Qigong with Katie Mickey in Ortega Park.

Courtesy Photo

How are you feeling body-wise? I ask this question at the end of every qigong session with my massage students. Last night’s responses included the following:

“I feel wonderful! I am feeling all this energy like a liquid that flows when we do these qigong exercises. I keep practicing with the qi ball at work. People want to know what I am doing, and I explain to them, I am working with the energy.” This was Angel Ortiz, purchasing agent for Lazy Acres.

Others described it differently. Optician Hector Vejar, for one, said, “I feel this peace and energy inside. I am running this energy now during my day, like when I play soccer. I feel peaceful and energized at the same time. It’s a weird combination, but it feels good!”

Then there’s Laura Florez, a house cleaner: “I feel some kind of magnetic energy when we do the qigong exercises outside. Its like two magnets coming together.”

Ortiz, Vejar, and Florez have been practicing qigong and related forms of bodywork for a couple of months now. The experience of qi, for them, has now become a live, palpable, fluid reality.

Qigong is an ancient science of personal energy management. Qigong stems from China, where ancient qi masters studied the health and well-being of the body through deep contemplation, and came to simple yet profound understandings. They developed a science of health based on qi flow.

Here in the West, our science has delineated many forms of flow in the body essential to health and well-being. These include the flow of blood, lymph, brain chemicals, nerve transmission, and the movement of ions. The qi masters illuminated that this movement of qi can be cultivated through gentle movements of the body, massage, deep breathing, and deep relaxation. And these practices, which collectively are referred to as qigong, give rise to a state of inner harmony. Through daily practice of the essential methods, this inner harmony gives rise to qi movement, which in turn gives rise to health and longevity.

Qigong can be practiced both as a preventative measure and as a form of internal medicine. When practiced to address specific medical conditions, it is referred to as medical qigong. Medical qigong has been very successful over several millennia in addressing physical disease states, various pathologies, and mental or emotional imbalances.

Medical qigong, which includes a blend of gentle movement, bodywork, deep breathing, and deep relaxation, found its way to the West through various teachers. One such way-shower, Roger Janke, founder of the International Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi, lives here in Goleta and was one of my earliest teachers and influences in the development of the Santa Barbara Body Therapy Institute’s vocational massage curriculum.

Over the last 22 years, the institute has been offering a Westernized form of medical qigong training, blending gentle movement, bodywork, deep breathing, and deep relaxation into the content of our 200-hour, 550-hour, and 1,000-hour programs. More recently, we have implemented a traditional Medical Qigong Practitioner Program under the tutelage of past graduate Matthew Jones, qigong master and master herbalist.

The benefits of practicing qigong are rich and varied. Students who have practiced qigong during the course of studying massage have reported remarkable medical shifts, such as Samantha Sowers’s check-in from two days ago: “I feel alive and my body feels amazing! When I came into the program I was diagnosed with anemia. When I woke up I felt groggy and drained no matter how much I slept. I was feeling cold all the time and certain food would make me sick. Since practicing the exercises, receiving and giving massage, all the symptoms have gone away. I feel great — even on days when I have emotional issues, I still feel great! I just had my blood work done and it’s normal. My doctor wants to know what I’m eating differently.” Samantha has been a student for only three weeks, participating in class roughly three to seven times a week. The beauty of her healing is that it was facilitated by her own efforts and those of students practicing fundamental skills.

Not only can the practice of qigong bear fruit quickly with little training, but it can also continue to bear fruit for many years to come for those continue their practice. I regularly get feedback from past students who are grateful and empowered in their health and well-being.

For instance, Julie Menicucci said, “Although it’s been 17 years since I completed Level I training at BTI, the impact the qigong training continues to have on my bodywork is amazing. It has improved my balance, stamina, and overall energy, and given me the core strength and endurance to consistently provide top-rate bodywork. I strongly believe that qigong has allowed me longevity in a successful massage career. Thanks BTI for giving me the tools to still be going strong!” Menicucci is spa director of Spa del Mar at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort.

One of the ways medical qigong treatment differs from a Western medical treatment in addressing pathologies is that the practitioner works as a health educator and gives specific exercises to clients to continue the cultivation and movement of qi in between sessions.

Tallison Pitcock, graduate of our medical qigong practitioner training, described how medical qigong sessions, nutrition, and continued self-practice effectively resolved his glaucoma: “I had been given a glaucoma diagnosis because I had three times the pressure of what is normal on my optic nerve. During medical qigong sessions, Matthew showed me how to normalize the pressure on my optic nerve through movement, Chinese herbs, and nutrition. I attribute my healing not only to the work but Matthew’s talents and his gifts. I look at it as a miracle. Now I maintain my optical nerve balance completely with exercise.”

Medical qigong training and practice can also allow for deep release of trauma. Two months ago, I received a letter from graduate Alex Coffman, former pre-med student at UCSB, now lead therapist at Pathways to Health in Eugene, Oregon, expressing his gratitude: “During my year and half of studies at SBBTI, I underwent extreme transformation of body, mind, and soul. The qigong course with Matthew was a life-changing experience. It was very spiritual, with a practical focus. So many of my questions about life were answered there. I also gained the skill of directly cultivating and manipulating chi, something I hadn’t heard of until then.”

“I remember trauma being released in the chi gong classes. I realized I was changing in big ways, and became curious how memory is stored in the body. I learned that traumatic events are stored not just as mental memories, but as physical memory, in the muscles and bones. The bodywork was able to let the trauma release — physical trauma and emotional trauma. It was a very intense thing to experience. My life has changed so much from receiving this healing. Learning to accept and trust loving touch — especially with sexual abuse at a young age … Abuse — sexual, physical, emotional — can create mistrust in people. I remember not liking hugs until I was 18 years old. Now I love to hug, the bodywork was really helpful here. Learning to accept loving touch has allowed me to be much more comfortable sharing myself with people.”

Once one begins to grasp the scope of benefits available through medical qigong for physical health and mental and emotional well-being at a fraction of a cost of traditional Western allopathic medicine, one can’t help but wonder why this form of health care is missing from our current national health care debate. As our nation grapples with the tremendous cost of health care and its impact in balancing our federal budget, we in the West have the potential to benefit greatly from a deeper investigation of these ancient practices.


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