I’ve heard it countless times. I’ve even heard it from my own students — during class!
“I don’t believe in energy!”
As soon as I use the word “energy” in the context of qigong, tai chi, or acupuncture, certain people get uncomfortable. And it never fails to makes me chuckle.
I like to have fun with these people. For example:
Them: I don’t believe in energy!
Me: What?!? You don’t believe in electricity?
Them: No, I meant that I don’t believe there’s some invisible energy flowing through the body.
Me: Oh. So you don’t believe in the impulses that flow along nerves?
Them: No, of course I believe in nerves! I just don’t believe in the Chinese philosophy that says that everything is made of Qi.
Them: I don’t believe in energy!
Me: So let me get this straight: You believe in a tiny device that can call to and from virtually anywhere in the world, take high-resolution photos and post them directly to the Internet, connect with the speakers in your car, and guide you to the airport — all without wires — but you don’t believe in energy?
My point, of course, is that it’s very difficult to intelligently say something like, “I don’t believe in energy!” in the 21st century. Perhaps 300 years ago, before electricity and before Quantum Physics, you could have made a statement like that and defended it. But not today.
Not when you have an iPhone in your pocket.
I Was Skeptical Too
When I chuckle at people who say that they don’t believe in energy, I’m also laughing at myself. Once upon a time, I didn’t believe in “energy” either. Twenty years ago, I was pretty strongly against the idea of Qi (or Ki as it was called in the Karate world). I had read about it in books, but for some reason, the concept was completely outside my window of possibility. I simply couldn’t allow myself to believe that an invisible energy was flowing inside (and outside) of the human body.
Just the idea of it made me uncomfortable!
So I did what most humans do when they are presented with an unfamiliar idea that makes them uncomfortable: I mocked it.
I decided that people who believed in Qi were just silly. There was no evidence of Qi, and these people were unscientific! (Not that I searched for any evidence, but you get my drift.)
This happens all the time. For example, I recently stumbled upon an Internet discussion about yours truly on a Tai Chi forum. Certain people were arguing that I’m not a real Tai Chi teacher because I talk about “new age hocus pocus” like Qi and opening vital points. In other words “real” Tai Chi teachers don’t believe in Qi.
Am I New Agey?
I can’t really blame the people who were criticizing me. After all, I was just like them once. So I can certainly empathize.
Nevertheless, let’s be clear that this stuff is not new agey. It’s ancient agey! Everything that I say about Qi is based on the theories of Chinese medicine, which are thousands of years old. Feel free to dismiss it as nonsense, but understand that in doing so, you have to also dismiss the driving theory behind Chinese medicine (i.e. Qi).
For those who are skeptical about energy, I recommend that you read the following book: The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe. It’s written by an investigative journalist, and it’s a real mind-opener. In fact, I dare you to read that book from start to finish without having your mind blown wide open.
Skepticism, Dogma, and Karma
Like I said, I always have a good laugh when I look back at my own skepticism. I especially think it’s funny how I drew dogmatic lines in the sand. “I won’t go past this line!” I told myself. Of course, that line was based more on emotion than on evidence. But I pretended that I was being all scientific.
Eventually, I had no choice but to cross my own line. I remember wrestling with the concept of Qi while reading a book about Quantum Physics. Although I was much more comfortable viewing myself as a solid object made of solid matter, science kept insisting otherwise. It insisted that I was made up of empty space more than anything else. It also insisted that matter and energy weren’t mutually exclusive.
E=MC2 and all that jazz. Whether I liked it or not, I had to admit that I was (and still am!) a vibrating mass of energy.
“What Einstein discovered and what that famous equation E=MC2 means is that mass and energy are basically two forms of the same thing. Energy is liberated matter, and matter is energy waiting to happen.” – Pam Grout
Eventually, science forced me to give up my dogma. (Or was it just my karma?)
I remained skeptical, but I turned into a healthy skeptic — i.e. someone whose mind is open to possibilities. Before that, I was not skeptical; I was dogmatic. I was not open to possibilities. I had made foregone conclusions based on emotions, rather than evidence.
If you think that science is completely free from dogma, then I encourage you to read an excellent book, written by a scientist named Rupert Sheldrake. It’s called Set Science Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery. It’s all about the dogma that is plaguing the scientific community. It’s another mind-blowing book. I highly recommend it.
The Earth is Flat!
So what is this Qi-energy stuff? Well, according to Chinese medicine, it’s a lot of things. For example, the energy that moves food through your digestive system (peristalsis) is Qi. So is the energy that creates insulin. So is the energy that creates new cells in your body.
If the nerve that controls your liver is impinged, then the impulses along that nerve will not be as strong as they should be. In Chinese medicine, we would call this a blockage of Qi.
But the term Qi also refers to an energy that can be projected outside of the body. Does that sound crazy?
Ack! Humans can’t project energy from their body? You’re making me uncomfortable! Stop it or I will mock you!
Actually, we project energy outside the visible boundaries of our body all the time. The electromagnetic energy from your heart, for example, radiates outward several feet. Several feet! Experiments conducted at the Institute of HeartMath have found evidence that the heart’s electromagnetic field can even transmit information between people. Not only that, but they found that one person’s brain waves can actually synchronize to another person’s heart.
Sounds like a form of energy transmission to me!
Does Western science completely understand Qi yet? No. Not yet. But it will. There are already some decent studies that beg for further investigation. Give it time. In another 50 or 100 years, I predict that Western science will have a much clearer picture of the concept of Qi.
Of course, even then, some people will choose not to believe. But don’t forget that some people still choose to believe that the earth is flat. That’s their prerogative, but please don’t call them scientific.
Do You Believe In Energy?
What about you? Do you believe in Qi, or energy? Or do you think it’s all a bunch of hocus pocus? Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.