Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
April 29, 2016

The Qi to Health and Beyond

I presented this week at the 16th Annual Healthy Alternatives through Healing Arts (Ha-HA) Conference.  Some of the workshops offered at this year’s HA-HA conference included Qigong, Reiki, and Aikido.  A similar sound is common within all of these workshop titles. “Chee” or “key.”  And, as it turns out, this similar sound refers fairly consistently to the same concept, “life energy.”

Life energy, also known as ch’i in Chinese culture, is known as “gi” in Korean and “ki” in Japanese.  The concept of life energy, using a different sounding word or phrase, is also found in other cultures: the Indians call it, “prana” (pron. pray-nah). It is “ruah” (pron. ru-ahhh) in Hebrew culture. And, near and dear to my heart, it is called “The Force” in Western culture’s Star Wars mythos.  But, regardless of the culture, the importance of this concept in the various holistics alternatives presented at today’s conference was clear.  Connecting with and even manipulating life energy is an important holistic approach to physical and mental health.

While the phrase, life energy, may lead you to only consider what keeps your own heart beating, that your life energy is only regarding your physical health, like in the Star Wars mythos, life energy can be said to be “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” Students of life energy consider that it not only exists within our bodies but also as a field that extends into the world beneath our feet as well as in the heavens above our head.  And that it flows in and out of our bodies to and from the world around us.  Life energy is thought to available to be used to heal not only our own bodies or our own minds but also the minds and bodies of others.

Often seen as at odds with enthusiasts of life energy relevant holistic practices is the concept of the “placebo effect.”  The placebo effect is how Western medicine describes health benefits experienced while engaging in activities that are believed by Western medicine to be medically ineffectual. But, while adherents of Western medicine may believe that the so called placebo effect challenges the validity of holistic approaches, I say it validates them.  While Western medicine can find no explanation for why certain practices have a significant and observable positive effect on an individual’s health, the concept of life energy manipulation does provide use with an understanding of how t’ai chi ch’uan, reiki, qigong and other such practices should work as they do.  With this in mind, placebo effect literature suggests to me that we may all have an innate ability to engage in life energy manipulation but perhaps some people are perhaps instinctively better able to positively engage life energy than others.

And, if one considers the placebo effect to be part of the “yang” of life energy, there is also a “yin” called, the nocebo effect. The nocebo effect is the observation of health consequences when there is no medical reason an intervention should have a negative outcome.  If we accept that the placebo effect may be the result of an unconscious and instinctive positive manipulation of life energy, could it that the nocebo effect, the observation of health consequences when none should otherwise occur, be connected to an unconscious manipulation of one’s life energy based on the belief that the treatment should cause harm? The implication for incorporating the manipulation of life energy into one’s training and efforts for achieving and maintaining health should be clear. If one trains in life energy manipulation and then consciously applies, one could take control of the placebo effect to improve the health benefits of our healthy activities and reduce or even eliminate unwanted negative side effects.  A workout not only could result in greater benefits but also come without consequences.  There could be gain with no pain!

But, it doesn’t end there.  Considering the value that has been found in holistic alternatives and their manipulation of life energy for physical and mental health, one should be aware that this is only a fraction of what is believed to be possible. Since at least the creation of the Yijin Jing and Xisui Jing manuscripts in the 6th century BCE people have been studying and reporting on a broad range of life energy manipulation effects.  Practitioners within this field of study report that a person can be trained to manipulate life energy with regard not only to health but also with regard to thought, behavior, and even the space-time continuum.  And, that one could focus any specific life energy manipulation on not only one’s own mind and body but also on the minds and bodies of other people.  One could even focus life energy manipulation on the world around us.  While we might relegate their list of “powers” to fantasy or comic books, these practitioners list telepathy, astral projection, flight, telekinesis, aura reading, animal control, and laying on hands as only some of the powers that are believed possible through the manipulation of life energy.

Regardless of what you believe is possible, the genuine benefits of yoga and t’ai chi are scientifically supported and the occurrence of the so-called placebo effect is undisputed.  So what potentially yet remains to be “discovered” by Western science with regard to life energy manipulation and how one could apply it to one’s martial arts is nevertheless an exciting concept. Beyond the manipulation of life energy to achieve serenity of our minds and longevity of our bodies, what else might the future hold for the use of this qi?