Qigong Healing Institute

East West Center for Psychoneuroimmunology

Beverly Hills - Los Angeles - Frazier Mountain - California USA

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University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignAugust 14, 2007More on:Influenza, Fitness, Vaccines, Mental Health, Mental Health Research, Diseases and ConditionsTraditional Chinese Exercises May Increase Efficacy Of Flu Vaccine Yang Yang, adjunct professor of kinesiology and community health, leads a group of residents of ClarkLindsey Village in Urbana in Qigong and Taiji. Yang and colleagues at Illinois have found that older adults who adopt an exercise regimen combining Taiji and Qigong may get an extra boost from their annual flu shot. (Credit: L. Brian Stauffer) But as this year's sniffling-sneezing season approaches, there's also a hint of hope present in the pre-germ-season air. In a study scheduled for publication in the August issue of the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, a team of kinesiologists at the University of Illinois suggest that older adults who adopt an exercise regimen combining Taiji and Qigong may get an extra boost from their annual flu shot."We have found that 20 weeks of Taiji can increase the antibody response to influenza vaccine in older adults," said the study's lead author Yang Yang, an adjunct professor of kinesiology and community health, and a Taiji master with 30-plus years of experience as a practitioner and instructor."In this study, we found that five months of an easily performed behavioral Taiji and Qigong intervention could improve the magnitude and duration of the HI anti-influenza antibody titer response in a small cohort of older adults," write the authors, who also include Karl S. Rosengren, a U. of I. professor of psychology and of kinesiology and community health, and Jeffrey A. Woods, a kinesiology and community health professor who researches the effects of exercise on immune function. Rosengren and Woods helped design the study. Other co-authors are former U. of I. graduate students Rachel A. Mariani and Jay Verkuilen, and Scott A. Grubisich and Michael Reed of the Center for Taiji Studies, Champaign.According to Yang, one problem with the flu vaccine is that older adults often do not reach what are considered to be "protective levels" after receiving the vaccination.On average, he said, the Taiji group had much higher antibody responses to the vaccination than the control group, and the percentage of persons who achieved protective levels also was higher in the Taiji group. However, because of the small sample size, the percentage of persons from the Taiji group that achieved protective levels was not statistically different from the control. "Our results provide 'proof-of-concept' and suggest that there needs to be a larger dedicated intervention trial with Taiji to definitively determine whether this type of behavioral intervention can improve influenza vaccine efficacy in older adults."Qigong (chee-kung) and Taiji (tye-chee) – or Tai Chi, as it is more commonly known in the U.S. – combine simple, graceful movements and meditation. Qigong, which dates to the middle of the first millennium B.C., is a series of integrated exercises believed to have positive, relaxing effects on a person's mind, body and spirit. Taiji is a holistic form of exercise, and a type of Qigong that melds Chinese philosophy with martial and healing arts.Yang, who will discuss the work as a featured speaker at a Sept. 21 clinical conference hosted by Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said this is the first study to examine the effects of traditional Taiji intervention on the response to influenza vaccine in older adults.While the Chinese have long believed the exercises result in a range of physical, mental and spiritual benefits for practitioners, until recently, evidence has been largely anecdotal. Yang's overarching research focus is to use Western scientific practices to validate centuries of anecdotal claims and reveal what he calls "the essence of the tradition.""We want to demystify it and make the average person go straight to the core of the secret," he said. "Our overall goal is to let the essence of this tradition reach the general public. This is my dream."Recent research, including work by Yang and Rosengren, has demonstrated improvements in quality of life, flexibility, strength, cardiovascular function, pain, balance and kinesthetic strength. Yang said he decided to explore Taiji's effects on immune function, and specifically, efficacy of the influenza vaccine, after learning that another study had indicated improvement in immune response to the virus that causes shingles, a disease that often afflicts older adults."The use of Taiji as a behavioral intervention in older adults is particularly attractive due to age-related loss of function and problems with even moderate intensity exercise interventions," the authors note in their report.The study is an outgrowth of Yang's dissertation research, which yielded quantitative and qualitative evidence that its elderly participants benefited from both physical and mental improvements after practicing the ancient Chinese exercises. For the current study, 41 subjects were recruited from the larger data pool. Twenty-seven had received the Taiji/Qigong intervention; 14 were from the study's wait-list control group, and another 9 individuals who did not participate in the exercises were added to balance the size of the control group.Sub-study participants provided detailed medical histories, received sleep-quality evaluations and submitted blood samples for analysis before injection with the influenza vaccine. Blood also was drawn three, six and 20 weeks following vaccination, and samples were sent to a Center for Disease Control-affiliated reference laboratory in New Jersey for blinded analysis of anti-influenza antibody titer by hemagglutination inhibition assay.Titer, according to Yang, refers to "a measurement of the amount of antibodies in the blood."Those in the exercise intervention group participated in three one-hour classes for 20 weeks, while the control group was directed to continue their regular activities for the same time period. Each class consisted of equal parts Qigong and Taiji, which included movements emphasizing mobility skills such as weight shifting, range of motion and coordination, and sitting and standing meditation.Although the study had certain limitations – including its small subject sample and the fact that it was not a purely randomized controlled trial – Yang is confident that further study will yield more substantive proof of a link between Taiji and Qigong and immune function. And he said he was not surprised that this preliminary examination indicated a link."Because the curriculum is holistic, it touches people on many fronts," he said. "So it's not surprising that you can feel the immune part, the strength part, the psychological part. It's what this art was designed for – to target all these different aspects of life, from a preventative and nurturing point of view.And, he added, those benefits are borne out of a program that emphasizes balance."We don't believe the slogan, 'no pain, no gain.' In Taiji, it's 'no pain, you get big gain.' "Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


The immune-boosting effects of tai chiTai chi boosts the immune system -- and may help balance and well-being.By Melissa Healy, Times Staff WriterApril 16, 2007 In 12th century China, a Taoist monk known as Chang San-Feng is said to have studied the physical movements of five animals and concluded that two — the snake and the crane — were best suited to overpower opponents who were fierce and tenacious. From that ancient observation, the slow, graceful movements of tai chi were born. Today, with the art and exercise of tai chi growing in popularity across the United States, scientists have found that older adults who practice this martial art strengthen themselves against an opponent as stubborn as any — the tiny chickenpox virus, which can cause a painful and often persistent nerve inflammation called shingles. The new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, is the first — and most rigorous — of a welter of rigorous new studies designed to probe the health effects of tai chi. Also in the works are five federally funded studies examining whether regular practice can help patients contending with heart disease, osteoarthritis and cancer fight off threats such as depression, infection and the pain of joint inflammation. Other studies are probing whether tai chi can improve balance and reduce falls among the elderly, and improve the well-being of patients with HIV. "Tai chi is clearly an exercise program, but it has something more," says Andrew Monjan, chief of the National Institute on Aging's neurobiology of aging branch. "It seems to be somewhat more effective than simple exercise, and more effective than simple stress reduction." And older adults enjoy it, he says, making it a therapy patients will stick to. For healthy older adults, the study demonstrated a striking immunity-boosting effect. After 16 weeks of tai chi classes — even before they received chickenpox vaccine — subjects practicing tai chi showed immunity levels to chickenpox (and hence to shingles) that were comparable to those of 30- and 40-year-olds who got the vaccine. After the tai chi practitioners got the dose, their immune response surged by 40%. Compared with a similar group of non-tai chi practicing older adults who received a shot of vaccine and a 16-week health-education program, those who practiced tai chi during the same period built stronger immunity to chickenpox and to shingles. They also showed significant improvements in measures of physical functioning, vitality and mental health. "It looks like a strong phenomenon, a fairly robust effect," Monjan says. Tai chi's combination of slow, steady movements, rhythmic breathing and meditation appear to offer a unique mix of benefits, Monjan says. It builds aerobic conditioning. It relaxes the body's response to stress, which tend to intensify as people age. And it increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. But which of those effects produces the powerful immunity-building responses seen in the most recent study — or whether that effect is the product of some synergy among those effects — remains a mystery, he adds. Future studies may seek to answer that question, Monjan says. Dr. Michael R. Irwin, of UCLA's Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, directed the study, recruiting 112 healthy adults in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, with an average age of 70. All had had chickenpox at an earlier age and so had some immunity to a recurrence of that disease. But as people age, they become more vulnerable to the virus that is left behind by a case of chickenpox — the varicella virus, which causes shingles in one of five adults who have had chickenpox. The virus lies dormant in its host until a flagging immune system allows it to reawaken and inflame nerves. Generally, a dose of chickenpox vaccine will boost immunity to shingles, but in older adults, that boost can be less robust than among younger patients. To test whether the practice of tai chi had an effect on immunity to varicella (and hence, to herpes zoster), Irwin divided the group of healthy adults in half. Although all got a dose of varicella vaccine, half also received 120 minutes a week of tai chi for 16 weeks, while the other half got 120 minutes per week of class time on a variety of health-related topics. Even before the vaccine was administered after 16 weeks, the stronger immune response of the tai chi group, as compared with that of the group receiving general health instruction, was striking, Irwin said. Effectively, the tai chi group looked as if it had already had the vaccine. After members of both groups got a dose of vaccine, the tai chi group's immune response picked up more steam and was almost twice as strong as that of the non-tai chi group at the end of the study. "There's a huge number of people who are not being adequately treated with the vaccine, because older adults often do not show a full response to vaccine," Irwin said. "That's what's kind of nice," he added, "that when you add a behavioral intervention, it boosts the effects of the vaccine…. The benefit was really found in the combination." That powerful combination of medicine and behavior, said Monjan of the National Institute on Aging, underscores the important link between physical and psychological health and points to a new way — in this case, a pleasant and accessible form of exercise — to help combat the many chronic conditions that accelerate with age. Perhaps most encouraging, Irwin and Monjan said, is how readily accepted tai chi is by older adults who try it. The slow, dance-like movements require intense concentration and body awareness — both of which appear to contribute to its meditative, stress-reducing effects. But trying tai chi does not require a high level of conditioning or special skill, Irwin said. It is gentle on stiff joints and muscles and is accessible even to people with physical limitations such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, he added. For 78-year-old Robert L. Smith and 74-year-old Genevieve Marcus of Los Angeles, both participants in Irwin's trial, tai chi was a new form of exercise. But it is one that this married couple has now adopted as a daily morning ritual. Smith, who has had knee and hip replacement and says he's "fast at everything," finds that tai chi both calms and energizes him. Marcus says it has helped her hone and maintain her balance and become a welcome, meditative part of her day. "We feel in harmony" after conducting the slow-steady dawn sessions, says Smith. "We've just made it part of our routine."

  • The Experience of Qigong in Healing and Self-Care By Lisa Brinker A Thesis in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts I Integral Health Studies Presented to The Faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies San Francisco, California Published in 2003

My purpose in this study has been to learn how qigong, an ancient Chinese system of healing and self-development, has been adopted by Western practitioners as a way of taking part in their own health care. Qigong (translated as "energy work") is a multi-faceted discipline that serves as prevention and treatment of illness as well as complementary care and to improve quality of life. What drew my attention most was the individual's participatory experience of movement and meditation is at the heart of the practice. I chose the phenomenological Experiential Method to focus on stories contributed by ten research participants describing their experiences of healing supported by qigong. This method, developed by Sunnie and James Kidd, Ph. D., "displays how a person through personal action, participates in the constitution of self-meaning." (Kidd & Kidd, 1990:1) I value these stories as they speak for themselves and also in light of the universal healing principles that underlies the practice of qigong. I have the sense that qigong fans the innate self-healing spark that everyone possesses, more or less consciously. The themes represented in the qigong students' descriptions include: general health improvements and symptoms relieved, self-care, personal growth/responsibility and integration into daily life, sensory and intuitive impressions of qi and qigong, and psycho-spiritual continuum, that is, stress reduction to transpersonal experience. In addition to my research findings I present a review of literature on qigong, Traditional Chinese Medicine and the new direction of Western medicine that has been called "Body/Mind Medicine" by a number of contemporary authors. The recognition of the integral nature of physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of being in relation to health and healing is a premise of the emerging paradigm in Western medicine and of Traditional Chinese Medicine, of which qigong is one branch. On a national level we are facing a health care crisis that will deepen as the increasing incidence of chronic and stress-related illness and an aging population place greater demands on the existing system. There is a call for innovation, preventative care, individual involvement, and serious inquiry into the time-tested wisdom of other cultures to meet this challenge. Qigong is both cost effective and therapeutically so. The very accessible nature of the practice allows it to be a vehicle for change on a large-scale beginning with individual self-care. This study illustrates the ways practitioners were helped by qigong on many levels of their healing processes.