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QiGong Master Fails to Substantiate Claims During Demonstration Project

by David A. Brown, PhD, PT

Introduction

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 stroke.

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 movements.

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.

Demonstration Parameters

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 all sessions.

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.

Observations

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.

Summary

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

415-493-5000 x64481
Fax: 415-493-4919
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.



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