[Note: This is part 3 in a series on chronic pain. Click here for part 1, or here for part 2.]
If I hear one more person say that it’s “just the placebo effect,” I’m going to kick them right in the placebo.
For example: “How does qigong work? Is it just the placebo effect?”
It’s the word “just” that gets me angry.
The only reason to put the word “just” in front of the word “placebo” is to discount it.
It should be the opposite. The placebo effect should be embraced rather than rejected. For the life of me, I can’t understand why people aren’t jumping up and down at the discovery of the amazing phenomenon called the “placebo effect”.
What the Placebo Effect Really Is
I understand what the placebo really is, which is why I embrace it.
When someone says “just the placebo” to me, it shows me that they don’t truly understand what it is. This is what I hear:
“It’s just an intrinsic healing phenomenon that has been documented to spontaneously reverse cancer and other diseases. Just that little thing.”
The term “placebo” first came into use in the 20th century. Henry Beecher, a doctor I mentioned in part 2 of this series, was actually a pioneer in placebo research. He was so fascinated by what he witnessed giving fake morphine to soldiers in WWII that he wanted to investigate further into this amazing phenomenon.
Good for you, Dr. Beecher! Thank you for exploring the placebo rather than rejecting it!
The placebo effect results from the belief that a treatment will have benefit.
In other words, the placebo effect is concrete, scientific proof of the mind-body connection. It absolutely proves that your beliefs and thoughts have a measurable effect on your health and wellbeing
And yet, this amazingly powerful phenomenon is being largely ignored.
It’s Not In Your Head
In part 2 of this series, I spoke about how chronic pain is often dismissed as “in your head”. (I explained that, technically, all pain is in your head because all pain is registered in the brain.)
People often make the same assumption about the placebo — that’s it’s all in the head.
It is critical to understand that the placebo effect is not just a psychological phenomenon. It’s not just in your head, especially when it comes to pain management.
Research on the placebo has shown measurable improvements that cannot be explained by mere psychology.
In part 2 of this series,, I talked about a fascinating placebo study using fake knee surgery (WSJ ink). It’s a perfect example of how the placebo effect isn’t in your head.
There are countless other mind-blowing examples of the placebo effect. The evidence is there if you look. I won’t bother listing all of the cool placebo studies because there are too many of them. Plus, I think it’s better if you get it directly from Western scientists, researchers, and doctors.
Here are a few more books to get you started:
- Spontaneous Healing by Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D.
- The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, Ph.D.
- The Molecules of Emotion, by Candace B. Pert, Ph.D.
Here’s a quote from another awesome book called Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, by Dr. Lissa Rankin, M.D.:
Is there scientific data to support the seemingly miraculous stories of self-healing that float around? You betcha. There’s proof that you can radically alter your body’s physiology just by changing your mind. There’s also proof that you can make yourself sick when your mind thinks unhealthy thoughts. And it’s not just mental. It’s physiological.
(Note: these are affiliate links, which means that I get a tiny commission if you purchase through them, at no extra cost to you. You’re basically giving me an Amazon gift card. Thanks for helping me to stay addicted to reading!)
Why There’s No Placebo In Qigong
So far, we’ve established that the placebo effect is solid, scientific proof of the mind-body connection. We’ve also established that Western Medicine prefers to ignore this phenomenon.
Meanwhile, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been exploring the placebo effect for 3000 years. (Remember that qigong is a branch of TCM, along with acupuncture and herbology.)
Of course, Traditional Chinese Medicine has never used the term “placebo”. In fact, the modern concept of a placebo” is completely foreign to TCM.
And that’s because TCM has never in its long history denied the mind-body connection.
Why The Mind-Body Connection Matters
When it comes to pain, we can’t ignore the mind-body connection. In part 2 of this series, I wrote about how pain that seems structural or physical is not.
If it’s not structural, if we can’t just repair the broken watch — then what is causing pain?
Simple answer: Your emotions.
In my previous 2 articles, I’ve explained the problems with the Western approach to pain.
The fact is that Western Medicine is useful for many things, but when it comes to dealing with chronic pain, it is failing 100 million Americans. And it is failing because it is looking in the wrong place.
Everyone knows that heart disease has an emotional component, right? People accept that stress and the emotions are involved, even though it would be easy to view heart disease as a purely physical issue.
But when it comes to chronic pain, no one wants to talk about the emotions.
At least, no one in Western Medicine.
Want To Get Rid Of Your Pain?
Whenever a student comes to me with pain, I always start inquiring about their emotional state.
“Sifu, it’s my low back that hurts!” they usually say. “This is a physical problem. Stop asking about my damn emotions!”
It’s incredibly difficult to change this kind of thinking. It runs deep in our culture, and even deeper in our subconscious mind.
I started getting terrible low back pain around the same time that my depression started surfacing. Back then, it never occurred to me that the two could be linked. Even after I learned about a possible link, I discounted it for years.
Whether you like it or not, this fact remains: You won’t find a long-term solution to your chronic pain until you address your emotional issues.
This is what I tell my students:
“If you want to get rid of your chronic pain, then first get rid of your false belief that your pain is purely physical.”
(As an aside, one big reason I wrote this 3-part series is to help students to finally get rid of those false beliefs.)
How Your Emotions Cause Pain
So how does it work? How do the emotions cause pain?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we have the Five Elements (五行, wu xing): Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood.
Each of the Five Elements is associated with a Meridian System. Furthermore, each Element is associated with an emotion:
In other words, for thousands of years, the Five Elements of TCM have recognized that emotions are a part of the healing equation.
Here is a simplified equation to help you understand:
The Pain Equation
- Emotional energy is a form of qi.
- If you have pain, then your qi is stagnant.
- If your qi is stagnant, then it is caused by either an excess or deficiency of qi.
- Whether the stagnation is caused by excess or deficiency, the solution is to circulate the qi.
- The best way to circulate qi is with qigong.
Why Qigong is Awesome for Pain
Qigong is like the love child of mindfulness and tai chi. When it comes to pain, qigong is arguably more effective than tai chi.
Keep in mind that all qigong is the same. There are many different styles and approaches. But the fundamental approach of qigong is different from both tai chi and sitting meditation.
Qigong is specifically designed to be medicine, whereas tai chi and sitting meditation are not. (This doesn’t mean that tai chi and meditation can’t be medicine; just that they weren’t designed as such.)
Here are 10 reasons why Qigong is so awesome for pain:
- Qigong uses movement – but gentle movement that anyone can do.
- Qigong gives you all the pain-reducing benefits of mindfulness meditation.
- Qigong gives you all the pain-reducing benefits of tai chi.
- Qigong is ridiculously simple.
- Qigong gives results faster than tai chi or meditation.
- Qigong is non-martial and non-religious.
- Qigong can be practiced even if you are overweight, in a wheelchair, or recovering from surgery.
- Qigong is non-addictive, unlike opioid medications.
- Qigong brings many other benefits in addition to relieving pain.
- Qigong works.
Read this article here about the most frequently asked questions about qigong.
Click here to start learning a simple qigong exercise called Lifting The Sky.
This brings us to the end of my trilogy on chronic pain. All over the world, millions of people are suffering from chronic pain. Because I have such an amazing tool with qigong, I feel obligated to help.
If you know someone who is suffering from chronic pain, please point them to this series, or one of my online programs. I’ll do my best to help them!
Did you find this series helpful? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! Best regards, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong (pronounced "chee gung") to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. Today, I'm the director of Flowing Zen, an international organization with students in 48 counties. I've been teaching qigong since 2005, I've served on the board for the National Qigong Association, and I’ve helped thousands of people to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. If you're ready to get started with qigong, there's no better way than my best selling book, which comes with free videos and meditations. The sooner you read my book, the sooner you can start healing! Click here to see my book on Amazon.
Kay Miller says
I had been doing Qigong for a few years … I then had a bad fall, breaking my shoulder in 6 places so then had a shoulder replacement operation.. I sincerely credit Qigong for a successful recovery in half of the usual time. Qigong for me can be miraculous….
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Sorry to hear about the bad fall. Sounds painful. But I’m glad you recovered so fast. And yes, qigong can be miraculous!
Oh yes!!Qigong is no less than miraculous! But one has to want to give up the pain.i struggled with fibromyalgia for17 years. Taichi did not help with the pain.It helped with spine alignment and shedding negative believes , but it was Qigong that helped me get rid of fibromyalgia (and the pollymyalgia I was diagnosed with after some accidents ) in so many years of practicing Taichi.
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Bingo, Vera. “Wanting to give up the pain” is part of clearing the mental/emotional blockages associated with pain. The truth is that a lot of people don’t want to let go of pain — and for good reason. The pain gives them something — an identity, empathy from others, a physical manifestation of spiritual pain, etc. This is why it’s so important to address the emotions!
I think it may not be clear in my comment that after so many years (17)of Taichi, I managed in 3 years to get rid of the chronic pain
Hi Sifu, have you researched neuroscience of Qigong. There could be an answer to this placebo nuisance. See this for example, http://www.brainmaster.com/software/pubs/brain/Faber%20Qigong%20sLORETA.pdf It sais Quigong increases alpha band brain waves power in some cortical areas. You may/may not be aware that alpha band brain waves synchronization can inhibit sensory input processing in the brain. In simple words, it means that Qigong does something real to the brain which makes us perceive less pain. Hence Qigong is not placebo but a therapeutic intervention. I know all of this because I am on another mind-body mission called Open Focus 🙂 See this http://www.openfocusattentiontraining.com/2015/02/04/the-science-behind-dissolving-pain-in-open-focus/ Best, Tomasz