History of Qigong

In the 1600’s the social, scientific and philosophical
history of western culture experienced a radical shift. The
work of Newton and Galileo literally revised our world. For
thousands of years the humans were locked in the stagnation
of the dark ages, with little advance since fire, the wheel
and the sword. Then, in less than the life span of an oak
tree, tremendous and sudden evolution occured with the rapid
development of engineering, the automobile and

Western culture is at the edge of another profound and
dramatic transformation. For the last 400 years we have
understood that the world was a dynamic interelationship of
substances, particles and bodies. Now, through the most
refined scientific inquiry, it has become clear that there
is no substance. What we thought was substance has been
revealed as a dynamic interelationship of energies. Physics
is now redefining time and space and generating a whole new
sciences of resonance and energy fields. There is even
emmerging agreement on a theory that suggests that there are
more than three dimensions of space and one of time. Again
as in the 1600’s everything is dramatically changing.

Oriental philosophies and the ancient personal
transformation traditions of the pre-colonial, original
cultures have always held that the world we experience
through our senses is but a fragment of what “is”. In
addition, an individual’s energy field is proposed to be
more central to who they are than their physical body. As
western science digs itself out from under it’s “seeing is
believing” position what occurs is a profound validation of
ideas and traditions that were called “mysterious”,
“savage”, “unscientific”, and “primitive” as little as a
decade ago. As we now use science to explain the “why” and
the “how” of the mysterious, unusual arts and disciplines
are revealed as practical and meaningful.

The medicine of the Asian cultures, which once seemed
so strange, useless and unsophisticated by the scientific
standards of the 20th century European world view is now
licensed as primary medical care in a number of states and
is a solid component in an emerging “new medicine”. Oriental
medicine is completely consistent with the supposed “new”
idea in rational science that a person is more of a
resonating field than a substance. The Chinese, however,
never demanded the scientific proof that is now pouring
forth, they just followed what they knew, from generations
of experience, to be effective and real. Acupuncture has
helped to needle science into the exploration and
confirmation of important new information on the
bio-electrical aspect of the human. It has played a
significant role in the exciting and rapidly developing
frontier of neurotransmitter bio-chemistry and is a central
aspect of a revolutionary new treatment for addictions.

Acupuncture,however, is really just a modality, a tool
used by doctors of oriental medicine to help the patient.
Like surgery, though much less invasive or like medication
though less likely to cause side-effects, acupuncture has
startling implications for the future of medicine. The
aspect of oriental medicine that has the potential to truly
rock the western world is Qigong. Healing patients without
touching them and with no medication, causing anesthesia by
just pointing a finger and generating an acupuncture like
response without needles are well documented effects of
Qigong. Many observers have seen Qigong masters light
flourescent tubes with their hands, break massive stones and
thick steel bars with their hands and feet and start fires
by projecting the Qi.(5,6,7,11,16,22) The implications for
the transformational impact of Qigong on western science are

Qigong has captured the imagination and the scientific
attention of the world. In China there is a multitude of
Qigong research institutes. The need for research in the
rigorous scientific method of the West, with control groups
and ample statistical mothodologies has shifted Qigong
research out of the traditional empirical model of the Asian
sciences. A flurry of research was presented at the historic
First World Conference for the Academic Exchange of Medical
Qigong which was attended by representatives from 17
countries. In the United States Qigong associations and
institutes are proliferating rapidly.

In the San Francisco area the American Foundation of
Traditional Chinese Medicine is working with Professor
William Tiller of Stanford University on a collaborative
research project exploring bioluminescence, expression of
photons from the Qigong practitioner. The Qigong Institute
of the East West Academy of the Healing Arts has a research
team and a monthly scientific forum. In Southern California
Qigong Universal is actively supporting the spread of Qigong
teachings and the World Research Foundation is collecting
Qigong information on its world wide scientific database and
in its library. There is even a Qigong Association in
Alabama, Chinese National Chi Kung Association, which has an
extensive written and video training course and has begun to
publish a magazine in collaboration with China Sports
Magazine of China that has a major percentage of its content
devoted to Qigong.

What is Qigong?

Qigong is one of the great myseries of the Asia. It is the
most profound of the aspects of Asian medicine. It is the
root of self-care, in the chinese health care system. It is
the essence of the how “physician heal thy self” operates in
China. Qigong is the grand overriding structure of the
martial arts and is the central practice of the “internal
arts”. It is the current link to the ancient source of Asian
shamanism and magic. And yet, with all of these qualities of
the unusual and the esoteric, Qigong has a very practical
role in the maintenance of health and the healing of

Cultivating the Human Bio-Electric

The chinese character that gives us the word Qi means the
human vitality or essential functional energy of life. It
also means breath. Bio-electrical breath, resonating
bio-electrical field and human bio-magnetic field are other
translation attempts that give a rich and graphic image for
the Qi. It is the Qi or life force that maintains the
healthy and harmonious function of the human body’s self
regulating systems. It is the Qi that the docter of oriental
medicine manipulates with acupuncture. It is the Qi that
binds the planets into a solar system, holds the electrons
in their orbital shells around the nucleus of the atom and
drives the sprout upward, against 14.7 pounds per square
inch of gravity, to reach for the sun.

The character that gives us the word Gong means “to
cultivate” or “engage in”. In every Asian community there is
a wonderful place called the cultural hall or institute of
culture. Sometimes it is called the school of physical
culture. This idea of culture derives from the act of
cultivation, which requires time, discipline and intention.
Gong means to practice, train, enhance and refine but it
also implies enjoyment, devotion and committment. If some
one loves to cook, garden or meditate and if they are
devoted to practice and refinement, then, one’s engagement
in these practices is Gong. Because one of the all time
favorite pastimes in China is gong fu, which in many
historical periods has meant fighting or boxing, the idea of
gong is often associated with the martial arts. . In fact,
however, gong is applicable to any practice, discipline or
self developement art in which a person is deeply

Qigong, simply stated, is the cultivation of Qi or
vital life energy. Stated in a more modern and scientific
language, Qigong is the practice of activating, refining and
circulating the human bio-electical field. Because the
bioelectrical field maintains and supports the function of
the organs and tissues, Qigong can have a profound effect on
health. Beyond this Qigong expands into a discipline of
mental and spiritual development. There are many systems and
traditions of Qigong ranging from simple calesthenic type
movements with breath coordination to complex auto
regulatory type exercises where brain wave frequency, heart
rate and other organ functions are altered intentionally by
the practitioner. In extremely advanced levels of practice
the Qigong practitioner can transmit Qi or energy across
distances and through substances. There are cases where the
practitioner can manipulate the limbs of a subject from a
distance and diagnose physiological disturbances without
conversation or palpation.(5,6,7,22)

History and Tradition: The Roots of
Chinese Light Alchemy

There is a growing literature on the history, tradition,
science and practice of Qigong. (1-24) Its origin is
shrouded in the mystery of ancient China. There are stories
of special techniques of breath practice that lead to
immortality, healing powers, and special abilities. During
the ancient Shang dynasty (1766-1154 BC) there is evidence
of a system to stimulate, what are now called acupuncture
reflexes, that help to resolve disturbances of the Qi.

During the Chou dynasty and the Warring States periods
(1100-221 BC) records appeared on bambo and on bronze that
refer to breath practice. A number of Lao Tze’s greatly
revered verses suggest breath practice and the benefits of
merging with the forces and elements of nature. A famous
prescription of the period is frequently refered to and
because of the wide variation of possible meanings for early
chinese ideograms it has many various translations.

The following translation is from Helmut Wilhelm, the
son of Richard Wilhelm who translated the “I-Ching” and
“Secret of the Golden Flower”.

“With breathing proceed as follows: The
breath should be held and it will be gathered. If it is
gathered, it becomes magic. If it becomes magic, it
descends. If it descends, it quiets down. If it quiets down,
it solidifies. If it is solidified, then it germinates. If
it germinates, it grows. If it grows, it is attracted
upward. If it is attracted upward, it reaches toward the
heaven. In heaven, it ascends upward still. At the lower
end, it descends still. Those who follow this will live,
those who act contrary will die.”(22)

The great Taoist poet/philosopher Chuang Tzu stated,
in 300 BC, “the ancients breathed down to their heels”. This
suggests that the breath, in the form of the Qi, is
projected and circulated throughout the body. In 1973 an
archeological excavation of a Han dynasty (220 BC-220 AD)
tomb in Hunan Province revealed a series of over 40 figures
painted onto a silk scroll doing various Qigong
movements.(22) It is reported that while many of the
inscriptions have become unreadable one is clear which says
“look skyward and exhale”.(22) In this same period one of
the first great acupuncture and herbal medicine
practitioners, Bien Chieuh, taught breath practice to
enhance the circulation of the Qi.(15)

It is a strong tradition in oriental medicine to teach
a person to maintain health and many famous physicians
developed systems of exercise. In the third century AD, Hua
To, whose place in the history of oriental medicine is so
illustrious that a series of important acupuncture points
bear his name, developed a series of Qigong exercises called
the “five animal forms”. In the sixth century, Da Mo, a monk
in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, also known as
Bodhidarma, came from India and found the monks of Shaolin
Temple weakly and undisciplined. He introduced a combination
of movement forms with Buddhist meditation that invigorated
the monks and increased their power. This was the beginning
of the tradition of the superior martial artists of the
Shaolin Temple.

Many lineages of Qigong have developed over the
centuries. The martial Gong enhances the the strength,
endurance and spirit of the warrior. The medical Gong can be
used to heal diseases. Confucian Qigong is focused on self
cultivation, ethical development and refinement of personal
temperment. The Taoist Gong is aimed at alchemical
transmutation, merging with nature, longevity and
immortality. The Buddhist Gong seeks refinement of mind,
transcending the world of illusion and salvation of all
living things.

In the “New China” following the revolution in the
1940’s Qigong briefly disappeared. One elder practitioner
reported through a 1986 LA times article that “At that time
it (Qigong) was witchcraft, so I chanted Maoist slogans like
everyone else.” The article continues “since then Qigong has
qualified for official patronage and a national society has
been formed to classify and describe the Qi”. In the 1970’s
and 80’s numerous institutes for the study of Qigong have
sprung up in China. Many hospitals now have Qigong doctors
on staff and Qigong classes as regular allied treatment with
acupuncture, herbs and western medical modalities. There is
a genuine renaissance of Qigong occuring in China. The
western world, with its tremendous breakthrough of quantum
physics, has taken up a sincere fascination with the
bio-energetics of Qigong.(7,11)

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Written by Roger Jahnke OMD

Explore Wellness in 2021