Medical QiGong and Asthma
QiGong is a wonderful modality that is perfect for control and improvement of many chronic conditions including asthma and allergies. As a life long asthmatic myself, I have taken exceptional interest in asthma and immunobiology and have made it my focus as a naturopathic doctor.
With asthma afflicting over 20 million people in the United States alone, and with over 40,000,00 people suffering with allergies that can perpetrate into asthma, it is time that we look at alternative methods of dealing with this sometimes-fatal disease. I say fatal because over 5,000 people die each year from asthma attacks (National Institute of Health).
Asthma diagnoses are escalating in the USA with more and more children carrying inhalators of rescue medicine to school each year. I know this from working with the American Lung Association and the American Respiratory Alliance; two organizations dedicated to educating people on their options with this life-threatening disease. Classically they provide in-school education and asthma-camps sponsored by local hospitals to provide the latest breakthroughs and daily maintenance guidelines to children and parents as well as to friends of asthma.
My role with these organizations is to teach meditation and relaxation techniques to children as well as adults with this condition. Western allopathic medicine has noted the value of the relaxation response thanks to such innovative work by Herbert Benson, a cardiologist at Harvard University (Benson 2000). Predominately, I utilize Taoist QiGong techniques as my introduction to this world of relaxation and deeper breathing. I use the term Asthma QiGong„· to designate this system for its teaching consistency in presentation and techniques. The response by parents, teachers and healthcare workers has been tremendous, with interest increasing every year for the last ten years. Additionally is it wonderful for ancient eastern methods of treatment (QiGong) and western medicine to work side by side, mutually respecting and encouraging each other¡¦s work.
Theories abound on why the lungs are malfunctioning in asthma cases. The Lungs according to TCM theory are vital in that they control all the blood vessels and channels in the human body by infusing Qi into the blood and to assist the Heart. As we know in TCM there is a very direct connection between blood and Qi. Asthma may have several other contributors such as Spleen Qi deficiency and/or Kidney Qi deficiency. In addition, it may also have damp signs or heats signs associated, as well as cold and/or wind depending on symptoms and history presented.
Why asthma is so deadly? Asthma can attack anywhere in any environment, not just dusty hallways or in the middle of spring as the tree pollen blooms, but at work, play and even sleeping. Hidden dangers like dust mites, the little creatures that fed on our own naturally shedding skin and live in our beds. At night allergic reaction to their faeces can be a major contributor to nocturnal asthma attacks. Therefore, this apparent internal lack of control becomes the very catalyst, (anxiety) which then becomes a huge factor in the asthma exacerbation process. Learned helplessness has long been documented in western science as a cause of the fight of flight effect (stress or neuropeptide interference).
Asthma QiGong supports asthma by:
- Mental control of fear (Kong) and anxiety (You)
- Breath control and its unique affect on the internal milieu or pH levels
- Musculomembranous change through decreased tetany
- Medical QiGong exercise prescription
- Mucous control via specific tones
Fear (Kong) and Asthma
Having an asthma attack is a frightening thing. Imagine running as fast as you can up 12 flights of stairs with your mouth and one nostril tapped shut! This is what an asthma attack feels like. You don¡¦t know how to get your next breath of air and whether that will be enough to keep you from suffocating. Powerful emotions are elicited with the fear of suffocation, and with that huge amounts of neuropeptides are released in the body.
Neuropeptides, as defined by Dr. Candace Pert, a former researcher at the National Institutes of Health, are the molecules of emotion that affect every system of the human body (Pert 1997).
Fear and hypoxia combined become a lethal combination, especially if one has forgotten their rescue medication (Albuterol for example). Asthma QiGong becomes a modality to give a person an anchoring system of internal control on this roller coaster ride of emotions. It helps stabilize the body not only in its breathing mechanics, but also by controlling neuropeptides eliciting emotions, specifically fear or anxiety.
The reason this therapy is so effective comes from the understanding of the Wei qi fields and their relationship to defence from external or internal pathogenic factors. The Wei qi fields are kind of an invisible force field emanating from the body that allows our internal environment to interact with our external environment (allergy sensitivity or contact dermatitis for example). From a Taoist perspective, the three Wei qi fields link directly to the three Dan tiens (Cibik 2003, p 220-225) or energetic orbs that make up the vessel of the body. These three Dan tiens correspond also to the physical, emotional and spiritual (mindfulness) aspect of humans. This concept is a major thrust in the understanding of the inner alchemy of Taoist meditations and existence.
The Taji pole pierces through the three Dan tiens and its major throughway for energetic transfer similar to a two-lane highway where energy can come in, and energy can go out. It becomes our ¡§centre¡¨ and our connection to the earth and to heaven, in other words balance or homeostasis. Balance is something desperately needed during an asthma attack, first by controlling the mind (Shen), the emotions (neuropeptides) and then the physical body (pH levels), hence the three Dan tiens.
QiGong when practiced regularly becomes a modality to strengthen our resistance to external pathogenic factors to an otherwise sensitive individual, by strengthening the Wei qi fields. It allows us to balance the three Dan tiens and their attributes of mind, emotions and body and to become rooted to the earth but also connected to the Divine. What a wonderful peaceful way to maintain homeostasis!
Yin and Yang pH Levels
There are only two ways to control the Yin and Yang of pH or the internal milieu of the body, and that is by controlling post-natal Qi. Our food, water and breathing affect pH directly. When pH is too out of balance the body begins internal warfare to correct the problem before it becomes fatal. QiGong regulates the breath by exercise prescriptive movements based on factors such as the three Dan tiens or the Five-Phase theory. The Lungs in Chinese Medicine control Wei qi and also regulate pH levels in the body. When practicing Asthma QiGong„·, regulation of the breath via stimulating the various acupuncture points oriented on the Dan tiens begins to balance pH in the body¡¦s tissue, specifically the internal milieu.
One goal of exercise prescriptive QiGong is to bring the respiration rate down to six complete breaths per minute, or one complete inhale/ exhale cycle every ten seconds. It is interesting to note that all chants regardless of dogma or culture, work on this 10-second premise of time through spacing of breath and words. Additionally, many osteopathic doctors using cranial sacral therapy also notice a rhythm of 6 to 12 cycles per minute between the pulse of the cranium and sacrum.
QiGong releases increased tetany via the combined action of breath work and musculoskeletal movement that is both reforming but sustained and elongated; similar to strain / counter strain movements done by massage and physical therapists. This is especially true of an overly contacted sinew in the diaphragm. We know that the diaphragm attaches to the lower back at the Ming Men (Gate of Life) area. This area is a cornerstone of breathing correctly in QiGong practice.
Asthma QiGong also uses specific tones or sounds to purge mucous from gathering in the chest. The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm Sweden recently discovered that simple humming and toning could open and ventilate the sinuses from mucous! (Lundberg, Maniscalco, Sofia, Lundblad and Weitzberg 2003) QiGong practitioners have known about the purgative effects of vibrations for thousands of years, but confirmation of these ancient techniques allows more and more people the belief structure to try and benefit from them.
QiGong exercises are one of the most powerful and integrated therapies man has yet devised for his own health and well-being. It does not take any equipment, is portable and can be performed anywhere. I encourage people to look to QiGong as an adjunct therapy when treating any known disease or ailment.
Dr. Ted J. Cibik, ND, DMQ, HFI is Executive Director of Inner Strength, Inc. A board certified Naturopathic Doctor and one of only a few doctors of Medical QiGong (DMQ) in the United States. He has trained in martial arts (internal and external) and meditation for over 40 years. Look for his book 'Air Passages a Survival Guide to Asthma and Allergies'. Please visit him at www.inner-strength.com or www.inner-strength.org for classes.
Benson, H. (2000). The Relaxation Response. New York: Harper Colins.
Cibik, T. (2003). Air Passages. Leechburg: Oak Tree Publications.
Lundberg, J., Maniscalco, M., Sofia, M., Lundblad, L & Weitzberg, E. (2003). 'Humming, nitric oxide, and paranasal sinus obstruction', JAMA, 289, (3): 302-3.
National Institute of Health [online]. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, fact sheet 2005. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Data Fact Sheet. Available from: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/lung/asthma/asthstat.pdf
Pert, C. (1997). Molecules of Emotion. New York: Scribner.