I was once reading a book on women and heart health by a well respected M.D. The beginning of the book told a story about a woman who had a heart attack and was taken to the emergency room. The woman complained to the doctor that she had been doing everything healthy and right to take care of herself, while her husband had very poor health habits. The woman was angry. “Why me? Why not him?” she said. The doctor cited “the odds” as part of the reason this woman had suffered a heart attack. The doctor’s answer rang so untrue within me that it killed my motivation to continue reading his book.
I do feel that statistical data can be of value. However, seeing it (“the odds”) considered as a cause or partial cause of a person’s health status is hard for me to accept. If “the odds” say that one out of ten women over fifty tend to have heart problems, this only tells us the health condition of this given population. But this information provides no insight into why that one woman out of ten is having heart problems.
So what does our heath depend on? Why do we get sick?
From the ‘Qi’ perspective, our health is affected by two groups of factors: internal (ourselves) and external (the environment). These two sets of factors interact and affect each other. The state of our health depends on both groups of factors. The most comprehensive way to explain the reason why we get sick is that our Qi is out of balance inside of our body. Both internal and external factors contribute to the state of our Qi.
The internal factors include the state of our health when we were born and the way we have lived our lives since then. The external factors include elements like weather, temperature, pollution, the state of those around of us, and both natural and man-made events which happen daily.
If we return from a trip with a cold, the cause would probably not be a single reason. The change in weather from our home to where we visited, the air on the plane, the lack of rest, eating recreationally-all of these elements can impact our health. Health problems usually are due to both external and internal factors.
In general, we have more control over internal factors than external factors. For example, we can choose how we live our lives, but we cannot-for
example–change the high level of moisture in places which are close to water. (High moisture levels in our environment increase our chances of developing arthritis.)
We gain better feelings and health through Qigong practice by influencing primarily our internal factors. However an external factor such as the overall energy field of a certain environment can also affect our Qi. Although external factors are not the focus of Qigong and this article, I would like to mention a bit more about them here.
Our external environmental factors can be controlled in a limited way. For example, Chinese traditional Fengshui is the art of choosing and arranging our living environment and making the energy around us beneficial for our health and life. I remember a story told by one of my Qigong masters in Shanghai about a young girl. The girl had a very strange problem: she often fainted at home suddenly with no apparent reason. Hospital tests were not helpful. The parents asked the Qigong master to help. The master discovered that her room had too much strong red color. By changing the arrangement in the room, the little girl never fainted again. (If you have the same fainting problem, you may not want to expect that taking the color red out of your home will fix the problem. Individuals have greatly different Qi make-ups. The color red might not be your cause.)
The above story is just one illustration that Qi in our environment can affect our health and that there is more than one approach to learning how to adjust our energy and the energy around us. You can help yourself by spending some time becoming more aware of your external environment (studying nature) and by being open to making even small adjustments in your external environment.
Now, let’s focus on the internal factors which affect our Qi. I will use a metaphor to explain this. Our body is like a house. When we were first born, our new body had its best and most natural Qi condition, much like a brand new house given to us by our parents. Our new house is healthy, clean and bright. As we have grown up, we have not kept up with the cleaning and maintaining of our house. We have continually brought bags of dirt into the house and left them everywhere. Eventually, our house has become a dump. It is so full of dirt you may have a hard time moving from the kitchen to the bathroom. It is no longer fully functional.
When your body reaches a similar point of neglect as the house described above, you are experiencing health problems! Whether you are experiencing emotional, mental or physical problems, your body is no longer fully functional. One or more of these problems has probably motivated you to read this book.
The dirt in the house is like the Qi blockages in our body. Qi blockages produce all of our imbalances: physical, emotional and mental. If your blood is not flowing well, life-nourishing oxygen is not getting where it needs to be. If your life-nourishing Qi is not flowing fully or flowing where it needs to flow, your whole system begins to wither and fail.
Actually, there is a maid who came with the nice house which was given to us when we were born. When we first neglected or even abused the house, the maid worked hard and cleaned up for us. But eventually, after years of hard work, the maid becomes worn down, and eventually stops trying. The maid is our immune system. When problems begin to accumulate, it is a sign that our immune system is faltering. When our immune system finally stops working our body has no maid to cleanup after us, no guard to protect us.
You might ask how does a house become so neglected or abused that it becomes nonfunctional. In other words, what generates so much Qi blockages in our body? The answer is: the list can be very long! More than you would imagine!
When our choices are not in harmony with the natural laws, Qi blockages will result and illness will follow sooner or later. Of the long list of unnatural choices we have to choose from, how we use our mind is the number one generator of Qi blockages. Ask yourself a question: how long can you last without something going through your mind? If you do not know, try now and find out. For most people in the Western world, it will only be a few seconds before your mind becomes occupied with something.
A spinning mind is a powerful contributor to the Qi blockages in our body. Simply having an over-busy mind will wear down our health. In addition, what we think has impact, too. Negative thoughts tend to create destructive moods, attract a similar energy to our lives and create even more Qi blockages. Being positive is a wonderful way of living and contributes positively to a person’s good health. Keeping your thoughts positive, happy and uplifting will help, but we need to recognize that we cannot rely on positive thoughts alone. Our mind is like our body – we need to let it rest regularly.
We are humans, and we are given the special gift of an intelligent mind. Of course we use it to think, analyze, plan, create, love, help, entertain and to be entertained. But some, or perhaps even most of what our mind goes through everyday is unnecessary. A typical way our mind wastes energy and creates Qi blockage is by judging. We judge far more than is necessary or healthy. Judging too often takes us away from being natural.
I was having lunch with a friend recently at a local Chinese restaurant. As my friend was paying the bill at the cashier after we had finished, I found myself looking around randomly. I thought to myself that the space inside the restaurant is very efficiently utilized. Although I thought nothing bad, I caught myself judging unnecessarily.
Then I picked up my son from his job as a student helper at Department of Education. As we were driving along a one-way street, I asked “How was your day?”
Before he could answer, a shuttle bus in front of us pulled over to the left curb. My son had been watching the bus and said, “What are they doing that for, they cannot let the passengers out into the street. They should have pulled over on the right side.”
Immediately a large man driving a small motorcycle passed us on our right side. My son’s attention switched quickly. “It is so weird to see big people on a scooter like that.”
I could not stop from commenting. “Does that have anything to do with you at all? Why waste your brain cells judging like that?” I said it in a light tone, hoping that I could make a point and not sound like I was lecturing. He smiled, making me think my point was well taken.
Before I was able to enjoy more of my accomplishment, a new style of jeep cut in front of us. “Look at that jeep,” my son almost yelled, “Its cool but way too exaggerated! “
I laughed. “Three in a row, son”, I said.
“What, Mom? It’s normal”.
“Yes, Son”, I said, “It is exactly the way our mind normally behaves. I do it too.” I thought to myself that the challenge is to guide ourselves beyond our normal behavior. I spared my son further discussion that day.
Besides judging, our mind can spin in a variety of ways, affecting our Qi condition. Our mind can so easily be like a nosy neighbor: always curious and poking around being a ‘busy body’ instead of resting or cleaning the house.
When we over-stimulate our mind, we can affect our Qi condition by creating an amusement park of emotions. We become excited when we gain, we get anxious and depressed when we lose. We feel pleased when we are praised. We feel resentful when we are criticized. We are riding on emotional waves constantly everyday. Stimulation is addictive. Then the more we are stimulated, the more we avoid experiencing who we truly are and the more we are taken away from our natural, peaceful inner nature. We become less and less sensitive and in tune with what are happening inside of our own body. We have to be with ourselves to heal ourselves.
When I was working at my State job, I had many opportunities to talk with new moms. Twice I was told by a new mom that she did not know she was pregnant until the moment she gave birth. Hard to believe, I know, but it is true. A colleague who works at a hospital in prenatal care verified that this does happen occasionally. Can you think of a more telling example of not being in tune with yourself?
Another key generator of Qi blockage is our poor life style choices. Although there usually is a direct connection between our life styles and our state of mind, they each are separate contributors to Qi blockages. Poor life style choices include a wide variety of elements, such as our daily schedule, diet and activities. Do you take a brisk walk after dinner or sit on the couch watching television? Doctors often urge people to eat healthier and exercise more, which are basic steps in helping reduce our Qi blockage accumulation through better life style choices.
So although we might think we have been taking great care of ourselves and should be guaranteed good health–like the woman in the emergency room who was angry and complaining–the truth is we normally do a lot of things which block our Qi. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, for example, will help, but exercise and diet are just a part of what affects our health. In summary, to reduce the long list of risk factors to good health, we have to maintain a peaceful state of mind and healthy life habits.
Health problems begin with Qi blockage. From minor to major, from a headache or the flu to heart disease, kidney failure, ulcers and arthritis, our health problems begin with our own personal assortment of Qi blockages. After years of having a busy mind (worse yet, a negative busy mind) and poor life habits, Qi blockages accumulate. Beginning with invisible tangled energy undetected by medical instruments, our Qi blockages gradually manifest into very visible health problems which can be detected by modern medicine.
The earlier stages of Qi blockages create symptoms such as tiredness, pain and emotional imbalance. At this early stage of Qi imbalance, medical tests will usually look normal and your doctor will tell you that you are fine. As Qi blockages build up, your situation worsens and your symptoms become stronger. Eventually the blockages will grow to the point where tests will reveal the results of the Qi imbalance. Like a volcano erupting on the ocean floor, the volcano’s very existence will not be evident to the sea level observer until it is about to breach the ocean’s surface.
The tests, though, will not tell you the root cause of your problem, that your health condition is a result of blocked Qi. The good news is that most, if not all, health conditions are reversible. A tumor, which appears to be a solid physical mass of tissue, is by its nature a gathering of Qi – a gathering of energy. The tumor can be reversed back into Qi and smoothed out with a strong overall Qi flow in your body. This is how cancer patients heal themselves through Qigong practice.
For people who are dealing with health issues they were born with, it is like the house that we were initially given was not as perfect as most. A perfect house with poor long term maintenance may well not last as long as an imperfect house with great long term care. Either way, we need good maintenance to maximize our greatest potential. Qigong is a great tool for us to achieve that goal.