How Qigong is used to improve symptoms of Asthma, COPD, depression, and anxiety

By Guest Writer, Ryan M. Killarney L.Ac.

“Diet and exercise”, those are three words that you may have heard before from your friends, your doctors and the countless articles, just like this one, offering new advice for your health.  Incorporating either of these things is for most people no small feat. Sure, a 30 day challenge with low carbs or 20 min of daily meditation should be no big deal. However, for some reason keeping up with health routines is for me and many others, a continued struggle.  

Another phrase comes to mind when I notice something that seems difficult to grasp as a life practice….”Keep it simple stupid”.  They say you’ve got to crawl before you can walk and in my experience simple and foundation building practices tend to stick. Even when you take a break from walking, you can always crawl.  

The practice of Qigong, pronounced (chee-gong), is an exercise form that incorporates martial arts and meditative movement to promote balance between the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the functions of organs which it governs, ie-heart, lungs, intestines, bladder.  Using slowly performed postures and utilizing mental concentration, muscle relaxation, and relaxed breathing, qigong offers a safe and accessible exercise for all. (1) No matter the age or fitness level, anyone can begin a lifelong cultivation of strength and flexibility without the risk of injury that can come with conventional weightlifting or running.

In treating COPD, (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), many patients report psychological issues that accompany the physical limitations.  Some of the common symptoms exhibited include shortness of breath, chronic productive cough, and frequent pulmonary infections. As these symptoms progress further manifestations such as anhedonia, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and low energy can accompany the decline of one’s health.(2)  Along with traditional medical treatments, pulmonary exercise has been utilized to increase endurance during physical activity and decrease breathlessness.  Reports using TaiQi and Qigong have shown better functional capacity and pulmonary function in patients with COPD.(1)

In Chinese medical philosophy all of the major organ systems are categorized into 2 groups, either Yin or Yang.  Yang Organs are generally the hollow, digestive organs of the body and the yin organs are the more solid and vital organs.  The yin organs most associated with anxiety, COPD, and other pulmonary disorders are the lungs and heart. The lungs being responsible for oxygen and carbon dioxide transfer in and out of the blood stream and the heart, embedded within the lungs are responsible for spreading out the oxygenated blood throughout the body.  

It makes sense that when trying to strengthen the body to treat pulmonary disorders and anxiety, focusing on both of these organs and the muscles that encompass the chest would be part of an integrated treatment strategy.  On the anterior portion of the chest the muscles to focus on are the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and serratus anterior. The muscles of the upper back include the trapezius, rhomboids, infraspinatus, teres major and teres minor.  Knowing these muscles of the chest will help when isolating the breath during the Qigong exercise.

For this particular exercise, while standing in a shoulder width relaxed posture, as you inhale the arms will gently float up directly in front of the chest at about the level of the heart.  The palms will be facing the ground and as you exhale slowly the arms will spread gently toward the sides of the body and then as the body genty inhales, the palms turn up toward the sky and come back toward the centerline of the body.  The whole time the arms stay at the level of the heart. Ideally this pattern is repeated 20 times, slowly and with even breaths. When beginning this practice 20 repetitions is a good goal, while it may be difficult at first, a daily practice will help to strengthen weak muscles, circulate blood and relax the nervous system.

Admittedly, learning this practice via text is not the most optimal platform, which is why I have created a simple video to follow along.  Use this video to see the details of this exercise as it will help to demonstrate what I have described earlier. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JNlgnqA5TM

 

  1. Ngai SPC, Jones AYM, Tam WWS. Tai Chi for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD009953. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009953.pub2.
  2. Cantor,Current Psychiatry. 2003 November;2(11):45-54)