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Qigong (pronounced chee-kung) is still associated with martial arts and meditation routines practiced by Taoist and Buddhist monks. Once closely guarded, its practices are widely available today to the public around the world.

Medical qigong treatment is recognized as a standard technique in Chinese hospitals since 1989, and has been included in the curriculum of major universities in China. Following years of controversy and debate, the Chinese government in 1996 decided to officially manage the practice through government regulation and has listed it as part of their National Health Plan.

Yet many controversial aspects of it remain. Some Chinese doctors of both Western and Chinese medicine suggest that in order for it to be accepted by the modern world it must pass the test of scientific study. Without such studies, they believe, it will be dismissed as superstition. Such research did begin in the 1980s and continues.

The Chinese government has generally tried to encourage it as a science but discourage religious or supernatural elements. However, it should be said that the category of science in China tends to include things that are generally not considered scientific in the West.

A history of the practice and the political and scientific controversy may be found here.

My own personal experience . . .

I practiced martial arts until my late fifties. As I got older, some aspects of the training, mostly those involving grappling, irritated my lower back, and eventually the pain became chronic. Stubbornly, I would rest until the pain went away, and then return -- until I hurt myself again.

During my several “recoveries” I tried various kinds of stretching, physical therapies, and chiropractic. Some were helpful, others not.

I forget what inspired me, but early one morning I joined a group of qigong and Tai Chi practitioners who met regularly in a park (I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where this is fairly common).

There were no religious or metaphysical messages, and the only political commentary that I noticed was a "Free Tibet" bumper sticker on the teacher's car.

There was breathing and relaxation instruction with soft stretching and flexibility coaching that was different from other methods I had experienced. It was quiet and calming and, to my surprise, provided pain relief almost immediately. I practiced with them regularly for several months. It was by far the most successful pain relief method I tried.

To this day, I include many of the stretching and relaxation techniques in my training warm-ups and post-workout stretching. -LF

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