to Traditional Chinese Medicine, a life-force energy called qi
permeates all living things. Good health requires an ample and flowing
supply of qi (also chi,
Depleted by the demands of daily living, qi is
naturally replenished through breathing, eating, and closeness to
nature; it is deliberately enhanced by meditation, qigong, tai chi, and
other principles of traditional Chinese medicine, such as acupuncture.
When qi is consistently diminished, out of balance, or polluted,
sickness ensues; its absence means death.
Unfortunately, in people with a physical
disability, qi can stagnate and become unbalanced, increasing the
likelihood of illness. Therefore, it is especially important for these
individuals to stimulate qi flow.
Influenced by a variety of Eastern spiritual
philosophies over its 5,000-year history, qigong (pronounced “chee
gung”) evolved to include medical, martial arts, spiritual, and,
recently, business applications. China’s current Communist government
has been ambivalent toward qigong, sometimes encouraging it as a
valuable home-grown healing tradition, and at other times viewing it as
a counter-revolutionary vestige of the past. Because spiritual movements
often force social change, the Chinese government recently cracked down
on a form of qigong (falun gong) that stresses qigong’s spiritual
Qigong-related practices encompass gentle
movements, breathing, and meditative practices. According to author Kenneth
Cohen, qigong “means working with the life energy, learning how to
control the flow and distribution of qi to improve the health and
harmony of mind and body.”
It is a holistic, mind-body-spirit system of
self-healing. Already one of the world’s most popular healing
exercises in terms of total number of practitioners, Qigong is
increasingly being embraced by health-conscious Westerners.
Most qigong practices are relatively
straightforward and easily mastered. However, because many different
techniques exist, this article cannot provide in-depth specifics.
Readers should look at the reference books listed below.
With slight adjustments, most exercises are
possible from standing, seated or prone positions, and, in the case of
spinal cord dysfunction (SCD) with or without arm movement (see
illustration). As such, qigong is an ideal activity for those with
Relaxation: Qigong’s relaxed, extended, open position enhances qi
circulation. In this position, the joints are relaxed, the spine is
straight and should feel long and extended, and the head feels as if it
is suspended delicately over the spine. There is a sense of connection
with the ground in which you feel as if your body weight is dropping or
sinking through the feet.
Visualize any aspect that
you can not physically do. For example, “see” a straight spine or
every part of your body sinking into the wheelchair and then into the
ground. Scientists have shown that thinking about a movement can cause
the same neurons to fire as actually doing it. Do not force movement,
but rather use intent.
Qigong stresses deep, relaxed, abdominal breathing. Although paralysis
often affects respiratory muscles, when you visualize this type of
breathing, the benefits of qigong will still accrue and enhance your
existing breathing capability.
Qigong emphasizes gentle, relaxed movements, closely integrated with
breathing. Unlike more active exercise programs that stress strength and
endurance, these movements are designed to promote energy flow,
stimulating one’s natural healing potential.
Self Massage: Massage
stimulates qi circulation, either locally for a specific area of pain or
stiffness, or at a distant location - massage of the ears, hands and
feet affects the entire body.
deep-relaxation, and visualization processes can have profoundly
beneficial effects on mental state and, in turn, physical health.
According to Cohen, individuals with a physical disability should
Bob King, a 70-year old retired high-school Spanish
teacher who lives in California, strongly believes that the qigong
practices he learned from Cohen helped him regain function he had lost
to due to post polio syndrome.
Although historically dismissing Eastern-healing
perspectives, many scientists are beginning to explain them through an
emerging mind-body discipline called psychoneuroimmunology. This is a
long word for a simple idea; basically, your emotions and psychological
states affect your physical health. From a psychoneuroimmunology
perspective, the qigong-induced mental states result in the release of
beneficial neurological agents and hormones that strengthen one’s
immune system, which, in turn, fosters physical health. For example,
qigong practice stimulates endorphin release, which is associated with
moods of well being or euphoria (e.g., the “runners high”); and
increases levels of DHEA, a steroid hormone associated with health and
Although the true nature of qi can only be
speculated, scientists have shown that qigong-related practices can,
indeed, generate a considerable amount of electromagnetic energy. Some
believe that the qigong-associated energy induces hormonal shifts, by
influencing the subtle electromagnetic fields that surround humans.
These fields, in turn, affect the brain’s all-important pituitary and
pineal glands, which secrete key hormones that regulate the entire body.
These master glands have been shown to be sensitive to electromagnetic
Interestingly, a clustering of magnetic substances
(called magnetite) have been found near these glands in an area
corresponding to what is called the “Third Eye” in Eastern healing
and spiritual traditions. These traditions believe that this “Eye”
is one of the body’s most powerful energy centers – one that can be
developed through qigong practice.
Consistent with ancient healing traditions’
beliefs that Earth has a special, life-sustaining relationship with man,
Cohen feels that qigong exerts a healing effect by facilitating
synchrony with the Earth’s resonant, electromagnetic frequency. Cohen
believes that such synchrony helps mitigate modern society’s
unhealthy, electromagnetic pollution (e.g., computer screens, high-power
lines, cellular phones, etc.).
& Visualizations for Spinal Cord Injury and Dysfunction:
Whether explained through ancient Eastern
philosophies or modern Western psychoneuroimmunology mechanisms, qigong
enhances health. In spite
of different origins, Eastern and Western medicine should complement
each other. They are both part of a healing spectrum, in which each
element provides valid, synergistic insights. Embracing qigong or any
other complementary therapy does not mean rejecting Western allopathic
medicine but availing oneself of an expanded healing armamentarium.
Such integration can only benefit individuals with
physical disabilities. Qi whiz!
& Resources: Special thanks are given to Kenneth Cohen for
assistance. For further information, consult The
Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing,
Kenneth Cohen (Ballantine Books, 1997);
The Healer Within: Using
Traditional Chinese Techniques to Release Your Body’s Own Medicine,
Roger Jahnke (Harper San Francisco, 1997); and The magazine Qi:
The Journal of Traditional Eastern Healing and Fitness (www.qi-journal.com)
(lists practitioners in various areas). For further information on
Kenneth Cohen’s qigong programs and video and audio tapes, call
888/373-4221 or see his web site www.qigonghealing.com.
Adapted from article appearing in Paraplegia News, January and
February, 2000 (For subscriptions, contact www.pn-magazine.com).