What Is This Qi Stuff, Anyway?

(Written for my colleagues on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Day, 10/24/18, and posted on the website of the New Mexico Society for Acupuncture and Asian Medicine.)

The field is the sole governing agency of the particle. — Einstein

There is a school of thought that seems to be gaining currency in our profession lately, which says that the concept of Qi is nothing more than a quaint misunderstanding of what the ancient sages were really writing about, and that our medicine is really all about the nervous system and other purely physical aspects of the body.

This is simply not true.  In an apparent effort to align their work with biomedical science, these authors are actually ignoring a great deal of that same science, not to mention the experiences of myriad practitioners and patients. 

Let me start with typical human perceptions of the energetic field surrounding the body, the manifestation of Qi we think of most often.  While Qi can be complicated to pin down in terms of exactly what types of energy and what frequency ranges are involved, close to the body it’s very simple to perceive and to demonstrate. 

When I am scanning for active points or disturbances in patients’ bodies, the person on the table often says, with surprise, “I can feel exactly where your hand is!”  Of course they can, as this is a normal human ability.  When patients ask me what Qi is, or what is meant by Qi Gong, I have them try a very simple exercise: Hold your palms near each other, about a half inch apart.  Notice what you feel. A kind of pressure, a bit like the feeling of trying to bring two magnets together with the same poles facing?  Warmth?  Tingling?

Nearly everyone can perceive this immediately.  I’ve tried this exercise with hundreds of people when I’ve given presentations to groups, and only a couple have ever said that they didn’t feel anything. 

When I used to teach Reiki, I introduced the concept of the human biofield with another simple exercise.  One person would stand facing a wall, eyes closed.  Another person would walk up to them from the back.  The first person would raise her hand when she felt the presence of the other one.  This would happen consistently when the two were about four feet apart.

But although those effects are consistent and reliable, science likes objective, numerical measurements with instruments.  There are plenty of those to be had as well, and many of them have been done by researchers right here in the US.  That’s been going on for decades.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to meet the biophysicist Beverly Rubik, who has spent 40 years studying the human biofield, and was part of the group that coined that term.  Her current work is largely in the area of biophotons, the weak but important light emitted from the body in the ultraviolet range.  Among other things, she has studied the changes in biophoton emissions involved with healers and healees, showing that more light is emitted from the hands of healers when they are doing their work.  One instrument she uses to detect biophotons is the Bio-Well gas discharge visualization camera, which is available commercially and has clinical applications that could be useful in an acupuncture office.

She stated at the conference that as a child she could feel energy, but that “it was educated out of her.”  The biofield, she said, is proposed to be “a high-speed wireless communication system, a bridge between the mind and body.”

I had already encountered Dr. Rubik’s work in a 2016 online course, “The Science of Energy Medicine,” given by the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology.  Here are some quotes from her presentation there:

‘… I see the biofield as a complex dynamic standing wave within and around the body. Let me tell you more. You’re already familiar with the concept of standing waves from musical instruments, for example a wood instrument, a clarinet. There’s a standing wave when it’s being sounded, or the plucking of a string in a violin or a guitar. Once again, a standing wave is vibrating and rendering sound. Not only sound standing waves are possible. There are also electromagnetic standing waves, too.’

‘There was one main prediction from the biofield hypothesis, and that is that if we can shift the biofield, we can change the physiology and chemistry and move the body, the body mind, to a new steady state….’

Experiments have consistently shown that intention is of great importance in causing measurable energetic effects: ‘I come back to that old principle of Oriental medicine. Where mind goes, chi, or energy, flows, and the blood and flesh follow.  This is the bottom line when it comes to how we can heal ourselves. We must change our minds. Then there are shifts in the biofield, and then the flesh and blood is the slowest to change overall.’

You might wonder why, after four decades of work like this, the science of the biofield is not more familiar, even to those of us who deal with it every day. Dr. Rubik gave some reasons why it is not: ‘We have certain challenges in biofield science. We are dealing with complex dynamical fields that are actually very low-level that become difficult to measure and we have to use a variety of tools. There is no one singular tool that you can grab off the shelf that’s ready-made to look at the biofield, but rather a collection of different tools to understand and probe the biofield through different windows.

‘There’s also very little funding and no concerted effort. Unfortunately, the NIH has dropped the ball and it is not a lead agency. We have no leading organization that’s making a concerted effort to forward biofield science or its understanding in the frontiers of medicine, and I’ve long been an advocate of something I call a Human Energy Project [along the lines of the Human Genome Project].’

Here is an article in which Dr. Rubik gives a lucid overview of methods of measuring the biofield:
https://www.faim.org/measurement-of-the-human-biofield-and-other-energetic-instruments

Another researcher who started measuring the biofield, even earlier, was Valerie Hunt, who began as a scientist with no knowledge of or interest in esoteric or energetic matters.  She eventually developed new instrumentation that could detect immensely higher frequencies than had been measured around the body previously, in the range of hundreds of thousands of cycles per second.

‘My academic background is as a neurophysiologist, and I was also a registered physical therapist. I was working in electromyography and electrocardiography, and I was interested in the patterns of electromyographic energy in the body that were related to emotions. Eventually, I established a pattern of emotions connected with neurological energy. In the process, I was the first researcher to have a telemetry, electromyography instrument. This was when the first astronauts went into space. They had to have monitors of their basic health — the heart rate, the blood pressure, and the galvanic skin response — sent from space. They did this using telemetry, which is a radio frequency instrument system. It would send a signal on an FM frequency down to the earth, where NASA would record the FM frequencies and know what was happening to the astronauts.

‘When I heard about this, I got in touch with NASA and the young scientist who had first made that telemetry instrumentation, and I had him build for me the first telemetry electromyography instrument. This meant I could test a person using an FM frequency, a radio frequency, process the data through my instrumentation and record it. And when I did this I found the electromagnetic energy field.

‘This was in early 60’s, and I thought, “Oh my God, what have I got here?” So I brought in researchers from the university’s chemistry, physics, and engineering departments. I said, “What have I got, an artifact?” And they kept saying I didn’t, that my equipment was working fine. They tested everything, and finally I realized I was dealing with a new kind of energy in the body.’

https://healthontheedge.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/the-human-energy-field-an-interview-with-valerie-v-hunt-ph-d/

Dr. Hunt famously worked with the healer Rosalyn Bruyere, and was able to correlate her perceptions of the human aura with the readings made by her instruments.  In addition to making measurements of the biofield, she was able to create practical applications for healing.  She was still going strong on a number of projects when she died in 2014.

All of these electromagnetic emanations from the body are relatively weak.  How do we explain the much more extreme effects that can be produced by well-trained Qi Gong masters and some others?  That’s not at all clear, but the effects are incontrovertibly there.  For example, a fascinating series of trials by Mikio Yamamoto in Japan was reported by Lynn McTaggart in her seminal book The Intention Experiment, involving a master doing tohate, in which the master could push another person back several yards through sheer force of will and Qi, while the other was trying to resist.  The master was isolated in an electromagnetically shielded room on the fourth floor of a building, while his student was placed in a similar room on the first floor.  Neither the distance nor the shielding prevented the effect; in nearly a third of 49 trials, the master was able to knock the student back.  (p. 53)

A nonexistent energy could not visibly, objectively move a body. 

Probably quite a few of us have felt a more mundane version of this kind of effect, being pushed back from the treatment table when a blockage in a patient suddenly released, maybe even feeling that we were “knocked across the room” by a considerable force.  How can the biofield, which seems so feeble when measured, create a force like that?  I don’t know of anyone who has answered that question in terms of biophysics, and it is urgently begging for an answer.  There has to be something more to Qi than the types of electromagnetism we have detected in and around the body so far.

At the conference where I met Dr. Rubik, I had an unusually dramatic experience of being strongly tapped between the eyes by someone who was not physically present.  It didn’t hurt, but it knocked me back a little, and everyone in the room saw that.  Some years ago, such a person pushed my whole body a few inches sideways on my chair.  You can’t help but be impressed when an invisible force moves you against (or at least without) your will.

The other issue with explaining Qi solely as a matter of electromagnetic fields is that electromagnetic effects rapidly diminish with distance, but Qi has no trouble at all being transmitted across any given amount of space.  The tohate experiments are a particularly vivid example of that, but many of us do remote treatments that are effective in a quieter way.  What, precisely, is being transmitted?  Or is that the wrong question?

Here, from the ACEP course, is Gary Schwartz attempting to deal with this issue:
‘Now, how do we explain effects that are taking place across 3000 miles or in London, which is what, 6000 miles from Tucson [where he is based]? Or Sydney, Australia, which is even further. Electromagnetic field effects are insufficient to explain that kind of data because the intensity of electromagnetic fields decreases with the square of the distance, and they are modified by all kinds of objects in the environment. That’s one reason why you need to consider higher level or more sophisticated theories of physics to be able to explain this.’

‘To say that a quantum field is involved in distance, which it may very well be, for example, does not mean that the electromagnetics are not involved in proximal things. You can have multiple layers of mechanism being operative at the same time. That’s why I use a staircase for the explanations so people can see this. The problem with skeptics and probably most of us is that we don’t look at the whole picture.’

So at this point, we are very clear about many aspects of the human biofield— which we can call a manifestation of Qi— but there are large and crucial holes in our understanding.

To be continued….

“Dry Needling” vs. Acupuncture

KH Warren DN infographic

Image

A Patient’s Experience, Expressed in Poetry

Posted with the kind permission of the author.

Poem for Elene

“That’s a nice image,” you said
As I lay on your table
Tiny needles emerging
From points
you carefully chose.
“Bumblebees aren’t supposed
To be able to fly
According to the science
Of aerodynamics,
But they don’t know that:
So, they keep flying anyway.”
In my mind
I see
A fat black bumblebee
Stumble his way
Into a pale, veined, delicate
Flower
Disappearing into its folds.
The flower bends
With the bumblebee’s weight
Until the bee emerges
Seconds later, looking for another bloom.
You are busy near my feet.
“How’s the headache?” you ask
As you put your hands on my temples.
You move to the other end
Of my body
Where I feel you
Pulling energy [worry, stress, fatigue]
Out of my toes. Then
You gently work on my neck.
You pull on my neck— ah, heaven.
I relax,
Wanting to sleep for a long time
Right there on your table.
I leave……..I go home
Feeling peaceful………..
As peaceful
As I felt last summer
As I watched
The
Unhurried,
Purposeful,
Impossible
Flight of the bumblebee.

— Diane Plummer
5/21/06

Bonding with Complex Creatures

Posted at “Elene Explores” on 5/18/15  http://elenedom.wordpress.com

Colorful_Parrots_Couple

Macaw photo credit: Riza Nugraha on Flickr

Our local PBS channel reran a 2013 Nature program, “Parrot Confidential.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/parrot-confidential-parrot-confidential/8496/ It’s about the fascinating complexity of parrot brains and behavior, and makes the point that birds in the parrot family are wild animals that in many ways are unsuitable as pets. They have been extremely popular, though, and huge numbers of them are homeless refugees in the US, because people buy them and then find themselves unwilling or unable to keep them. A great many have been poached from the wild, and in an attempt to prevent that from happening, bird lovers have bred them domestically. Eventually this turned out to be compounding the problem, so breeders shut down their operations, and now everyone who wants a parrot is strongly encouraged to adopt one from a shelter. Habitat loss as well as poaching has threatened parrots in the wild, with the ironic result that their numbers in their native countries are decreasing even as shelters here are bursting at the seams.

But pet parrot overpopulation, while I want to spread the word about it, is not my main subject for today. I guess my subject is “bonding with complex creatures.” It seemed to me, when I watched the program, that the parrot experiences could teach us a great deal of what we humans need to understand about relationships.

One of the difficulties, and at the same time one of the joys, of living with a parrot is its deep attachment to its human companion. [Disclaimer: I do not live with a parrot and never have— I only know about this from observation.] The program explained why this is so. Parrots spend virtually all their time with their mate, and the human becomes a mate substitute and is also expected to give 100% attention. This is likely not what the human expected.

Among the parrots featured by the Nature team was a yellow-naped Amazon named Basil. He had done well with his human family for his first four years, bonding especially strongly with the husband, until he hit puberty. Then suddenly it was no longer okay that the husband was away a lot on business. The wife and kids became Basil’s targets, with the wife getting the brunt of his wrath. He would actually fly at her and attack her, and had to be locked in his cage to protect her and the children.

Parrot-Confidential-Basil1At one point during this period, the family wanted to take a vacation. They had friends who also had a male yellow-naped Amazon, and they asked to leave Basil at their house. Neither bird had ever had the opportunity to interact with another of his kind, and as soon as they met, they were best friends.

Two weeks went by, and Basil’s family returned. They put him in his cage and started out the door, and as they were leaving, the other bird, Coco, began to scream, with total clarity, “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” (And some people say that birds can’t use human language appropriately.) Well, no one could hear that heartrending sound and not be moved. They immediately brought Basil back, and it was decided that he would stay and be adopted by Coco’s family.

I was much moved by Coco’s pleas myself, and it seemed to me that what he was saying was something fundamental to all of us. More and more I think that relationships boil down to something very simple. Most creatures with some degree of awareness want to bond with others of their kind, or failing that, others of some kind.

If you put someone in a cage, they will not be at their best. One of the experts said that sometimes he is asked what the right size of cage for a macaw is, and he replies that it’s 35 square miles, their range in the wild. There is no right-sized cage, he said. For anyone, probably.

If you expect someone to act in a way that is contrary to their nature, your expectations will not be met. We were told that people ask for a bird that sings, that is quiet, and that doesn’t bite, and that there is no such species.

The main character in this presentation was Lou, a cockatoo who had been left alone to starve in his cage when his family’s house was foreclosed upon. The humans had just up and left him in the empty house. Fortunately, the neighbors noticed that something was amiss, and they had animal control come and look into the situation. The very traumatized and timid Lou was taken to a shelter filled with dozens of other cockatoos. He had to be quarantined for a month, and then he was placed into the aviary, still in his cage in order to protect him from possible aggression. When the staff finally decided it was safe to open his cage, he climbed to its roof, and a beautiful scene ensued. One of the females, Princess, sidled over to Lou in the most non-threatening and gentle way, with her back to him, as if to say, “Don’t mind me, not trying to bother you, just cleaning my wings over here.” Lou seemed to light up, and a moment later the two were preening each other’s neck feathers and clicking beaks as if they’d been together forever.

Humans make everything about relationships incredibly more complicated, with all sorts of arbitrary rules. I wonder if we could try just settling down with each other sometimes and sharing a nice piece of fruit or something.

 

We think of the natural world as a place of ruthless competition, but as Lynne McTaggart made clear in her book The Bond, cooperation is more prevalent and more beneficial. It can be shown rigorously, through game theory, that cooperation generally leads to the best outcomes for all. Many times, though, altruism seems to gain an animal nothing in particular except perhaps a pleasant feeling. McTaggart began the book* with an example of not a dog-eat-dog but a dog-help-dog story. It seems that her own dog was crazy about the dog next door, and although there was no advantage to be had for mating (both dogs being fixed), or anything at all other than friendship, he shared food and toys with her whenever he got the chance.

I know not every kind of animal enjoys company like this, but through the magical power of Facebook videos, I’ve marveled at the variety of animals who do. Even creatures as “unintelligent” as tortoises interact with other animals in fascinating and complex ways. Every species from bats to wombats seems to appreciate care and snuggling under the right circumstances. Humans are no different.

*http://thebond.net/ I went to find a link to the book for you, and found that there are other related materials available. Haven’t checked these out as yet.

______________________________________________________

After working on this post during the afternoon, I attended a web meeting of a new organization that’s trying to form, based on Alex Loyd’s book Beyond Willpower. The central idea of the book is extremely simple: You can have love, or you can have fear. If you act out of love, things will generally go well, and if you act out of fear, they will tend to go badly. At the time that the book was published, earlier this year, I was encountering this idea over and over in various places. I don’t think there is a more important concept anywhere. It transforms everything. The group intends to help spread the transformation.

Aggression and other negative behaviors have fear at their core. There is fear of abandonment, for example, at the bottom of the violence Basil the parrot visited on his family when his preferred human was not at home. Humans have the choice to think more clearly about the reasons for their behavior and to change it for the better.

http://beyondwillpowertogether.com/

What if you’re afraid of needles?

First, please don’t worry!  Most people find acupuncture to be quite painless.  I’m extremely sensitive myself, and I’m used to working with patients who are sensitive or nervous.

If you still decide that you’d rather not have needles at all, again, don’t worry.  We can treat you by doing contact needling, touching a blunt silver needle (kind of like a small knitting needle) to the surface of your skin.  Or I can treat points by touching with my finger, or by taping on small metal pellets.  Magnets are another possibility.

We can also treat you with energy work in a more general way, without using the system of points, but acupuncture points are so helpful that I think you will prefer to have them involved.  I usually teach patients points they can press to treat themselves at home, too.

There are lots of possible ways to reach your goal of feeling good and having a body that works the way you want it to.  Let’s find out what will work best for you.

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