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Qigong, pronounced "chee-gung", can be translated as vital energy exercise. There are many forms of Qigong, ranging from very vigorous to meditative. Qigong practice utilizes the breath, mind and body movement to move the Qi, or vital energy, through our bodies. With this smooth flow of energy we can regain a general sense of well being and feel healthy, vital, calm and connected.

The following is an interview of Rich Marantz conducted by Williams College students Dean Laochamroonorapongse and Robin Hwang - April 10, 2003

Question 1: What is Qigong? What are the origins?

Answer: Qigong is a very broad term. The basic meaning is vital energy (qi) exercise (gong). The word qi translates as, breath, air, vital energy and or life source. In English we really do not have word that sufficiently describes qi. So Qigong is the practice of working with qi. This can be done in many forms. In fact it is said there are over 1000 forms of Qigong.

For the most part, they have in common utilizing the breath, the mind (intention) and body movement to circulate the qi. Some of the ways Qigong can be used is; to move the qi internally to remove stagnation, to connect with and draw upon universal qi, to balance the qi both internally and externally, to release negative or harmful qi and cultivate positive qi and externally to treat others or for martial arts.

Qigong exercises range from extremely vigorous in their movement to those that are meditative with little to no body movement. At times sound is used to move the qi. Qigong is also used in massage, both on ones self and on others.

There is dispute concerning the origins of Qigong and since I am neither a scholar nor an historian, I do not feel I can give an accurate answer to this question. Keeping that in mind, I have been taught that Qigong dates back 5000 year to early Chinese civilization beginning with shamanism practices. In more "modern" times the Taoists and Buddhists developed many forms of Qigong for treating and preventing illness as well as for martial arts.

My personal feeling on this subject is that when the first person began realizing that regulating the breath and moving their body in certain ways that they felt better, that this is the origin of Qigong.

Question 2: Can you explain the philosophy behind Qigong?

Answer: The philosophy behind Qigong is really dependent on the particular form you are practicing and the school of thought out of which it is derived. As I had mentioned, both the Taoists and Buddhists developed forms of Qigong and there are different schools within each of these categories.

With that said, the basic common philosophy is that qi is inherent in everything in the universe, including humans (we are not as special as we like to think). When this qi or energy stagnates or becomes out of balance we become sick. When it is in balance and flows freely we live healthy and happy lives. This can be illustrated with water. If you are walking through the woods and see a stagnant pond of water and a stream of quick flowing water, which would you drink from? In addition to this since qi is inherent in everything, we are all connected and can draw upon the qi of something else, such as the earth or the sun. We all feel better when the sun is out or from a nice walk in the woods. So in a way this is a practice of Qigong and even more so when done mindfully.

Qi is not limited to matter. As an example emotions can be seen as qi. We can understand this by the fact that when we walk in a room, we can feel the tension when someone in the room is angry or conversely feel the excitement when someone is joyful. What we are feeling is the qi or energy of that emotion.

Question 3: How did you get started/interested in Qigong?

Answer: In 1989 I was injured at work and subsequently had a disc removed from my lower back. I lived in severe chronic pain with no end in sight. The medical community told me this was the way it would always be and for me to learn to live with it. I decided to try acupuncture to help with a severe month-long headache associated with the whole body muscle spasms I was experiencing. Upon inquiring about Tai-chi, the acupuncturist referred me to a Tai-chi teacher who also taught me Qigong.

In hindsight, I have been interested in the power of the mind and energy all of my life, reading books and experimenting. I had many "unexplainable" experiences as a child. Utilizing the power of the mind helped me to cope with an abusive childhood. The abilities that I had as child (which I think we all come into this world with inherent energetic abilities) were never cultivated, so my formal training in Qigong did not begin until after my injury as an adult.

Question 4: How is it related to Tai-chi?

Answer: My feeling is that Tai-chi, which was developed as a blending of Taoist philosophy and martial arts, can be seen as a form of Qigong.  Tai-chi has been said to be the highest form of Qigong.

Question 5: Is it different from Reiki?

Answer: This is difficult for me to answer since I am not a Reiki practitioner. However from the limited understanding I have about Reiki, ultimately it is the same.

Question 6: Besides the fact that Qigong/Tai-chi works, why do you think your clients are drawn to Qigong?

Answer: There are many reasons that people find Tai-chi/ Qigong. For some they have seen a friend who has realized positive benefit. For some it is because of a specific illness that conventional medicine is having limited or no effect, such as in my case. Some people can not put their finger on it but realize their lives are not working, or they are very stressed and are seeking a better way of being. I think this is the majority of the people I see. Even if they have a specific physical or emotional illness many times stress and difficult lifestyle plays a significant role in their illness, either as the cause or making it worse. Some come to learn Qigong without any visible issues but are looking for a way to connect their mind and body after years of strictly physical or intellectual pursuits. Some come as spiritual seekers.

Question 7: Why have you decided to teach groups rather than practice on individuals?

Answer: I have been trained to both teach and to treat others using medical Qigong. I have utilized my practice to treat others with some success. However my path is to be a teacher, not to treat others. My path is to help others learn to help themselves by showing them the process of healing, not by healing them. I now only use my Qigong to treat my family and under special circumstances.
( Since the time of this interview this has changed and I do treat individuals using Qigong external-qi healing method )

Question 8: Why is a master necessary if it's self-healing?

Answer: First, I must clarify I am not a master so I can not answer this from master's point of view. Qigong is very powerful and there are certain pitfalls. Just as there is power for healing there are times that it can have negative effects and someone who has walked further along can be a watchful guide for the student/patient. I will paraphrase a close friend here. Just because you can start a car doesn't mean you know how to steer or stop it.

Question 9: Can Qigong treat chronic illness?

Answer: Maybe yes and maybe no. There are too many variables to give a definitive answer. In my personal case, as well as in some of what I have seen in others, I would answer yes but it does not necessarily apply to all cases.

Question 10: Can you give specific examples as to how Qigong has healed you physically or emotionally?

Answer: As I mentioned before I began my practice due to severe chronic back pain. Through the practice of Tai-chi and Qigong that is no longer an issue for me. Another instance I had a rotater cuff (shoulder) injury that conventional therapy was not helping. Using mind and breath techniques I was able to overcome this problem as well. I had digestive problems all of my life and combination of Tai-chi and dietary changes has regulated my digestive system. I have had near perfect eyesight all of my life. After a number of years as jeweler my eyesight began to deteriorate. I began a regimen of Qigong eye exercises and within a short period of time I regained my good eyesight. In addition, I am color blind ( a genetic condition) and when I regularly practice these eye exercises my color blindness is not as severe since I have more trouble with colors when my eyes are weak and tired. I would say though, the most significant healing for me has been overcoming Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe clinical depression. This was accomplished by looking for and applying the philosophies I learned through Tai-chi and Qigong into my daily life. It is important to note this was in conjunction with psychological therapy.

Question 11: In using Qigong as a healing method, how do you measure success? Would there be any reason for you to be pessimistic about using Qigong to treat a particular patient?

Answer: There are many different levels of success in healing. If you feel better after you have practiced or have been treated than I would consider this a success. Sometimes to expect full healing from a particular condition is to close our eyes to just feeling somewhat better which then can open us up to true healing. I often say, we get out of Tai-chi/ Qigong what we need, which is not always necessarily what we originally were looking for. For example: A man is dying of cancer and seeks the help of a Qigong practitioner. Through his treatments or practice he finds the love and connection with his family that he had lost many years before. He then dies from his cancer. Can we say that the practice or treatments were not a success in healing him?

There are some times that energy work can be contra-indicated. I feel that when someone is unstable emotionally or mentally they have to be very careful with the movement of energy. They would need to be approached or approach the practice very gently and move along very slowly. I have also been taught never to massage a cancerous tumor, so there are times that we have proceed with caution. I borrow the Western concept of "first do no harm". It is also important to choose the appropriate exercise for the person. If someone's a problem is overheating and being overactive it would be inappropriate to practice a Qigong exercise that creates heat in the body.

Question 12: Can you give us demo on how a patient is treated?

Answer:Not applicable

Question 13: Do you need to be certified to practice? Are there government regulations of practicing Qigong? Is there insurance compensation/coverage?

Answer: It is not a requirement to be certified to practice Qigong. However there are national organizations that are working on a standard for Qigong practitioners for certification. This is a difficult issue. First since there are so many schools of Qigong, whose school sets the standard? Some Qigong has been passed down originating with hermits in the mountains of China and those forms are not as popular, other teachers taught to the masses so are well known. This then becomes a political issue or my Qigong is more valid than your Qigong. At the same time since Qigong can be very powerful, in the "wrong" hands it can be detrimental to a person's health.

My feeling is the best way is to educate the public to be aware that not all Qigong practitioners have the patient/students best interest in mind or have not done there own work to prepare them to treat or teach others. I say, education not regulation. Please let's not get the government involved with this. For the record I have received verbal permission from my teachers to teach and treat others. I have also received a scroll in Chinese stating my lineage in Taoist Qigong and martial arts practices.

I am not aware of insurance coverage. Although I have a private student who submits receipts from Tai-chi lessons and is reimbursed from medical flex pay. At the beginning of my training I was reimbursed from worker's compensation (I hurt my back on the job) for Tai-chi lessons. Money well spent by them since it is what got me well enough to return to work again.

Question 14: Do you belong to a specific network of Qigong practitioners? Are there a set of standards in which Qigong masters have to adhere to?

Answer: At this point I am not a member of any organizations.
( This has also changed since this interview and I am a member in good standing of the North American Wudang Taoist Association)

As I said before, the standards are set by a particular school or organization.

My ideas when it comes to Qigong practitioners and in particular masters is skill without integrity is dangerous and good intention without skill can also be dangerous.

Question 15: Why was there such skepticism previously of Qigong?

Answer: Ask the skeptics. Since I cannot read their minds I can only speculate. We have been taught here in the West that if it cannot be proved or measured that it is not valid. Partly I think it is also because of religious dogma that brings about a belief that Qigong is witchcraft or mere superstition. There is also the idea, that there can be a healing power that is unseen and/or that we can heal ourselves frightens many people for one reason or another. But as I said this is only speculation.

Question 16: Why do you think that the number of Americans who embrace alternative medicine has increased over the past decade?

Answer: I think many people are seeing that Western medicine cannot help with all of the modern problems that Western society has created, so they look to balance the wonders of modern technology with the wisdom of ancient understandings.
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