Ten or so years ago, I had one of the weirdest experiences of my life when I attended a “healing circle” with a friend. There were approximately 20 people there, and two men were waving their arms and gyrating around the room, encouraging participants to chant in order to raise the female energy of the space. (The event was held at a karate school so they said there was lots of male energy left over from the classes.) Then the leaders asked participants to lie down on a table, one by one, as they waved their arms over their bodies to “heal” them. They told the rest of us that if our issues were similar to those of the person on the table, we’d get the same healing. As I sat scratching my head with bewilderment, I looked around and saw several people getting very emotional — even crying — including my friend. While I felt nothing, something did in fact happen in that room — the event served as my introduction to medical Qigong, a Traditional Chinese medical practice used to treat chronic illnesses, as well as physical and even emotional dysfunction. Just some of the reasons people seek out medical Qigong include the need for stress reduction, improved circulation, decreased chronic pain, better emotional balance and feelings of well-being, and a stronger sense of self-empowerment. I now use it regularly to keep what had been chronic back pain at bay.
Jeffrey Zimmerman, OMD, Doctor of Oriental Medicine and a Qigong master, who previously explained to Daily Health News readers about exercise Qigong, also practices medical Qigong. He has performed it on patients during open heart surgery to reduce their stress and afterward to improve surgical outcomes at the request of prominent cardiologist Mehmet Oz, MD, professor of surgery at New York-Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Zimmerman told me that medical Qigong is so unobtrusive it can be practiced even in a busy OR. The practitioner doesn’t even have to touch the patient, though he/she certainly can. The goal is redistribution and realignment of internal energy, the life force known as qi or chi. (Chinese massage does involve being touched, and it is sometimes mistakenly referred to as medical Qigong.)
In a routine session, which generally takes about 30 minutes to an hour, the client sits or lies down, fully clothed. The practitioner first takes the client’s pulses in the Chinese fashion, using three fingers on each wrist, since each side of the body provides different messages about the energy of the individual.
When “listening” to the pulses, the Qigong practitioner is searching for signs and symptoms that could be associated with any number of organs and energy systems, to make a diagnosis of which ones are depleted and where balancing is necessary. Unlike Western medicine, which focuses on the “sick” organ or area of the body, Qigong is based on the interrelatedness of the entire system. An example: Dr. Zimmerman often treats people with asthma, but instead of focusing exclusively on the lungs, he investigates the energy of the spleen too. If the spleen isn’t doing its job well, phlegm becomes thick and gets into the lungs. Consequently, Dr. Zimmerman works with the energies of both organs to bring them back into proper balance. Indigestion is another problem that often brings people to see him, says Dr. Zimmerman. For that he looks for excessive energy in the liver, which can cause stomach energy — normally downward-moving — to rise, resulting in heartburn. In surgery patients, since the experience is stressful to the entire body, Dr. Zimmerman works to support chi in the patient’s kidneys (he calls them “the batteries of the body”)… the liver, to keep blood flowing… and the lungs, to help with breathing. In fact, performing Qigong in the OR means he must go from system to system, switching gears as necessary in response to the patient’s fluctuating needs.
Once the practitioner has a picture of where the client is energetically, he/she adjusts the chi by moving his/her hands a few inches or more above the client’s body. Dr. Zimmerman explains that practitioners learn to feel the chi flow in and through their hands and eventually their whole body. “You coax it and listen to it,” he says. “It becomes clear whether you need to soften the energy, make it fuller or maybe firmer. Eventually the practice becomes an artistic interpretation and experience.” Medicine is both a science and an art. The effects of medical Qigong are sometimes subtle and may be difficult for the patient to feel, but they’re real.
Although most people who seek medical Qigong do so to address their physical health, Dr. Zimmerman told me that people also come to him because they are unhappy with the direction of their life. By helping realign their energy circuits, Qigong creates greater connection between the body and brain, and this corrected energy flow helps people get in touch with their true selves. Some people go on to make changes, but others, says Dr. Zimmerman, simply learn to appreciate the life they have. “I am not in charge of that,” he adds. “I listen to and help bring the body to its natural state, but the person’s body and brain do the work.”
To find a qualified practitioner, ask at places where tai chi is taught or that feature the healing side of martial arts. Once you have located a potential practitioner, meet him/her to see if you feel a positive connection. Be aware that some practitioners receive their medical Qigong training only from a weekend course — try to find someone who has more extensive training and experience. Costs vary depending on the area of the country and the nature of the clientele, anything from $50 an hour to hundreds of dollars. Dr. Zimmerman reports that it may take two or three sessions to address a specific concern, though some people experience an immediate effect. “If, after two to three sessions you feel like nothing happened, discuss it with your Qigong practitioner. He/she may not be the person you need or medical Qigong may not be the right healing modality for you.” However, he also has executive clients who come almost weekly because they find that Qigong helps them function at a higher level in business, as well as in their lives. “Skeptics have often turned out to be my most committed clients,” says Dr. Zimmerman.