Ah, teaching. You teach me so much.
They say that to teach is to learn twice. I like that phrase a lot. The more I teach, the more it rings true.
Recently, a prospective student asked a question in our Facebook group. This happens all the time, almost daily.
But sometimes, a question catches me off guard. Something about the question forces me, as a teacher and also a practitioner, to look with fresh eyes.
In the Zen tradition, we call this Beginner’s Mind (shoshin, 初心). The more you advance in an art, the more important it is to cultivate Beginner’s Mind.
The question that this student asked did exactly that for me. It made me pause and look at the issue from a new perspective.
Today’s vlog (that’s a video log, as opposed to a blog, which is a web log) is the result of that student’s question, plus the Beginner’s Mind that it caused in me.
I hope you find it helpful. I certainly did!
In this video I cover:
1:04 – The question that inspired this video
2:33 – Do we really need to understand how Qigong works?
5:18 – 2 requirements for success with Qigong
6:00 – The 13 proven benefits of qigong & tai chi (click here for the free PDF)
8:09 – Why it’s critical to ask the right question
8:36 – How qigong works from an Eastern perspective
9:38 – How qigong works from a Western perspective
12:13 – What I really want for you
13:15 – IMPORTANT! Cure or Help?
Scroll down for the video, or click the button below to toggle the transcript.
So we’re going to be talking about qigong specifically but of course a lot of this, or maybe all of it applies to Tai Chi. There’s a tremendous amount of overlap between the two arts. I’ve addressed that in the past that’s the topic for another blog post or another video. Let’s just talk about how it works, how it helps you heal and the mechanism behind qigong and also tai chi.
I got this great question in my Facebook group and it kind of caught me off guard. It’s funny because I have been teaching so long, since 2005, and practicing for so much longer, since about 1995, and you know I spend a lot of time answering questions and writing blog posts and I really try to engage with students a lot and this question is something that I’ve kind of addressed in other ways in the past but I don’t think I’ve ever really hit the nail on the head which is what I’m going to try to do in this video.
So the question that she asked or the statement that she made was: “I just don’t understand how something like Qigong can help with something like Parkinson’s disease”.
Wow what a great question and thank you! In the Zen world we have something called the beginner’s mind.
So thank you for helping me with my beginner’s mind – helping me to get back to what it must be like for somebody who knows very little about an art like Qigong and is obviously dealing with something stressful like Parkinson’s disease either in themselves or in a loved one.
You know sometimes it’s hard to wrap your mind around it so I’m going to help you get to the bottom of that in this video.
So first of all what is Parkinson’s disease? It’s a disease of the central nervous system. You know we see it most often with this shaking and the hands and a stiffness in the body but you know it’s really a disease of the central nervous system and motor control
It’s a really good question — how can something like qigong, this breathing, movement, and meditation technique — how could that possibly help with something that affects the central nervous system?
Well let’s get to the bottom of that. Let’s really drill that down and see if we can get an answer that satisfies the person who asked this question and any of you who are wondering something similar whether it’s relating to Parkinson’s disease or something else.
Now before I answer that, before we get into some theory and philosophy of qigong and Chinese medicine, and you know East versus West, let’s address maybe a more important question which is do we really need to understand the mechanism in order to use qigong or tai chi to heal?
And the answer is a clear no.
I know that can be confusing but it really is a clear no and the simple analogy is this: Do you need to understand how your phone works in order to use it?
And if you think you understand how your phone works I would really challenge that! This is a piece of magic that we all carry around. These phones are incredible. They are unbelievable in all the things that that they can do and although we like to think though we kind of have an idea how these cell towers work and Wi-Fi – now come on, we don’t really understand, at least not fully
We just have a very rough idea of how all these things work and yet of course we can take full advantage of our phones.
Now, the analogy isn’t perfect because this is a piece of technology and we’re talking about something different, but the human body and especially the human ability to heal is arguably a technology.
It’s something that is still, even with all of our amazing scientific knowledge, it’s a bit of a mystery. It’s an incredibly advanced technology and it can do a lot so I think the analogy is good even if it’s not perfect.
In the world of Western medicine there are many things where we didn’t or even still don’t know the mechanism. An obvious example is aspirin which came from an herb
For close to 80 years I believe, we really had no idea how it worked. We knew that it worked –there was evidence that it works — but we didn’t (I say this as if I’m some sort of scientist), the the medical establishment and the research community — they knew that it worked but they didn’t understand the mechanism and I believe it was only recently that they started to really get a glimpse into it.
Another good example and one that hits home for me is antidepressants. In the beginning with SSRIs (serotonin inhibitors) we thought that it was serotonin.
That’s why they’re so named. In fact many people still haven’t gotten the memo or gotten the news. This has been really conclusively proven that it’s not the serotonin but a lot of people still believe that depression is all from an imbalance of serotonin
It turns out that that’s not the case. So they were wrong about the mechanism.
But do antidepressants help a lot of people? Absolutely. Antidepressants didn’t work for me, they don’t work for a lot of people, but obviously they work.
Even if you’re wrong about the mechanism!
So that’s another example of something where even if you’re don’t understand the mechanism or in that case if you’re wrong about the mechanism something can still work.
I mentioned these examples so we understand that with something like Qigong or Tai Chi we don’t need to fully understand it in order to benefit from it.
What you need is quality instruction and quality practice. That’s really it. You just need to get in there, learn the art of Qigong, learn the secrets, really get some good instruction, and then of course you need to practice and along the way, just like any art, as you practice you’ll have questions and you have to deepen your understanding of the art and that will help you to heal better and better.
When I first started teaching years ago, and even before that when I was studying the art and I wanted to try to explain it to friends and family, there was a lot less research done on qigong and tai chi and meditation.
A lot of that research has been done in the last 10 years. It was different back then. I had to talk differently. I really tried to bridge East and West but explaining Qigong to a skeptic was harder then. I could still do it but it was harder
Now it’s a lot easier. Somebody who comes to me and says, “does qigong work?” well that’s a different question really.
Does Qigong work? Well yeah here’s a bunch of studies showing the benefits. There’s enough science on the topics of Qigong, Tai Chi, meditation, yoga — of course it’s not the same tradition but these are all connected arts. The research is impressive.
Yes, there’s enough science to show that something is going on there, but understand that these studies don’t always show HOW something is working.
They’re just showing, “yes we noticed an effect, we did a well-designed and well-conceived, well-articulated study and the results show that there’s something really going on here.”
And let’s do more studies! Of course even though there is more research being done and more and more which is fantastic the problem is that there’s not a lot of money in this.
The companies that fund other research studies, things that you can patent for example, that’s a big deal. Patents are a big deal. They’re happy to throw money at things that could make them money but with things like Qigong and Tai Chi there’s not a lot of incentive to fuel these studies because it’s not a billion dollar business.
But on the other hand there’s a lot of people doing fantastic work and still doing these studies conclusively proving in a variety of ways the various benefits of qigong, tai chi, and similar arts.
For example there was a study done about Parkinson’s disease and Qigong and Tai Chi.
Remember when they do studies and they mentioned Tai Chi they’re almost always doing some Qigong in there as well. It’s just a terminology problem.
But anyway this study was on Parkinson’s and it was very promising and we should see more studies like that and I think we will. I think we will see more studies like that and so we’ll have more and more evidence that it works. But do these studies necessarily show the mechanism?
No, they don’t necessarily show the mechanism. It’s kind of a different topic and I just want to mention this because we want to make sure that you’re asking the right question.
The question, “does Qigong work?” is clear and simple. Yes, it works for a lot of different things. It really helps the body to heal.
How does that happen? Okay well then let’s get into the topic of this video and let’s talk about that and flush it out both from an Eastern Western and Western perspective.
But just understand that all this is for your edification and for your peace of mind to understand it but it’s not totally necessary to get results.
Okay so how does Qigong work and Tai Chi from the Eastern perspective? It’s really simple. In Chinese medicine, of which qigong is a branch and arguably Tai Chi too if it’s practiced as a form of qigong, as a self healing routine as opposed to a martial art, or even if it’s practiced as a martial art. We could arguably call it a form of Chinese medicine anyway. I’m splitting hairs here but in terms of Chinese medicine the explanation is simple:
Qigong gets the qi, that’s your vital energy, flowing smoother. When your Chi flows smooth, then all of your body’s healing mechanisms and functions work better. And vice versa if you have pain or illness in your body, then in Chinese medicine you have some sort of blockage somewhere. They would call it a blockage, and you know arts like qigong and also acupuncture Chinese herbalism, all of which are kind of in the same family, they work to clear those blockages and get the qi or the energy flowing again. And then your body will naturally heal itself.
So how does that work in the Western world? What is this qi and what are all these blockages? You have to understand that qi is both literal and metaphorical. We could use the term energy which I think is useful and it doesn’t have to be anything mystical. We can talk about the energy that powers your cells, like the Krebs cycle, you know the actual energy down there the chemistry of your cells.
We can talk about the energy that powers your immune system or the energy that powers your digestive system. Not just the acids to digest your food and other things but the actual peristalsis that moves food through your system.
There’s an energy to that and really when we talk about qi in Chinese medicine we’re talking about all of this. We’re talking…they didn’t really have a concept of cells exactly although they were pretty close…of course we now have a microscopic view of the world and we have a very different perspective, but metaphorically the old Chinese perspective really works.
We can talk about Qi and use it as a sort of metaphor for a lot of the different functions in the body or we can just use modern terms and say that it gets the immune system engaged, it lowers cortisol, that’s your stress hormone and that’s a big one, it oxygenates the blood. And exercise is good for you and even though Qigong is mild exercise it is absolutely good for you and there’s a lot more evidence that suggests that even the very mildest of exercise when done regularly has tremendous benefits.
In fact it may be one of the most important things you can do for your health.
The hormone regulation and communication throughout the body, like the central nervous system, there’s a lot of ways that we can talk about this in terms of the body and how the body works and how meditative arts really get that energy or those mechanisms flowing again and that’s what’s happening.
That’s the simple way to look at it regardless of what we’re dealing with, whether it’s Parkinson’s disease or my personal case was with depression, anxiety, low back pain, a few other things but those are the big ones. How does this work?
Well it just gets the body’s healing mechanisms flowing. I like the word flowing obviously. I’m a big fan of that term and it’s a term that’s often used in the Chinese tradition as well.
So if you just view it that way, it just gets things flowing, well then that gives us kind of a satisfactory answer to help us relax and move on to other more important things, which are practicing and getting results.
That’s actually what I really want. I want to inspire you enough to look a little bit deeper into qigong. I could go on and on and on honestly I could probably go on for an hour on this topic but my real goal with this video is to just give you enough to go, “huh that makes sense,” and then to look deeper into this art.
I mean even just in my school literally thousands of people — just in my school, my students who have benefited from qigong and tai chi — and then if you zoom out you include all the other schools and you go worldwide I mean we’re talking millions and millions of people who have benefited from these arts.
Then you look at the research, you talk to people, and then most importantly, what I really want is for you to try this art, fall in love with it, see what we’re all raving about, get results for yourself, and then at the very least you can answer the first question we talked about which is, “does it work?”
And once you start to say, “yeah something’s really happening…I really feel better in a lot of different ways,” maybe not exactly what you were looking for and by no means am I suggesting…by the way, and this is important, I’m not suggesting that you practice Qigong and suddenly you’re Parkinson’s disease is going to be cured.
The question was does it HELP. Cure, first of all, is a loaded word in the health industry and I’m not using it here. The question was actually the word “help”. Does Qigong help? Yes.
Does it doesn’t help enough to warrant all the practice and learning that you need to do? Absolutely.
Qigong helps you feel better in so many ways that it’s absolutely worth it.
And that’s what we’re really talking about and that’s a big part of this video and my teaching.
I want to inspire you or pique your interest to look further, enough that you will not just research and look at Qigong but really try it, learn it, practice it, and that’s key – you’ve got to practice — and then start to see the benefits for yourself.
And then you’ll be one of us and you’ll understand where we’re coming from.
And then we can have fun and intellectualize and think about how this works, or we can try to research into it or we can have those conversations. But it would be nice to start getting the benefits sooner rather than later.
So that’s what I want for you. I hope this video was helpful. I hope you learned a little bit of something. If you have a question for me, like I said I’m very engaged with my students, so if you have a question for me, then you can leave it below. And you can also leave a question in our Facebook group which is very active.
I hope you enjoyed this video and most importantly I hope it somehow helps you to get more out of Qigong if you’re already practicing it, or if you’re not practicing it, to discover this amazing art and find out why so many of us are absolutely head over heels in love with this beautiful art.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Did this explanation make sense? Did it spark something? Or do you have a followup question? Let me know in the comments below. From the heart, Sifu Anthony