QiGong Master Fails to Substantiate Claims During
by David A. Brown, PhD, PT
One of the most provocative aspects of qigong is known as external
qigong. In external qigong, a qigong master projects or emits his or
her own qi to serve or heal another. As reported in an earlier issue
of the MISAHA newsletter, Mr. Yang Gui-sheng has been practicing as
a qigong master since 1981 in Shandong Province, China. During this
period, Mr. Yang reportedly has treated more than 300 patients with
cerebral paralysis with external qigong. He reported a large measure
of success (~80% full or significant improvement) and, in addition,
claimed that he is able to obtain these results within 7 consecutive
days of treatment. It was on this basis that Mr. Yang was invited to
visit the US and conduct a limited demonstration of his technique in
a small group of individuals with chronic hemiplegia due to ischemic
Mr. Yang claimed that he would be able to accomplish the following
during this demonstration:
1. Without tactile contact, have subjects willfully (voluntarily)
produce movements that they were previously unable to perform.
2. Effect significant and permanent improvements in their functional
Given these claims, the purpose of this demonstration was to observe
and document acquisition and maintenance of previously-absent willful,
voluntary movement patterns in a selected group of persons with post-stroke
hemiplegia and spinal cord injury who underwent 7 consecutive days of
external qigong treatment.
A total of 6 subjects participated in the demonstration. Subjects were
3 individuals chosen from a group of individuals who have participated
in other studies related to stroke rehabilitation, 2 subjects who responded
to an advertisement for recruiting new subjects, and 1 person was an
employee of the research center. Five of the subjects had post-stroke
hemiplegia resulting from a single ischemic event of less than 5 years
since onset. One subject had a complete spinal cord injury at the C5/6
level. Functionally, all subjects had specific movements that they were
unable to perform since the injury, as follows:
All treatments took place in a 400 sq. ft. room where the practitioner
had ample space to maneuver himself and the subject. Background noise
was kept to a minimum. All sessions were videotaped. Subjects were initially
asked to sit quietly and report any sensations. During the treatment
session, subjects were asked to assume different positions such as lying
on the back or on the stomach, sitting, and standing. Also, both before
and after each session, subjects were asked to report any overall impressions
or lasting effects.
The practitioner stood at various positions around the subject and
directed his index finger or open palm at either specific acupuncture
points or along specific meridians. He worked entirely on the affected
side or on the opposite side when focusing on the top of the head. At
times, the practitioner felt that he needed to actually apply tactile
pressure to the points, but this action was kept to a minimum throughout
Four of 6 subjects underwent seven 30 minute session conducted on consecutive
days. One subject (subject A) was treated only once and the other treated
only twice (subject B), because the practitioner felt that his treatment
would not be effective for these subjects. In both of these subjects,
no new voluntary movements were observed to occur.
No new voluntary movements were acquired by any of the subjects. Although
voluntary movements were observed by two subjects (subjects C and D)
at some points throughout the course of treatment, those movements represented
already-present functions. There were indications that subjects wanted
to move in ways that were previously absent, however, actual movements
did not occur. Because of this negative result, no permanent and lasting
changes were observed after the course of treatments.
Other observations included the subject's reporting of "tingling"
sensations in their limbs, and the apparent voluntary movement of limbs
in already-present patterns. To demonstrate the effects of selective
attention on the occurrence of sensations, two controls were imposed.
First, subjects were blindfolded during part of the session. With the
loss of vision, the subjects no longer were able to visually attend
to parts of their body. The frequency of occurrence of sensations were
reduced after blindfolding, indicating a strong visual component to
this phenomenon. Second, during certain portions of the treatment, the
practitioner was asked to stop the external qigong to see if a subject's
reported sensations occur as a natural consequence of sitting quietly
and attending to the body. Both subjects (subjects C and D) reported
new sensations even when no treatment was occurring, thus indicating
that, at least some if not all, sensations can not be directly attributed
to external qigong as performed by this practitioner.
Similarly, the occurrence of voluntary movements were tested during
blindfolding and non-intervention. In one subject (subject D) where
these movements were especially present, the frequency was reduced with
blindfolding (but not eliminated), and the movements were present even
during non-intervention periods, once again indicating that the practitioner's
performance could not be directly related to the movements at least
some, if not all, of the time these movements occurred.
Because of the limited scope of this demonstration and the lack of
adequate experimental controls, no definite conclusions can be drawn.
However, none of the claims of the practitioner were demonstrated within
this setting. Although the practitioner appeared to have a motivating
effect on the subjects, this effect was greatly dampened by removing
at least two confounding factors that are not attributed to external
qigong (visual attention and practitioner commands to move). Also, it
appeared that the practitioner was only able to motivate subjects to
perform movements that were already present, although some of these
movements were quite forceful.
Complementary treatments may be effective when applied toward restoring
lost movement control, however consumers must be very careful when examining
claims by practitioners about what can be accomplished. When undergoing
alternative treatments, consumers should reserve some level of skepticism
for any claims that promise complete return to lost functional movements
after irreversible damage to the nervous system.
David A, Brown, PhD, PT
Research Health Scientist
VA Palo Alto Health Care System (153)
Rehabilitation Research and Development Center
3801 Miranda Ave.
Palo Alto, California 94304 USA
E-mail: brown@roses. stanford.edu
Dr. Brown is a Research Health Scientist and Licensed Physical Therapist
at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. He has taught and published
widely on issues related to the control of movement after stroke. His
participation in this demonstration does not reflect the opinions or
policies of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The above document represents
only his personal observations.