Qi Gong for Hypertension
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of the most common serious health problems in the United States. The American Heart Association estimates that about 73 million Americans have high blood pressure. In 2004 (the last year for which data is available), hypertension was responsible for 54,707 deaths. Qi Gong may be an effective method for treating hypertension as an alternative to prescription drugs and other allopathic medicine.
How Is Qi Gong Used to Treat Hypertension?
Qi Gong practitioners emphasize the use of proper breathing techniques to reduce high blood pressure. They recommend the use of deep diaphragmatic breathing to increase the intake and circulation of oxygen, especially in conditions where air is pure and fresh, such as following rainstorms. Some also recommend the use of negative ion generators to ensure that inhaled air has an excess of negative (“good”) ions and a deficiency of positive (“bad”) ions. Breathing exercises can be conducted in either a sitting or lying position, or when performing Qi Gong movements. Slow, regular abdominal breathing is thought to relax the muscles surrounding blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more smoothly and reducing blood pressure.
Meditation exercises may also help. One suggestion is to imagine warm or slightly cool water flowing downward from the head, completely covering the torso, and flowing out of the toes into the ground, carrying with it excess heat and tension from the body.
How Effective is Qi Gong in Treating Hypertension?
Research teams have reviewed hundreds of studies and found that people with hypertension who practice Qi Gong tend to be less likely to experience stroke, heart attack, and other serious medical problems. While Qi Gong may not be more effective in reducing hypertension than traditional drugs used to treat high blood pressure or other forms of exercise, such as swimming, biking, or walking, it does tends to increase overall well-being and avoids the unpleasant side effects that accompany many prescription drugs.
What Is Qi Gong?
Qi Gong (also written as Qigong and known as Chi Kung) is an ancient Chinese medical practice designed to maintain one’s mental, spiritual, and physical health and to treat a variety of disorders. The earliest mention of Qi Gong in Chinese medical literature was during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to CE 220) in a book entitled Huang Ti Nei Jing(The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine). The book explains that a fundamental principle of Chinese medicine is the practice of physical movement that will achieve a correct balance of yin and yang, the two fundamental forces that make up the human personality. In general, Qi Gong was seen as a group of exercises designed to ensure the proper accumulation and flow of Qi, the energy principle, throughout the body. In fact, the term Qi Gong itself comes from two Chinese terms that mean “life energy” or “cosmic force” (Qi) and “work” (Gong).
Qi Gong includes a wide variety of exercises that involve diaphragmatic and nostril breathing; shoulder relaxation exercises; standing, sitting, and recumbent (lying) exercises; exercises for the eyes; hundreds of rhythmic full body movement exercises; and a complete set of meditation exercises that involve no physical movements. The purpose of the meditation exercises is to learn to control the movement of Qi by mental concentration.
The role of Qi Gong in Chinese medicine and Chinese culture appears to have undergone a change after the death of leader Mao Tse-tung in 1976. Government officials seemed eager to place the traditional Chinese practice on a level with modern scientific methods and have encouraged research to determine how and to what extent the practice is useful in treating a variety of medical problems.
What Is Hypertension?
When blood flows through the circulatory system, it causes pressure on the inner walls of veins and arteries. That pressure is measured by two numbers: systolic (the highest pressure exerted on artery walls) and diastolic (the lowest pressure exerted on artery walls). “Normal” blood pressure is defined as 120/80 or less (read “120 over 80"), a systolic pressure of 120 or less and a diastolic pressure of 80 or less. Blood pressures of greater than 120/80 are said to be indications of pre-hypertension (120–139/80–89), stage 1 hypertension (140–159/90–99), and stage 2 hypertension (160 and above/100 and above).
The causes of hypertension are not known, although a number of factors are thought to be related to high blood pressure, including:
- Being overweight or obese
- Excessive sodium (salt) in the diet
- Lack of physical activity
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Genetic factors
- Other diseases, such as disorders of the adrenal and thyroid glands and of the kidneys
Hypertension is regarded as a serious medical problem because it is associated with a number of significant health disorders, including heart attack and heart failure; stroke; kidney failure; and vision problems, such as bleeding in the back of the eye, swelling of the optic nerve, and development of spots on the retina. Qi Gong is one alternative treatment method that may help.
Wilson, Stanley D. Qi Gong for Beginners: Eight Easy Movements for Vibrant Health. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2007.