Qi Gong and Tai Chi for Asthma
Asthma is a respiratory disorder that affects more than 100 million people worldwide and causes more than 5,000 deaths annually. Treatments for asthma range from chemical therapies to herbal and naturopathic treatment. The Chinese wellness exercises known as qi gong, which include the popular martial art tai chi, have also been shown to have significant benefits in controlling the symptoms of asthma.
How Does Tai Chi and Qi Gong Relieve Asthma?
In a study published in TheJournal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, researchers reported that asthma sufferers practicing Yangsheng Qigong suffered fewer asthma attacks and showed a 10 percent improvement in “peak-flow variability,” a common measure used to evaluate the severity of asthma symptoms. Other studies, and a wealth of anecdotal evidence, support the assertion that qi gong and tai chi are effective in controlling both the severity and the frequency of asthma symptoms.
In traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), practicing qi gong and tai chi helps to circulate energy, or “qi,” through the body. The concentration of qi in certain areas, like the lungs, is believed to be a determining factor in overall health. Not all physicians believe in the “qi” theory and, in recent studies, scientists have been looking for physiological mechanisms that underlie the health benefits of qi gong and tai chi. Researchers have identified several possible connections between qi gong and asthma.
- Immune System: Qi gong and tai chi practitioners have enhanced their immune system function, which may help to combat asthma reactions related to external agents, viruses, and other illnesses.
- Breathing: Qi gong and tai chi help to promote breath control and strengthen the muscles and tissues of the respiratory system. By learning to breathe more effectively, practitioners gain better control of asthma symptoms and suffer fewer asthma attacks.
- Relaxation: Asthma outbreaks are often triggered or exacerbated by emotional and/or physical stress. Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that regularly practicing qi gong or tai chi can help to manage stress, which has a concurrent effect on asthma.
The benefits of qi gong and tai chi develop over time with regular practice. A daily practice in the morning and evening is recommended and well worth the time for asthma suffers and those seeking increased health. Studying under a qualified teacher will also increase the health benefits of these exercises through proper instruction.
What Causes Asthma?
Asthma is characterized by inflammation of the air passages. During an asthma attack, the muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes tighten (bronchospasm) and the bronchial tubes begin producing mucus, both of which make it more difficult to breathe.
Generally, asthma attacks are characterized by the following physical symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Constriction of the lungs and chest
Asthma attacks can be triggered by allergens and air pollutants, like pollen and dust, and may also be triggered by infections of the lungs or by physical and emotional stress. Standard treatment involves hormones that help to relax the bronchial muscles, thereby freeing the airways.
Researchers have found that asthma is more common in areas with higher levels of air pollution. Asthma is also related to genetic factors and researchers have found that parents who suffer from asthma may have children who are particularly sensitive to the condition. Exposure to environmental triggers and respiratory illness in childhood is also a determining factor in the development of asthma.
What is Qi Gong?
Qi gong is an ancient system of exercise that is related to the Chinese belief in “qi,” a type of energy that is produced by all living things and is essential to biological processes. Qi gong, which includes tai chi, is a system for learning to manipulate qi in the body and in the environment. The term “qi gong” literally translates as “the acquired skill of energy.”
Qi gong and tai chi are also used to combat illness and improve health. By learning to direct “qi” to certain parts of the body, it is believed that practitioners can directly combat certain medical conditions. For asthma sufferers, qi can be directed to the lungs and chest to ease symptoms.
While some Western physicians and scientists reject the idea of “qi,” because scientists have been unable to confirm the existence of “qi” in the body, research indicates that qi gong and tai chi have profound effects on the body. In comparison to other forms of low-impact aerobic exercise, tai chi and qi gong have been found to be more effective in helping with certain types of illnesses, including respiratory and immune conditions.
Qi gong involves a combination of controlled, coordinated movements with breathing exercises and meditation. With training, practitioners gain greater control over both their movement and their autonomic processes, like breathing. The meditative aspect of qi gong training is also effective in helping to relieve stress, which is a contributing factor to many physical conditions.
Finding a Professional
Most states do not require licensing or certification to teach or practice qi gong, but qualified teachers are granted permission to teach by the institution where they trained or their teacher. Respected qi gong teachers can be found by contacting licensed traditional Chinese medicine specialists and asking which teachers they would recommend.
I. Reuther and D. Aldridge. “Management of Asthma: A Single Case Appraisal.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. June 1, 1998, 4(2): 173-183.
Myeong Soo Lee, Mo Kyung Kim and Hoon Ryu. “Qi-Training (Qigong) Enhanced Immune Functions: What is the Underlying Mechanism?” International Journal of Neuroscience. 2005, vol. 115, no8, pp. 1099-1104.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a compliment of articles explaining the condition of asthma and common treatment options.
The Qigong and Energy Medicine Database, produced by the Qigong Institute provides a number of articles and references to articles with information about the health benefits of qi gong and tai chi.