Ch'i Kung (qi gong) is a form of mind-body exercise that takes many forms ranging from calisthenics to meditation. T'ai chi ch'uan (taji quan) is considered a form of ch'i kung as are hundreds of exercises developed over the years. Many recent ch'i kung are modern innovations which are short sets of movements that are easy to learn. Some methods are very complicated and take a great deal of study to master. Most ch'i kung exercises are considered safe for most everyone, but others are considered to have some risks associated with their practice.
We discussed this with Harvey Kurland, exercise physiologist and t'ai-chi instructor, Riverside, CA taiji instructor Ruth Villalobos and psychiatric nurse who used Dr. Tansey, San Bernardino taiji teacher who works with psychiatric patients as a resource. Ruth Villalobos found the definition of Ch'i Kung (qi gong) illness in the DSM-IV after talking with Dr Tansey, about this condition. Some students and teachers believe that the category of "Illness" may be specifically made up by the Chinese government to aid the Chinese repression of the Falungong. In any case, this is a problem that Western therapists should familiarize themselves with as the popularity of these exercises grows.
The official Ch'i kung Psychotic reaction is described by the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders as "qi-gong psychotic reaction: a term describing an acute time-limited episode characterized by dissociative, paranoid, or other psychotic or non-psychotic symptoms that may occur after participation in the Chinese folk health-enhancing practice of qi-gong ('exercise of vital energy'). Especially vulnerable are individuals who become overly involved in the practice." This diagnosis is included in the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders, Second Edition (CCMD-2) DSM-IV.
According to University of California Riverside t'ai chi ch'uan (taiji quan) and ch'i kung (qi gong) instructor Harvey Kurland, there is a general benefit of most methods which include a reduction of stress and generalized relaxation effect similar to what is found in meditation. He believes this non-specific stress reduction effect is what produces 80% of the benefits of the methods. Kurland says this non-specific effect explains that widely divergent methods produce similar effects in practice and those effects are similar to what has been found in research on yoga and meditation. This is similar to the "Relaxation Response" as described by Dr. Herbert Benson. Most methods are considered safe to do by the general public, though some teachers consider some methods dangerous.
Kurland believes bad results in ch'i kung practice may turn out to be due to some people already having a problem or imbalance, or a condition which is ready to emerge and the ch'i kung brings it out. He feels that some students who are "On the edge" or with a current emotional problem may be drawn to the "Magic" of ch'i kung due to their existent pathological psychological needs. Kurland speculated that "Psychological pathology due to practice may be a manifestation of an existing, possibly latent, underlying condition." He explains that in the realm of meditation similar problems have been described, where long sessions of meditation can result in hallucinations, dissociative and psychotic symptoms. These symptoms were considered to be abnormal by the meditation masters. The meditation experts teaching that such symptoms were undesirable. Some students seem to want to experience such dissociative episodes for recreation, similar to their use of certain recreational drugs. Kurland suspects these problems were also latent conditions in the meditators and not necessarily due to the meditation itself.
Some methods, such as t'ai chi ch'uan (taiji) and O'mei Ch'i kung (Emmei qi gong) taught by NWTCCA (www.ctcca.org), have shown to be benign and over the last 15 years no one has reported untoward results. T'ai-chi ch'uan has actually been reported to be used to treat depression in China as well as other ailments with good results.
In some styles of ch'i kung, such as Tian Shan and others, some problems have been reported by teachers and for that reason those methods are recommended only those who are mentally stable, physically well and well grounded. Students who studied t'ai chi for some time usually are in good shape energetically and emotionally to do those more dangerous ch'i kung. In the case of Tian Shan style, typically students are screened by the master before being allowed in that class and those who have certain physical or energetic problems are not accepted do that ch'i kung as even those with extensive t'ai chi training have had problems. Energetic problems are in the realm of Chinese Traditional Medicine diagnosis and not a Western medical diagnosis.
In public classes such standards are usually not adhered to. For that reason persons with mental illness should be advised not to practice these techniques without first consulting with their mental health counselors and be followed by their counselors for any untoward effects. Those who are taking medication should continue taking the medication under the advice of their physician.
Students should be advised to research the ch'i kung they plan to study to make sure it does not promote mental illness. And be advised to watch the instructor for any bizarre behaviors which suggest the ch'i kung mental illness process in the instructor such as magical thinking, inappropriate behavior, grandiose behavior, narcissism, or dissociate episodes.
This article is not to treat or diagnose any medical condition. If you have any specific problems please discuss them with a licensed mental health professional.
For more t'ai chi information go to: www.dotaichi.com or www.ctcca.org