Changes in mind/body functions associated with qigong practice

Author: Lin Shin
International Alliance for Mind/Body Signaling and Energy Research and Susan Samueli Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, University of California, Irvine, CA
Conference/Journal: Soc. Acupuncture Research, 10th Symposium
Date published: 2003
Other: Pages: 15 , Word Count: 561

Qigong, the name used collectively to describe many different Chinese styles of mind/body training that involve regulation of mind, body, and respiration, is thought to enhance qi development and circulation in the body for improvement of health and healing of disease. These beneficial effects are similar to those produced by acupuncture and certain herbal drugs. The newly formed International Alliance for Mind/Body Signaling and Energy Research is dedicated to the common goal of applying the latest in biomedical technology to gain a deeper understanding of the physiological basis of such effects produced by qigong. It is hoped that such research would accelerate the full integration of qigong into Western medical practice and training. The Alliance has its headquarters located at UC Irvine, and has laboratories in a dozen institutions, including UC San Diego, California Institute of Human Science, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and National Yang Ming University in Taiwan. The following are some of the recent developments in collaborative research conducted at these Alliance laboratories. First, the single square voltage pulse method was used to measure electrical conductance before polarization at jing-well acupoints of the 12 major meridians in a group of high-level qigong practitioners. It was found that following qigong practice, the measurements increased by as much as 50%. Because this parameter is thought to reflect the strength of vital organs associated with the meridians, this result could be taken as evidence of the overall beneficial effects of qigong practice on the body. Second, heart rate variability (HRV) analysis of electrocardiograms was used to study changes in the autonomic nervous system accompanying qigong practice. During regulation of respiration, a strong peak of low frequency corresponding to the deep breathing cycles appeared in the power spectrum (i.e., respiration sinus arrhythmia). When the practitioners entered a deep meditative state involving mind regulation, a high frequency peak similar to that seen during deep sleep appeared. These results suggest that qigong practice can increase parasympathetic and decrease sympathetic responses, with subsequent effects on cardiac function. In related experiments, independent component analysis of electroencephalograms also showed that the qigong meditative state resembles the sleeping state by the strong theta waves at the mid-forebrain. On the other hand, the meditative state is also accompanied by enhanced beta waves at this location, indicating deep mental concentration not seen in the sleeping state. Third, when the qigong practitioners were instructed to focus their intention on 'sending qi to the hands' during mind regulation, laser Doppler flowmetry showed a quick increase in local blood flow in that part of the body. This increase was accompanied by an increase in local skin temperature as monitored by infrared imaging, and a significant change in biophoton emission measured with a single photon counter. In conclusion, emerging data from collaborative studies at Alliance laboratories are showing that qigong practice leads to measurable changes in mind/body functions that could be explained by conscious control of the autonomic nervous system. Future experiments will be aimed at understanding how specific physiological effects are produced by elements of qigong practice common to different schools and styles, and the introduction of additional technologies such as DNA microarrays to measure expression of immune-related proteins and functional MRI and magnetoencephalograms to localize brain activities. (Supported by LSR Fund/Samueli Program for Energy Medicine Research and the Joseph and Sou-Lin Lee Endowment for Traditional Chinese Medicine Research).