Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise and healing technique which involves gentle movement exercises, meditation and controlled breathing exercises. This practice may also go by names such as chi kun, chi gung, or Qi gong, all of which translate to ‘Life energy cultivation’. This name encapsulates the principals of Qigong’s beliefs that the practice integrates and cleanses the body, mind and spirit. This practice was used in ancient Chinese medicine for prevention and curative functions as well as to promote longevity.
Qigong is credited with having a variety of benefits. A few benefits of Qigong which pertain to neuropathy patients are listed below:
It is no secret that instability is a common symptom of those struggling with neuropathy. Due to chronic pain and muscular deterioration, neuropathy patients often find it difficult to maintain balance and stability, which can be very problematic as it may result in falls, slips, etc.
Qigong focuses on a variety of movements and poses which work on balance; and so, with continued practice of this art, one can improve his or her balance. Studies have demonstrated that individuals practicing Qigong show significant improvement in their stabilometry compared to no improvements in individuals who do not practice Qigong (GonzalezLopez-Azra, et al., 2013).
Fight chronic fatigue
Unfortunately, fatigue is a central part of many neuropathies and is often one of the most challenging symptoms for patients to deal with. Luckily, Qigong may be able to relieve individuals of the constant yawning and day dreaming of bed. It is common for individuals practicing Qigong to find that they are more aware, awake and mindful throughout their day after practicing. This is thought to be the result of stimulating circulation allowing more oxygen to the brain and muscles.
If patients are not struggling with constant fatigue, they may be struggling to fight insomnia, or even both! Qigong may have a solution for this by helping to reinforce sleep-wake cycles and encouraging natural sleep patterns. This is done by practicing Qigong relaxation patterns and techniques immediately before bed to switch the mind off and ease the transition between wake and sleep. By doing this prior to bed every evening, a person is also engaging in a ‘bed time routine’ which is also beneficial for promoting sleep because the body and mind both like routine.
Patients with neuropathy generally suffer from some chronic pain issues that can be hard to fight solely with medications. The gentle movements of Qigong may be beneficial to reduce inflammation and gently increase circulation to the nerves which in turn can alleviate chronic pain. Additionally, Qigong may enable a therapeutic level of endorphin release which likewise assist in pain relief. The stretching and movement associated with the flow of poses in Qigong may also decrease muscle tension, providing a relief of pain.
Because Qigong has such a strong focus on the mind-body connection, it is common that patients feel mental clarity following practice. This may a result of breathing and meditation exercise as well as the reduced levels of cortisol and adrenaline.
As mentioned previously, Qigong emphasises the connection between body, breath and mind. This connection is strengthened via methods such as still meditation, moving meditation, massage, sound meditation, body postures, massage, chanting, etc. There are different ways to practice Qigong, some put more emphasis on spiritual and mental work, whereas others are more focused on the physical and martial arts applications of the practice, for example Tai Chi. There are two different therapeutic system classes:
- Internal Qi gong à self-care and self-cultivation
- External Qi gong à involves treatment by a therapist who directs or transmits Qi to facilitate healing
Either of these methods can be undertaken to initiate the healing process in patients with neuropathy.
Qigong is considered a good tool to tackle symptoms of neuropathy for the following reasons:
- Low impact
- Can be performed in the comfort of one’s home
- Sense of community if taken in classes
- Few to no side effects
Overall, Qigong has many potential benefits, mental and physical, for neuropathy sufferers. As always, one should first clarify with his or her family physician prior to engaging in any practice, but overall Qigong appears to be a safe and effective tool to tackle symptoms of neuropathy.
GonzalezLopez-Arza, Maria V, et al. “Qigong improves balance in young women: a pilot study.” Interfaces, vol. 48, no. 1, 2018, doi:10.1287/inte.2018.v48n1.c3.
Chinese Qigong to Promote Sleep, www.shen-nong.com/eng/lifestyles/tcmrole_sleep_qigong.html.
B, Oh, et al. “Effects of Qigong on Quality of Life, Fatigue, Stress, Neuropathy, and Sexual Function in Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer: A Feasibility Study.” OMICS International, OMICS International, 29 July 2014, www.omicsonline.org/open-access/effects-of-qigong-on-quality-of-life-fatigue-stress-neuropathy-and-sexual-function-in-women-with-metastatic-breast-cancer-a-feasibility-study-2329-9096.1000217.php?aid=28559&view=mobile.
CJ, Rhoads. “Mechanism of Pain Relief through Tai Chi and Qigong.” OMICS International, OMICS International, 17 Apr. 2013, www.omicsonline.org/open-access/mechanism-of-pain-relief-through-tai-chi-and-qigong-2167-0846.1000115.php?aid=12373.
Palermo, Elizabeth. “What is Qigong?” LiveScience, Purch, 9 Mar. 2015, www.livescience.com/38192-qigong.html.
“Tai Chi For Periphal Neuropathy Balance, Movement & Pain.” The Foundation For Peripheral Neuropathy, www.foundationforpn.org/living-well/integrative-therapies/tai-chi/.
“What is Qigong?” Energy Arts, 28 Mar. 2012, www.energyarts.com/what-qigong.
Sabrina Martini is a student entering the 4th year of her Bachelors of Science, majoring in Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge.