Physiological Mechanisms Operating in the Human System During the Practice of Qigong and Yoga/Pranayama

The three major areas of physiological mechanisms
initiated and enhanced by Qi Gong and Yoga/Pranayama
practice are:

  1. Oxygen

  2. Lymph

  3. Brain
    and Nervous System

The most ancient and refined systems of health self
care, Qigong and Yoga/Pranayama, originated in China and
India. Both systems have similar activities which include
breath practice, postures, motion, self massage, relaxation,
concentration, visualization and meditation. Science is
currently recognizing the value of investigating such
ancient health care systems. It appears that a broad
spectrum of physiological and bio-energetic events are
triggered by Qi Gong and Yoga and that these mechanisms can
be modified and refined by conscious and concentrated
practice. This review will explore some of the major
physiological mechanisms activated by the practice of these
simple, self applied health enhancement techniques of China
and India.

Actual research on Qigong and Yoga in the western
world is in its infancy although some work has been done on
the physiological parameters that may be influenced by
voluntary control of the body’s self regulating
systems.(1,2,3) There is, however, substantial research from
numerous disciplines of western science, (exercise
physiology, behavioral medicine, psychoneuroimmunology,
neurology, hematology, immunology and lymphology) that
explores states or responses that are similar to states or
responses innitiated by Qigong and Yoga practice.

Techniques such as meditation, progressive relaxation
and autogenic training have been found to alter heart rate,
blood pressure, brain wave activity (EEG), neurotransmitter
profile, peripheral blood volume, skin temperature and
muscle control. (EMG).(1,2,3) Exercise that innitiates only
minimal to moderate body movement has been found to be
effective and beneficial. Moderate body movement that occurs
within a context of deep relaxation, for example, is common
to both Qigong and Yoga. Western research on exercise,
relaxed states and other triggers of specfic physiological
responses are clearly implicated as useful resources that
may help to begin to build a body of scientific information
on the self applied health maintenance methods of the Asian
systems of traditional medicine. Key words such as
“breathing exercises”, “respiratory muscle training”,
“respiratory relaxation training”, “correction of
breathing”, “physical training”, “exercise therapy”, “mild
exercise”, “dynamic exercise”, “relaxation therapy”,
“autogenic training” and “meditation” lead to useful sources
in the literature. This paper will draw actively on the
recent literature of western research to point toward
mechanisms which may be operating in Qigong and Yoga

Research from the Asian cultures is more ample,
however, much of it remains untranslated. In addition, until
recently, the rigors held as essential to research in the
western model of scientific inquiry were generally
misunderstood in the more empirical model of the Asian
sciences. In 1988, The First World Conference on the
Academic Exchange of Medical Qigong was held in Beijing,
China. The abstracts of 128 papers, many of which are on
scientific subjects with necessary controls, have been
translated into english.(4) Further, excellent controlled
studies on Qigong, from China, and Yoga, from India, have
begun to appear on the Med-Line data base, primarily under
“breathing exercises”.

A major stumbling block in writing on subjects from
the traditional Asian systems of medicine and health care is
the “Qi” of the Chinese and the “Prana” of the Indians.
These words are not generally considered to have english
equivalents. There is a broad array of possible translations
including: bio-electro-magnetic energy, bio-energy, subtle
energy field, sum of all optimal human function, vital
energy, awareness, intention and others. Over half of the
scientific research articles from the 1988 conference in
Beijing have the word “Qi” in the title. Until Western
science has either come to accept “Qi” and “Prana” into the
scientific language, or to have generated agreeable
definitions, research literature using these words will
probably remain somewhat inadmissable in the west.

Bioenergetic research is not unknown to western
science. Harold Saxton Burr in 1935 described a system of
electro-dynamic fields.(5) He worked with the
electromagnetic currents in the bodies of salamanders and
then in humans which he finally named L-fields (life
fields).(6) Robert Becker reconfirmed Burr’s work and
applied DC current to regenerating salamander tails and
healing human bone fractures. In his work with the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) Becker clarified that the
perineural (nerve sheath) network is highly conductive.(7)
B.E.W. Nordenstrom has described the Vascular interstitial
closed circuit as a system of preferential ion conductance
pathways comprising a network of biological circuitry.(8)
There is some suggestion that even more subtle energies
resonate in the human system and may be projected over
sustantial distances.

One of the most interesting features of the Qigong
tradition is the phenomenon known as “Qi emission” or
“external conductance of the Qi”. Besides the self applied
aspects of Qigong through breath, movement and meditation
there is an application of Qigong to others performed by a
Qigong master or Qigong doctor over a distance. This same
phenomena has a rich history in the west as psychic or
mental healing. Healers in the Soviet Union have been
observed exchanging energy and heat into patients to help
balance their biological function.(9)

This area is of great interest and raises fundamental
questions in the interface of biology and physics. Such
expert applied techniques are a potential distraction from
the possible revolution in health care and medicine that
self applied Qigong, Yoga and other forms of self care could
provide. Whether self applied or procured from masters the
benefits of Qigong and Yoga/Pranayama, to be embraced by
Western science, will have to have a clear physiological
basis. Such a physiological foundation may actually comprise
the conductive media for the “Qi” and “Prana”. In any case
an exploration of the physiological mechanisms activated by
the practice of Qigong and Yoga/Pranayama is needed. In
instances, where it is clear that a particular mechanism is
highly probable but not assured through specific research on
Qigong or Yoga practitioner subjects, we will refrain from
absolute statements and defer to “may”, “possibly”, “seem”,
“likely”, etc with these words pointing to areas where
research is needed to demonstrate the mechanism clearly


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Written by Roger Jahnke OMD

Explore Wellness in 2021