Qigong legislation? Huh?
Those two words don’t seem to fit together. And yet, in the state of Oklahoma, there is a piece of legislation attempting to regulate the art of qigong.
Senate Bill 190 aims to establish an Oklahoma Board of Qigong that would regulate how qigong is taught and practiced.
So is this bill good or bad?
After reading this post, you can decide for yourself.
The Background in Oklahoma
Since 2003, there have been 4 attempts by acupuncturists in Oklahoma to govern Medical Qigong. In short, they have repeatedly tried to put qigong under their purvue.
There’s no doubt that this would be a bad thing for qigong. If qigong is going to be governed, it should be by qigong practitioners, not acupuncturists.
SB 190 was authored in direct response to those previous attacks. It was written by a fellow qigong practitioner, someone I know and respect. His heart was clearly in the right place, and his efforts to fight bad legislation in Oklahoma should not go unrecognized.
Something needs to be done to protect qigong practitioners in Oklahoma. But is this bill the right answer?
Ken Cohen’s Petition
Ken Cohen, a senior qigong instructor in America who wrote a classic book on the subject, has already taken a public stance against this bill. In an article on change.org, he lists 7 major problems with the bill, which you can read here.
As of this writing, over 1300 people have signed his petition. In a small community like qigong, that’s a lot of signatures!
Sifu Cohen’s petition is making the rounds on social media. Teachers and students alike are coming together in order to stand against SB 190.
News of this bill, perhaps because of Sifu Cohen’s petition, also made it to Channel 2 news in Tulsa. Here’s a snippet from the Channel 2 article:
“The bill would create the Oklahoma Board of Qigong, and the board would be ’empowered to determine the standards associated with qigong practice in the state.’ The board would charge up to $300 for a licensing fee, and investigate possible violations of the measure. Qigong would be banned in the state unless the person is properly licensed by the board. Those who are in violation of the measure would be subject to a fine up to $5,000.”
The bill even appeared in an article in Esquire! (Scroll down for the part about qigong and the Oklahoma bill.)
The Word “Qigong”
So what’s going on here? What’s the problem?
Part of the problem is with the word “qigong” itself. The word is notoriously problematic for many reasons:
- The term “qigong” was established by Liu Guizhen in 1949 to refer to several different Chinese self-healing practices.
- Before 1949, the arts that we now call “qigong” were called by names like daoyin, yangshen, neigong, or xiudao.
- There are literally hundreds of different styles and lineages of “qigong”, with thousands of different techniques. So qigong is virtually impossible to codify.
Another problem is the use of the term Medical Qigong.
Over the last 10 or 20 years, Medical Qigong is being used more and more often to refer to a specific, clinical branch of qigong. But let’s be clear that this usage is new. It’s not historically accurate.
Students often get confused by this new usage. That’s because many teachers, myself included, teach Medical Qigong for self-healing. In other words, we teach qigong techniques that can help heal medical conditions. (Click here for an infographic showing the 13 scientifically proven benefits of qigong and tai chi.)
The Medical Qigong that I teach is for self-healing. It’s not clinical therapy. It’s a form of self-care.
For the sake of clarity, I will call the clinical version of Medical Qigong as Clinical Qi Therapy. This makes it clear that there are 2 people involved in the healing process — the therapist, and the client.
Clinical Qi Therapy
In Clinical Qi Therapy, the practitioner emits qi to the client in order to facilitate healing. It’s a form of energy healing similar to Reiki (but older). Think of it as acupressure, but without physically touching the person.
This type of therapy is ancient and has its roots in Chinese Medicine, but it has been heavily promoted in post-Communist China. As a result, you’ll find Clinical Qi Therapy in many hospitals in China.
In the US, there are now many schools teaching Clinical Qi Therapy. Of course, they typically refer to it as Medical Qigong, hence the confusion.
Over the last decade, the Clinical Qi Therapists have attempted to co-opt the term “Medical Qigong”, thus separating themselves from the rest of the qigong community. I’ve even met Clinical Qi Therapists who believe that they are the only ones qualified to safely teach qigong for healing.
(Let me be clear: Qigong is safer than getting into your car. It’s arguably safer than yoga, karate, and tai chi — arts that need no government oversight and require no licensing.)
The Oklahoma bill would effectively cement the Clinical Qi Therapist’s modern definition of Medical Qigong into law even though there is no consensus in the qigong community and no historical precedent.
With this background, you may be better poised to understand the battle that is brewing between the qigong community and the Clinical Qi Therapists.
The 3 Main Categories of Qigong
Historically, there are hundreds of different qigong styles, but there are 3 main categories:
- Medical Qigong
- Martial Qigong
- Spiritual Qigong
(Note: I’ve previously written about the 5 categories of Qigong. Because there is some disagreement about whether or not Vitality Qigong and Scholarly Qigong are distinct categories or subcategories, I’m focusing on the 3 main categories that all qigong schools agree on.)
Clinical Qi Therapy is best viewed as a subcategory of Medical Qigong. The goal in both is to relieve pain and illness. The only question is whether we’re talking about self-healing or clinical therapy.
Despite all this, most styles of qigong don’t fit neatly into one category.
For example, Martial Qigong (like Tai Chi Qigong) is often used for deep healing. And people practicing Spiritual Qigong sometimes incorporate Medical Qigong to get rid of, say, low back pain.
So things can get messy. It’s hard to draw clear lines.
Unite Rather than Divide
So how do I feel about the bill?
The outrage surrounding this bill tells me everything I need to know about it. A bill like this should unite the qigong community against outside forces.
Instead, this bill has divided us.
It pits the Clinical Qi Therapists against the rest of the qigong community, with massive legal ramifications if they win.
Can I Still Teach in Oklahoma?
I’ve taught in Oklahoma and right across the border in Arkansas for over a decade. I also have certified instructors living there.
So can I still teach there?
The short answer is: Probably not.
Here is the line that concerns me most from the bill:
However, no person may represent themselves as a qigong medical or clinical qigong practitioner or qigong teacher in any manner, unless licensed in accordance with this act.
Yikes! That makes it pretty clear that I would need a license in order to teach in Oklahoma.
There are several exemptions listed in the bill, but those are not clear either. For example:
Exemption: “Persons who participate in general recreational qigong exercises for self-health and non-specific medical purposes and do not instruct others for profit or receive compensation through donations or by any other means.”
Recreational qigong? Non-specific medical purposes? Huh?
Can I teach a workshop called “Battling Depression with Qigong”, which is based on my own battle with Major Depressive Disorder?
Probably not! I’m certainly not going to risk a $5000 fine!
In other words, a respected teacher with 26 years experience who has taught thousands of students worldwide and certified dozens of qigong instructors — this teacher will need a license in order to teach in Oklahoma.
And who’s to say that I’ll even qualify for the license! Although I have thousands of hours of training from an accredited acupuncture college (that’s in addition to all my qigong training), my training in Clinical Qi Therapy was done mostly in Asia. I certainly didn’t attend a “Medical Qigong” college here in the US.
No wonder the qigong community is divided!
What You Can Do
I don’t agree with everything that Ken Cohen wrote in his petition, but I support his overall sentiment.
I oppose Senate Bill 190 and I signed his petition.
If you believe as I do that this bill is problematic, then you can do the following.
1. Write to Senator Rader before February 8th — especially if you live in Oklahoma. It will only take 2 minutes. Click this link, scroll down, look for “Office Information”, and then click the link entitled “E-mail Senator Rader”.
2. Sign Ken Cohen’s petition. Click here to read and sign his petition on change.org.
3. Share this post on social media using the links below.
4. Join our Qigong Teachers’ Alliance group on Facebook.
I’d also love to hear from you. Do you have any thoughts on this subject? Anything to add? Did I miss anything? Post in the comments below.Best regards, 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, 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.