I get it. You wanted to feel better, which is why you started practicing qigong in the first place. You wanted to heal your body, your mind, and perhaps even your spirit.
And things were going great — until the shit hit the fan and the qigong cleansing began!
Cleansing that begins as a result of your qigong practice is a real phenomenon. It’s known by many names, including:
- qigong growing pains
- qigong cleansing
- qi detoxification
- qi purging
- a healing crisis
The good news is that qigong cleansing is a temporary phase, and it’s also a sign that you are healing! In fact, it’s often a sign that the qigong method you’re following is powerful!
The bad news is that it’s no fun. No fun at all.
Self-Diagnosing Your Qigong Cleansing
In this article, I’ll help you to determine whether or not you’re experiencing a bout of qigong cleansing.
First of all, you need to understand that cleansing happens in ALL holistic healing modalities including (but not limited to):
- qigong (and tai chi)
- Chinese herbal medicine
- massage therapy
Whenever you’re getting to the root cause of a health problem, there will be growing pains.
This is confusing for us because we’re used to Western Medicine, which typically just masks the symptoms of chronic illness rather than getting to the root cause. So it often comes as a shock when we undergo intensive healing and experience signs of cleansing.
Here are some common signs that you are cleansing as a result of your qigong practice:
- Old injuries start hurting again
- Your emotions become more volatile
- You experience bouts of mild diarrhea
- Your breath starts to stink
- You start to stink
- An old illness flares up
- You experience bouts of insomnia
Typically, you’ll experience two or three of these during a cleansing period. However, there’s something else that we need to look for, and it’s critical:
To accurately diagnose a case of qigong cleansing, one or more of the above symptoms MUST be combined with a general feeling of wellness immediately after your qigong sessions.
In other words, you should finish most of your qigong sessions with a feeling of wellness IN ADDITION to a few signs of cleansing.
What if you don’t experience a general feeling of wellness?
Then it’s possible that you’re experiencing something entirely different, something called Qigong Deviation.
The Truth About Qigong Deviation
A lot of fear has been generated since the 1950s regarding qigong deviations, and most of it is due to ignorance. In fact, many Chinese people are afraid to practice qigong because they have been warned about qigong deviation.
The Chinese term for deviation might explain why there is so much fear and confusion:
zou huo ru mo
escape fire enter demon
Yikes! Fire and demons? That doesn’t sound good! Not good at all!
Actually, this is just a classical expression but, as often happens in classical Chinese, the words are meant to be metaphorical, not literal.
Qigong deviation is real, but there are no demons, there are no fires, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. Even if you deviate, you can get back on track — if you have the right tools. And by the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what tools you need.
The most common type of qigong deviation that I’ve seen is what is often called Kundalini Syndrome.
Kundalini Yoga is an Indian practice and is thus not directly related to qigong. However, the qigong art called The Small Universe (Xiao Zhou Tian, also called the Microcosmic Orbit) is quite similar to Kundalini Yoga, and both practices have similar patterns of deviation.
Since 2005, I estimate that I’ve helped 3-4 dozen people to quickly heal from “Kundalini Syndrome” whether it was caused by practicing Kundalini Yoga, The Small Universe, sitting meditation, or some other esoteric art.
IMPROPERLY practicing these arts, I should say.
When practiced correctly, the Small Universe is not only safe but restorative. I have not practiced Kundalini Yoga myself, but based on what I’ve read and some discussions with experts, I think it’s safe to say that the same principle applies here. If you practice correctly — which includes the guidance of a living teacher — then you won’t experience deviations.
Or rather, deviations may occur but will be swiftly remedied with the teacher’s help.
When Your Teacher Can’t Fix You
Unfortunately, many teachers simply aren’t trained to handle qigong deviations. I can’t totally blame them for this. People teach qigong, tai chi, and yoga at many different levels, and that’s generally a good thing.
For example, someone who is teaching tai chi at a community center after having studied it for maybe 5-10 years shouldn’t be expected to understand the deeper intricacies of Chinese Medicine.
Of course, they also shouldn’t be teaching advanced exercises like the Small Universe, but that’s a topic for another day. (Click here to read my article on the dangers of the Small Universe.)
I think it’s important for teachers to be transparent about the limits of their knowledge, but it’s also important for students to have a highly-calibrated bullshit detector.
Too often, teachers try to give bullshit answers rather than just admit that they don’t know. As a student of qigong or any esoteric energy art, you need to avoid this kind of BS like the plague. It can get you into trouble, so it’s YOUR responsibility to detect the bullshit.
If you suspect that your teacher can’t help you through the muddy terrain that you’re stuck in, if you think he’s just bullshitting — then find another teacher ASAP.
Recognizing Qigong Deviations
For perspective, let me use Ray as a case study. Ray (not his real name) came to me in desperation. He had been practicing The Small Universe for 2-3 years out of a book. Despite many warning signs, like mental fog, mild chest pain, and anxiety, he stubbornly kept practicing. By the time he reached out to me for help, he was a hot mess.
He wasn’t sleeping, his mind was foggy, he had weird pains all over his body including headaches, and he had muscle spasms in his legs.
These are pretty clear signs of qigong deviation.
But here’s the clincher:
“How do you feel immediately after your qigong sessions?” I asked him.
“Honestly, I often feel exhausted and drained,” he said. “I often need to rest after practicing qigong.”
The fact that Ray didn’t feel a general sense of wellness after his sessions, combined with his other symptoms, makes his case a clear indicator of qigong deviation.
The symptoms Ray was experiencing were not cleansing or detoxing. These were the signs of his qi running wild.
Here are some typical signs of a Qigong Deviation:
- difficulty focusing
- mental fogginess
- strange pains all over the body
- muscle spasms
- chest pain*
- anxiety attacks
- fatigue, sometimes severe
*Note: because chest pain is a potentially serious sign, you should always contact a physician. It may be nothing serious, like in the case of a panic attack, but it could be something life-threatening, like a heart attack. You need someone to do a differential diagnosis on you to rule out more serious problems. I recommend that you also see an acupuncturist. Once that’s completed, we can analyze the problem from a qigong perspective.
How to Hurt Yourself With Qigong
It’s important to recognize just how stubborn Ray was. Despite the fact that he didn’t feel good after his sessions, despite the fact that he was getting worse and worse, and despite the fact that he didn’t have a teacher — Ray kept practicing. Every day. For 2 years.
This kind of stubbornness is an asset when combined with the guidance of a good teacher, but in Ray’s case, it was a liability.
In many of the cases I’ve seen, stubbornness played a big role. These students just kept practicing despite many warning signs.
Finally, Ray reached out to me. He found me because of my blog, and sent me an email. From there, he signed up for a private coaching package and we did a series of Skype lessons.
There’s a happy ending to this story, of course. With my help, it took about 9 weeks for Ray to correct the deviation and heal by about 90%. (The remaining 10% took a few more months, but he was still a happy camper.)
Typically, it takes anywhere from 6 weeks to fix a mild case of qigong deviation to 12 weeks for a severe case, so Ray was somewhere in the middle.
In other words, even if you mess yourself up badly, even if you deviate far from the proper path — you aren’t broken. You are fixable, as long as you have a good teacher.
Fixing a Deviation
The most important tool for fixing a deviation is…(drumroll)
Okay, I’m half-joking. It doesn’t have to be me. I’m not the only one who can fix a qigong deviation. But I do have a solid track record. As I said earlier, I’ve helped over 40 people to heal from qigong deviations.
Whether it’s me or someone else with a solid track record, it’s critical that you have someone — and someone you trust.
Why? Because when you’re experiencing a qigong deviation, it’s not just your qi that’s running wild — your shen is also running wild.
Shen is one of the Three Treasures of qigong, along with qi and jing. It loosely translates to “mind” or “spirit”. (Note: don’t confuse the Three Treasures with the Three Gems below. They are different.)
If your shen is disturbed, then it’s borderline impossible to fix it without help. You can get help from several people, including a psychologist, an acupuncturist, or even a close friend, but you also need help from a teacher (or healer) who has experience with qigong deviation.
So what do I prescribe to students who have deviated?
It depends on the specific case, but the first thing I do is ask them to stop all advanced practices, including sitting meditation. Then I typically teach:
- Entering Zen
- Smiling from the Heart
- Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow
- Five Animal Play
- Consolidating Qi at Dantian
- The Closing Sequence
Those who are familiar with my teaching will see nothing special in there. In fact, those are the basics of the 5-Phase Routine.
Bingo. And this makes sense, right? To cleanse a deviation caused by improperly practicing advanced techniques, it makes sense that the solution lies in going back to basics.
You can learn all of these skills in my online programs, but you might need additional help from me. At the very least, you will need to make contact with me within the program so that you know that you have an experienced teacher in your corner.
Cleansing is NOT a Deviation
Let’s get back to the topic of cleansing.
The unspoken fear that many students have once they start to experience signs of cleansing is that they’re doing something wrong. Even if they don’t know about the phenomenon of Qigong Deviation, they are worried.
Here’s the problem with that:
Worrying blocks the flow of energy.
In other words, worrying constantly about a Qigong Deviation will actually make a deviation more likely!
As I mentioned the most critical part of the diagnostic process is to answer this question:
Do you feel a general sense of wellness after you finish your qigong sessions?
In the case study above, Ray’s answer was the clincher. He didn’t feel well. He felt exhausted.
If you feel a sense of wellness after practicing, then you can relax! It’s not a deviation!
In that case, you have 2 choices.
- Keep practicing the way you’ve been practicing and push through the cleansing
- Cut your practice in half so that the cleansing is less uncomfortable.
I like to draw the line at my ability to fulfill my responsibilities. If the cleansing is so intense that I can’t focus on my work, then I take that as a sign to cut back on my practice.
But what if you’re not sure? What if you had a bad session this morning and you’re wondering if you’ve deviated.
The Qi Diary
I encourage all my students to keep a Qi Diary. Different students choose different formats for their diary. Here are a few examples:
- A beautiful journal
- Apple Notes
- A Microsoft Word Document
- A regular notebook
- An Excel spreadsheet
A Qi Diary is CRITICAL if you are a worrywart.
You absolutely need to keep track of your progress, ideally every day. It can be as simple as one sentence. Here are some examples of entries in your Qi Diary
- “Felt pretty good after 17 minutes of qigong today.”
- “Still some aches, but my mood is definitely improving.”
- “Not a great session today. Couldn’t focus for some reason. But I still did it!”
- “My knee seems to hurt less today. It was a 5 out of 10, and now it’s a 4 or a 3.”
- “AWESOME session today!”
By keeping a diary, you are constantly answering the question about whether or not you generally feel good after your practice. You have an ongoing history of your ups and downs with qigong!
This gives you PERSPECTIVE. If you have a bad session now and then it’s no big deal as long as the overall trend is one where you feel good practicing your qigong.
In other words, if you generally feel good after your sessions, if you’re getting a variety of minor benefits as well as some growing pains — then you can safely conclude that the aches and pains are part of the healing process. In other words, you’re NOT deviating.
If you suspect that you’ve deviated, then it’s important for you to reach out to me. (The details for how to conact me are below.) Together, we can nip the worrying in the bud. At the very least, if you know that you’re going through a cleansing phase, you can relax knowing that it’s not a form of deviation.
Conclusion: You Need the Triple Gem
If I could sum up what tools you need in order to deal with a qigong deviation, or even to understand and work through qigong cleansing, I could simply say this: You need the Triple Gem (or Three Jewels)
The Triple Gem is an ancient Zen philosophy that consists of (duh) three things:
- the teacher
- the teachings
- the community
If you want to succeed in your qigong healing journey, then these three things are absolute necessities.
You need a good teacher. Someone experienced, someone who doesn’t try to BS you, someone you trust. Your teacher is your guide and she will help you get back on track.
You need good teachings. In my school, that means the 5-Phase routine, the 4 Pillars of Qigong, and a systematic method. The basics are critical for fixing or moving past cleansing or deviation problems. The qi diary would fall under this category too because keeping a qi diary is one of my basic teachings.
You need a good qigong community, and yes, this can be an ONLINE community. In fact, for many of my students, our online community was the missing piece of the puzzle. Finding an offline community is not possible for many people because of their location. Luckily, the internet lets us connect no matter where we live. For example, I currently have students from 38 different countries in my online community!
If you want to connect with me or our community, then you have 2 options:
- Join our free Facebook group and ask a question there
- Post your question below.
Please DO NOT send me an email. Sorry, but I’ve already got too many pots on the stove. My Qigong 101 and 201 students are my priority, and they keep me plenty busy. In order to give them the attention that they deserve (and paid for), I simply cannot answer private emails or offer any more private coaching sessions.. 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.