was a Taoist priest, had left her his manuscripts on qigong and from her studies of these ancient texts from the Sung Dynasty, she developed the Guo Lin style. She went on to teach this method all over China for over 20 years. Her legacy still lives on today in the form of a national organisation throughout China called the Anti-Cancer Association. It has helped thousands of Chinese cancer patients and is the only form of qigong which is unreservedly supported by the Chinese government. It is China’s most affordable, non-nuclear weapon against the war that is being waged by cancer.
Walking qigong is designed to expel external pathogens while at the same time replenishing any underlying deficiencies. It is widely recognised today that cancer is multi-factorial in origin and it is equally acknowledged that the ‘busy-ness’ of our modern lifestyle contributes in part to cancer’s growing epidemic. Many styles of qigong require the practitioner to slow down and be still, but this can be particularly difficult for many people who have cancer. Walking qigong includes sitting and standing postures, which are important components, but it is predominantly an active style of medical qigong which can be more appealing and in this case, more therapeutic, to cancer patients. However, fitness is not a prerequisite—if you can walk and breathe, you can do walking qigong!
There are several other forms of medical qigong that are extremely beneficial to cancer patients and of course the ideal scenario is to find a master who can tailor them specifically to your needs.
Qi – the prime ingredient in a weapon of mass destruction
It is impossible to properly describe the phenomenon of qi in such a brief article, but it is equally impossible to discuss medical qigong without, at least, a brief account of it. The following are suggestions that point you in the right direction:
- The life force that animates all things.
- An influence that effects all phenomena – for example the influence in the body that holds your organs in place (against the force of gravity).
- A dynamic, vital energy, encompassing the law of change and flux and the activity of the spirit.
- The most subtle, finest force at work in the universe.
There are many types of qi – the most commonly known are yin and yang, polar opposites that need to be in relative balance if we are to be healthy. As well as the qi we get from the air we breathe and the food we eat, we have reserves of qi. For example jing qi is a reserve of life force, the quantity of which is determined at the moment of conception and, as we get older, or if we are subject to acute or chronic stress, illness or trauma, we dip into this reserve. Yin and yang qi as well as jing qi can be manipulated by herbs or acupuncture.
Another qi that lies in reserve is zhen qi – the Chinese character for which translates as justice or correctness, hence it is variously translated as true qi, upright qi or resistance qi. No disease can penetrate true chi if it is maintained at a certain level. Most of us never really mobilise our true chi – approximately 80% of it lies dormant within us. Medical qigong can martial this force – even after disease has gripped us.
Both Western and Chinese medicines acknowledge the importance of the immune system in the fight against cancer. Ken Cohen, in The Way of Qigong explains:
“Qigong has always been considered an immune-enhancing system of mind-body healing. Although the concept of “immune system” is modern, the classical Chinese term bu qi, bu xue “tonify the qi and blood” has very similar connotations. According to Chinese medicine, when Qi and blood are strengthened, we are better able to fight off infection and disease.”
Medical qigong and Chinese herbal medicine aim to revitalise the immune system and optimise organic and systemic function. Qigong can stimulate true qi to invigorate the whole energy system, including the emotional and spiritual levels.
Cancer treatments are culturally influenced
Michael Lerner is a Yale professor who became interested in cancer when his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He co-founded Commonweal with Dr Rachel Remen (http://www.commonweal.org) a US non-profit organisation that conducts retreats for people with cancer. In his highly acclaimed book entitled “Choices in Healing—Integrating the best of conventional and complementary approaches to cancer” chapter 19, is titled Traditional Chinese Medicine—A Favored Adjunctive Therapy for American Cancer Patients. He comments (p. 392) on a study by two doctors who observed practitioners of Guo Lin Qigong:
“They also observed that the most outstanding common effect of qi gong was the improvement in the general condition of the patients, as evidenced by increase in appetite, gain in weight, increased vigor, better physique and increased activity. Further ….qi gong appears to have a significant effect in promoting rapid recovery from adverse reactions to chemotherapy and radiotherapy such as lassitude, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, hair loss, loss of weight, and reduction in the number of leukocytes and platelets. They inferred that the effect of qigong …..improves the patient’s ability to deal with the cancer by mobilizing and regulating the vital energy.”
In other parts of the chapter he points out that, based on the research literature, most Chinese medicine practitioners can be criticised for understating the promise of their treatments for cancer (alleviation of side-effects being one of the few aspects of their treatment which is not usually understated) and by contrast to many other forms of alternative medicine, they often support the use of conventional therapies. He also points to another contrast being “Researchers in China, Japan, Hong Kong and elsewhere conduct extensive research on virtually every aspect of traditional Chinese therapies—although not always to the standards that Western scientific medicine accepts”.
Lynn Payer, a noted medical journalist, conducted a study of the treatment of cancer in the USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan. One of its conclusions was that despite being modern, scientific countries, cancer therapies in all five countries are extraordinarily different from one another. For example, a woman suffering breast cancer in America is much more likely to be given a radical mastectomy than a woman in France, or England, where lumpectomies are more common, and for remarkably different reasons. In England, the National Health system guarantees the same fee to the doctor for a lumpectomy as a mastectomy. In America, the more complex and broad ranging the surgery, the higher the fee. In France, culturally they have a greater concern for the aesthetics of the human body as well as a preoccupation with what they call the inner terrain, which they nurture by going to health spas and taking large doses of vitamins and tonics while avoiding antibiotics.
Ken Sancier Ph.D. points out that it is not unusual for someone diagnosed with cancer in China to be given four to six months’ leave from work, with the understanding that their job will remain open for them when they return. The Chinese culture understands that cancer is complex and that many aspects of the person’s life need to change if a victory is to be achieved.
If cancer is caused by half a life-time of physical and emotional patterns, it logically follows that it is not enough to simply remove the physical mass that these patterns form, in the hope that it goes away. The patterns either have to significantly change or the patient needs to find a new well of energy to finance the old habits. Preferably, a little of both is attempted. Sometimes a new well of energy is required just to survive, to continue or to recover from the orthodox treatment of cancer.
In ancient times, one of the terms used in conjunction with medical qigong was Lian Dan —alchemy. Over time, this was misinterpreted and became associated with a search for an ‘elixir of immortality’. But when one’s body is gripped by a potentially fatal disease that has entered, at some level via the subconscious, it makes sense to find a modality which will enable these subconscious forces to be pacified, expelled and healed. It further makes sense to learn to listen to the body’s subtle messages and to find new ways to manoeuvre one’s mind, body and spirit.
In the West, due to Church influence, we have divided the mind and body. An ingenious decision by the Vatican, over 5000 years ago decreed that only they had the right to deal with our minds – doctors were warned off and told to limit their focus to the body. Hence in the West, the decline of the major Christian religions is facilitating the growth of psychoneuroimmunology (mind/body/spirit medicine), a new science. In the West we are raised to view the mind and body as separate. This is not so in the East. Medical qigong will demonstrate to you just how interconnected mind, body and spirit are.
Master Chun-jie Liu is a registered Chinese medicine practitioner and a Qigong Master with over 20 years’ experience in supporting cancer patients both in Australia and China. Specialising in cancer and complex disease, he recommends that cancer patients take advantage of the best Western medicine has to offer in addition to using medical qigong and Chinese herbal medicine. He is the founder of Aust-China Qigong Academy in Melbourne.
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