Qigong Blog
In order to continue our mission of popularizing and demystifying Qigong, here is our latest addition in the form of a Qigong blog. And since Qigong is one of the modalities of Chinese medicine some articles will be about Chinese medicine generally. We hope you enjoy it. And feel free to comment :)
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Qigong – Is It Safe?

Well, yes but...

Through reading the previous articles, you’ve probably heard many times how safe Qigong is and how safety is one of its most prominent features. But, is it absolutely safe, something you can never go wrong with? Really, how safe is Qigong?

If practiced properly and regularly, Qigong indeed is one of the safest healing modalities in the world. But, if not, it can cause all kinds of problems, from minor to severe imbalances and even death. Well, if it is like that, then what makes it different to say western medicine, so often condemned for its intolerable negative side effects. The difference is, it can be unsafe ONLY “if not practiced properly”. Western medicine can be damaging even when applied in the most appropriate way. Almost every single medication (including the safest ones like aspirin), whether it is orally taken or externally applied, be it pain killers, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, diuretics and, especially, chemotherapy, have a long list of negative side effects. Some damage the stomach, some liver, some kidneys and some all of the above. On top of that, thousands of people die each year, in every country, as a result of medical negligence and through doctors’ / nurses’ mistakes such as patients being misdiagnosed and treated incorrectly, given the wrong medication, wrong dosage etc.

For Qigong to be that damaging, one would need to either do it very incorrectly, or practice it slightly wrong but consistently for quite some time. Or practice a style that is hard to master without proper guidance. Usually before one gets too far and enters a “danger zone”, one starts to feel all kinds of “warning signs” and should either stop practicing altogether or look for the causes. For example, instead of feeling great and full of energy during and after the practice, one experiences dizziness, exhaustion, nausea, palpitations, shortness of breath and feeling awful (not to be mixed with Qigong normal reactions and sensations during practice e.g. tingling, pain, itchiness, heat, cold).

There are more and more people practicing Qigong in the west, but so far, nobody ever died, at least not in Australia, that I am aware of. I must say that I did come across quite a few websites that teach Qigong downright wrong making it possible to cause all sorts of problems down the track (and they should be held accountable if they do) but even so, the potential harm is far beyond average western medical treatments. Compare this to the Sydney Morning Herald report that appeared on the front page in 2009 (July 27 edition) that claims “Hospital errors cause 4550 deaths a year”. In a country like Australia with a tiny population of only 22 million it is not criminal, it’s slaughter!

So, there is a big difference. The chances of getting harmed by practicing Qigong compared to western medical treatments are as big as being injured while on a beach compared to being in a battlefield. In other words, not absolutely safe, but much safer. You still might pull a muscle or sprain your ankle while playing beach volleyball, your skin can get burned or you might drown. But if you look after yourself, you can prevent most of those things from happening. In the battlefield though, even the most experienced are at great risk.

Nothing in this world is absolutely safe

Nothing in this world is absolutely safe, not even the most ordinary things in life, like eating, watching TV, talking, walking, even sleeping. Here are a few examples:

  • Have you ever heard of people who choked while eating and died? And how about food poisoning, it happens quite often, all over the world.
  • Watching soccer, seems quite enjoyable and safe, but think twice if you are in Europe and English teams are involved. Every now and then, somebody (often many) get killed even if they were innocent spectators or passers by.
  • Well, watching TV is definitely much safer, you would think. Until you hear stories of people who got so excited about a program they had a heart attack and died. Like a man who was so happy, when Mohammed Ali regained his world title after beating George Foreman in the early 70’s. Or others who shot their TV set. Or cases where a TV set exploded by itself and injured its viewers.
  • Once, there was a group of children playing during their school break and just as one of the kids was about to sit in a chair, another child pulled their chair back. The child fell back, choked on a piece of chewing gum and died.

There are too many examples, just look around you, think and you’ll come up with hundreds more. We are never absolutely safe. Qigong is not an exception either. Excluding those “bad luck” or “one in a million” scenarios in life that no-one can predict and prevent, there are risks and dangers that can be minimised or even completely eliminated, such as preventing car accidents by learning to drive properly. Or preventing buildings or bridges from collapsing by appointing qualified builders to build them, avoiding injuries and accidents to patients by asking qualified health practitioners to treat them (don’t laugh, there are many drivers without a license in Australia and many “self-taught builders” and “health experts” in the world).

Qigong is very much like operating a vehicle. If you don’t know how to drive it, you can be dangerous, not only to yourself, but to others. There are strict basic rules with regards to posture, the movements, breathing and mind focusing. The same as with traffic rules. The only difference is – when driving, by following the road rules, you get to your desired destination. With Qigong, you balance and strengthen chi, in order to get to another kind of “desired destination” be it treat disease, use it for Kung Fu or become a Qigong master. Just like there are different vehicles, like bikes, trucks and buses, there are many different styles of Qigong.

Even though most styles of Qigong are safe and easy to learn, there are much harder ones too, like a particular style that requires a teacher to be present every single day for three years, otherwise the student can do wrong and get harmed. You could say the difference between that style and many others is similar to the differences between driving a car and flying an aeroplane.

When used in treating diseases, 99% of the time, Qigong is a self-healing technique and should be practiced daily (the remaining 1% is when being treated by someone else). There is a saying in China that goes, “One day of Qigong practice equals one day’s worth of benefits. One day missed, however, equals losing ten days worth of benefits.” If you wish Qigong to work for you, among other important things, you have to practice it daily, otherwise you might be wasting your time. It’s one of the most commonly seen mistakes among western practitioners. Others (again, regardless of style) include lack of belief (often compared to driving a car without petrol), being impatient, techniques being incorrect etc.

When it comes to different styles, each of them has their own special set of rules. Here are a few differences between some common styles of Qigong.

Fragrant Qigong:

  • Should not be concurrently practiced with other styles of Qigong
  • Requires no mind focusing
  • Requires no special breathing techniques
  • Is very strict on performing the movements in the correct order
  • Not too strict with regards to exactness of movements
  • Can be practiced anytime, anywhere

Walking Qigong:

  • Requires special breathing techniques
  • Must free the mind of all thoughts
  • Not as strict about the order of steps
  • Quite strict with regards to exactness of movements
  • Most of it has to be done outside in the morning and in the fresh air

Spontaneous Five Animals Play Qigong:

  • Strict preparation and mind focusing throughout the exercise, but, because it is spontaneous and the movements are not voluntarily controlled, they can be many and varied (no two people practice it the same)
  • No special breathing techniques required
  • Can be practiced anytime, anywhere

With Qigong, effectiveness goes hand in hand with safety, i.e. if not practiced properly, it won’t work and is potentially unsafe. It is amazing how some people’s attitude is towards Qigong. When they are sick and looking for something to help their problem, they will do anything to get it. Yet, once they are introduced to a Qigong style that can help them, they often overly relax about it and not take it seriously. All they have to do is “help themselves”. But, no! Just look at them. They start to bargain with themselves and try to do less than the minimum required. For example - do 15 minutes instead of half an hour a day. Or, simply don’t do it at all some days, skip weekends and similar. Normally, they come up with: “I‘ve been too busy” or “I was too tired”, not realising that it is their loss and no-one else is going to care about their health and wellbeing.

Some time ago, I held an info night about Walking Qigong in the fight against cancer, and among the attendees was an elderly lady, a cancer sufferer who was extremely keen to learn. Since her cancer was fairly advanced, it was suggested that she start practicing it as soon as possible. But she ruled it out by saying she won’t be able to start before February (which was a couple of months later, in cancer years - eternity). Alright, I said, but just out of curiosity, what was it that was so important that needed to be done first. “I have to make a trip to the South Pole.” Well, I don’t know how the trip went, but I never saw her again. And I know that she didn’t go back to her doctor because he told her there was nothing else he could do for her.

But, it isn’t all that bad. There are many people who do take Qigong seriously and practice it properly. As a matter of fact, there have never been more Qigong practitioners (outside of China) than today, and the number is increasing rapidly. Why is that so? Positive results and word of mouth no doubt. And this is just the beginning. The reason why it’s not 100 times more popular is largely due to media bias (well, actually, they hardly ever report on Qigong) and because of the above-mentioned attitude of many Qigong practitioners including the ones that have received great results. Here are a few examples that I personally came across and corrected their mistakes before it was too late:

Case 1: A woman practicing the Spontaneous 5 Animals Play Qigong, took it upon herself to totally skip the “opening” part of this style. When she first started learning the style, she of course learnt it properly from start to finish and received excellent results. After that, she got busy and stopped practicing for a while, but missed it, so she decided to get back into it again. However, that’s when she stopped bothering about the “opening” (a very important part in 5 Animals Play that should never be missed) and only did what she thought was good enough, which could potentially lead to all sorts of complications. Luckily, she found out in time about what a terrible mistake it would have been, had she continued eliminating the opening.

Case 2: An elderly lady who took it upon herself to do each movement of Fragrant Qigong 10 times instead of the minimum required 36. In practical terms it simply means that this person wasn’t getting anything out of it.

Case 3: This is about a girl and her boyfriend who not only forgot that Fragrant Qigong should not be practiced while practicing other styles of Qigong and similar disciplines (on a daily basis), but used it as a “warm up” before starting their meditation. With Fragrant Qigong Do’s and Don’ts this is a big NO, NO.

Case 4: A patient with very extraordinary results taught her mother Fragrant Qigong, then her mother taught her sister who mixed up the order and direction of a few movements and kept practicing this way for months. In the end, not only did she not get better, but she also developed vertigo. I cannot say with certainty that she developed vertigo because she did not do Fragrant Qigong properly, but again I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. To make things worse, she recorded the movements on her video camera and sent them to quite a few of her friends overseas. Luckily, I heard about this, corrected her on the order of movements and gave her acupuncture to treat her vertigo.

These were the few cases of people who did not do it right that I know of, among hundreds of practitioners that practiced it properly. Due to a large number of practitioners in China, things like that are more prevalent. In other words, if one in a hundred does it wrong, there would be tens of thousands among millions of practitioners to have adverse reactions. This is so common that there are specialist clinics to treat all sorts of imbalances caused by incorrect practice. Unfortunately, for some, it was too late. Such as a case where a man with severe ascites (accumulated liquid in the abdomen, usually due to liver problems) who practiced a style of Qigong that involves fasting for days. Well, apparently, he disobeyed a very important rule, which was, if one feels great hunger, they should not continue the fast. However, because he wanted to persevere, he continued the fast, which caused further complications and eventually his death. It is a very powerful style of Qigong that can treat all kinds of serious conditions (including his), but one has to do it properly. Another practitioner became blind as a result of staring at the sun, which is a source of energy that many masters use. In his case, he didn’t have a teacher, he was self-taught and it went terribly wrong.

As horrific as it might sound, these cases are still as seldom seen as accidents that can happen on the beach. If you cannot swim, then don’t go in too deep, or learn how to swim properly. And remember: Battlefields are not any safer!!

How to avoid and deal with problems caused by Qigong:

  • Prevention is always better than treating these problems
  • No need to be scared of practicing Qigong
  • Take Qigong seriously, learn it properly and practice it under supervision
  • Gather enough experience before attempting to teach anyone
  • If in doubt, check with the teacher or stop practicing.
  • If you develop any problems, consult an experienced Chinese medicine practitioner (they can be treated by acupuncture or herbs)
  • Read more about Qigong, Chinese medicine, Daoism, spirituality, etc. to familiarize yourself with the basics: chi, yin yang, wholistic approach,…

And how about this:

You’ve done Qigong for quite some time but you’re still sick?

Ask yourself:

Did you do the right style?
Because there are tens of thousands of different styles and some have nothing to do with health.

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