Qigong meditation and exercises have been on my mind lately. Nobody has shown serious interest in my offer to help them make scientific and medical history by proving an External Qi Healing ability in a simple, controlled study. Not even my $500 and willingness to split the James Randi Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge has drawn any confident energy healers out of the woodwork.
In the meantime, I’ve continued to study both the history of Taoism, focusing on external alchemy and demonological medicine (yes that means exorcisms of demons, often with talismanic magic), and modern research on Qi Gong. To be clear, I don’t believe in demons or the ability to turn lead into gold (except perhaps in a high end nuclear physics lab). But I’m very interested in the history, philosophy, and science surrounding all aspects of Chinese medicine and Taoist healing arts.
Research articles on External Qi Healing have been disappointing. More than one abstract’s summary made it sound like a test of external energy projection yet the full study actually allowed massage, acupressure, and even magnetic cupping in addition to waving the hands around with the intent to heal with Qi.
Spring Forest Qigong (a fairly new variant being promoted in the West) has a research page with a link to a PDF of Qigong research abstracts. I spent most of a weekend reviewing them in a couple more posts. The PDF was apparently compiled with every abstract containing the words “qigong” or “taiji.” I felt like I was the first person to actually read the whole thing, as whoever put it together didn’t take time to remove several duplicates (and triplicates!). Far from showing that Qigong (internal exercises or external energy projection) has an unusual effect, all of the decent research shows little if any difference between Qigong exercises and other forms of exercise such as walking, lifting weights, yard work or throwing a ball for a dog (one of my favorites). The most impressive claims for external Qi (changing cancer cells in Petri dishes) were all done in the same place in China by the same “famous” Dr. Yan Xin (of Yan Xin Qigong). He both was the test subject and co-author of the studies, and I found that he asked the observers to leave the room in one study so he could “concentrate.” Yet he also performed group Qi “healings” on a stage in front of thousands and claimed that his Qi could heal via cassette tape. Suffice it to say that his studies are not convincing evidence of anything except the need to be cautiously skeptical.
I’ve had a long history with Qigong, and have literally spent thousands of dollars and hours studying and practicing with the best authentic teachers I could find. The teacher I spent the most time with was Professor Chen, Hui-Xian, who was teaching Soaring Crane Qigong at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in the 1990′s. After 2 years of study (and lots of regular practice), I became a certified teacher.
I taught a few classes years ago. As I developed more insight and skepticism I couldn’t bring myself to promote the system of Soaring Crane Qigong with a clear conscience. Professor Chen’s repeated stories that her Master, Zhao Jinxiang, received Soaring Crane Qigong from extraterrestrial Bird People from the Blue Star had disturbed some other acupuncture students. I thought the stories were entertaining at the time (I was very open minded but didn’t take it too seriously and didn’t see the harm in it). She had integrated some other New Age beliefs into the Qigong teaching (which also contains some old Chinese superstitions which I will detail later), and said that the planet was about to go to a higher vibration and we should tune into the Blue Star Planet by chanting “911″ in Chinese during Qigong meditation so we could move up with it. I’ve written more about my experiences with Professor Chen and Mantak Chia in a fairly popular post called “Sex, Lies, and Qi Gong.” I also still have an older page up about my Qi Gong training and thoughts regarding the Third Eye and the psychedelic tryptamine DMT.
Given what I’ve written, it’s not surprising that a Soaring Crane Qigong instructor wrote me a letter after one of her students read my posts and asked her, “Is Soaring Crane Qigong a cult?” She wrote:
I have read your Internet comments and I understand that you have been disappointed by some of your teachers. I don’t believe this is an uncommon experience for many students as they learn and grow as human beings, whether it be with regard to qigong and Taoist principles or otherwise. The problem with airing ones discontent and negativity on the internet is that it can affect other people negatively as well.
My experiences with learning and now teaching the five routines of Soaring Crane Qigong has been one of quiet appreciation of a well thought out form of movement and mental imagery. I remember a Blue Star in Level Two training but no “bird people” were mentioned. While I have never had the slightest inkling of cult activity in the time I have been teaching the form, your internet comments caused me to ask questions of my teachers and conduct some independent inquiries. What I have concluded is this; considering not only the unique history of the form but also the comprehensive nature of the teaching, one or two sentences in the theory should not define the entire practice. Separating parts out of the larger teaching for the level of ridicule you have asserted seems unnecessary and overly judgemental. Especially in light of how many people the practice of Soaring Crane has helped.
The student who found your Internet comments decided to go ahead and learn the five routines after a long talk with me. She has late stage esophageal cancer and was introduced to Routine Three of Soaring Crane qigong at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Her qigong practice has made her life richer and more balanced but I worry that others might be discouraged or have fear of joining a cult because of your words.
I am curious about something. I noticed that in the section of your website that lists your qualifications and achievements as an acupuncturist you include the following. ”Kevin has received special certification to teach Soaring Crane Qigong from Chen, Hui Xian.” In light of what you have said about Prof. Chen and Soaring Crane Qigong, it might be a good idea to delete that sentence as it may discourage potential clients…
When I entered my forties I decided it was time to share more of my experiences and insights regarding difficult issues around Traditional Chinese Medicine. A huge part of this came about by discovering (in a book by an investigative journalist) that one of my most influential teachers had (unintentionally) caused kidney failure in a patient while I was in school, then settled out of court and kept it quiet. The manufacturer of the herbal tablets that were mostly responsible also settled out of court, but never did a recall of the 3 implicated formulas he had already shipped to acupuncturists all over the US. It was not an easy decision for me to write about this and make it more public. But given that a huge number of people in Taiwan have kidney damage and bladder cancer from these same herbs, and other practitioners in the US are still trying to obtain and prescribe some of these herbs to their patients because they believe in the tradition more than in science, I chose to be on the side of consumer protection and modern science. This makes me rather unpopular with the “true believer” crowd that I used to look up to. I feel much better, however, and am confident that if the best ancient Chinese doctors and Taoist alchemists were able to time-travel to my house, they’d appreciate my sense of ethics and want to learn about modern science.
I’m certainly not going to retract what I’ve written out of concern it will “discourage potential clients.” If someone is considering investing time and money to learn a Qigong system based on claims that it can cure cancers or other diseases, but reads my posts which honestly report the odd mix of superstitions and delusions underlying it (along with the complete lack of decent research showing Qigong has special curative abilities), I am happy to have helped them be more informed when deciding how to spend their energy. If someone reads my posts and is fascinated by both aliens and Chinese folk religions, they may choose to study Soaring Crane with an increased dedication.
Criticism and corrections are valuable to me. I remain very willing to edit or correct anything I write which is shown to be inaccurate. After receiving the letter from the Soaring Crane certified instructor, I reread my Soaring Crane book and another published interview with Professor Chen. Since I don’t want to “define the entire practice” by just reporting one or two sentences out of a larger context, I am glad to do a more thorough review of the claims, philosophy, and background of Soaring Crane Qigong.
This will take a few posts. Here is a preview:
1. Looking at the Chinese Soaring Crane Qigong book, we will see repeated claims that it can cure many serious diseases. Additionally, it is clearly based on Taoist and Chinese folk belief systems, including claims that at the higher level a practitioner will have super powers. I’d paraphrase, but a direct quote will be better (Zhao & Chen, page 102):
They will be able to see things far away or in the future, have remote sensing, be able to exam and treat patients from far away, as well as have other super powers far beyond the ordinary people.
I have not found any research supporting these claims.
2. Looking at another book, “A Gathering of Cranes,” we’ll see that Professor Chen Hui Xian (who told us in class that Qigong alone had cured her breast cancer) clearly reports in the interview that she had cancer surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and afterwards started to do Qigong exercises. She started feeling better and regrowing her hair, and she attributed this to Qigong. I’ll show that on more than one site promoting Soaring Crane, Chen’s cancer is mentioned being cured by Qigong but there is no mention of her surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. In the book from Part 1, Zhao Jinxiang reported that he invented Soaring Crane based on other Qigong exercises he had learned. In the interview Chen states that he was “given” the five routines “in a dream.”
3. Looking for other sources, I was surprised to read that another well-known Qigong/Kung Fu author clearly states that Zhao Jinxiang took Soaring Crane style from another teacher (Pang He Ming) and called it his own. I don’t know if that’s true, though it’s certainly more likely than Bird People from the Blue Star. I also have a book on the way to me, _Qigong Fever_ that has some more historical info about Qigong in China, including Soaring Crane. As is my practice, I will document everything as well as I can.
In closing this intro post, here is a quote from Zhao, Jin Xiang from the Forward to _Chinese Soaring Crane Qigong_ which encourages me to stick to my path:
Modern day qigong should make use of modern research methods and equipment. Although qigong is much older than present day scientific thought, it is suitable for modern scientific research. We should throw away any old ideas of a superstitious nature and bring qigong into its rightful place in the world of modern science.
(Zhao & Chen, page i)