Qigong Deviation



Qigong deviations (adverse symptoms) are currently seen as a romantic escape from the drudgery of everyday life and many times they are either under reported as deficiency (not really important) or over emphasized as a goal to be sought as manifested by 'qi flow'.

The modern term of 'pian cha' (deviation) is the preferred term of use for adverse experiences or events while the old(er) and archaic designation of 'zou huo ru mo' (devil running fire) may actually mirror what we deem as a serious adverse event (SAE) or symptom while the former may denote a minor problem that can potentially be fixed with minimal feedback to the subject. Qigong deviations, or better said, adverse symptoms associated with qigong, are actually few and far between. Many practitioners do adhere to the basic rules of practice and tend to comply with its components.

Culture bound qigong deviations with its political base of persecutions have recently given the impression that this is a common problem when in reality, if they were judged as such, they may actually be undiagnosed mental/psychiatric conditions that come to forefront under the banner of government repression!

Definition Of Adverse Experience (Event)

An adverse experience is any 'untoward occurrence in a subject being administered a product or partaking in an intervention which may not necessarily have a causal relationship with the treatment'. The actual adverse event (AE) can therefore be any unfavorable and/or unintended sign (for example, an abnormal laboratory finding), symptom (associated with qigong), whether or not considered related to the product (in this case, qigong).

Severity Definition
Mild Causing some limitation of normal activities
Moderate Causing limitation of normal activities
Severe Causing inability to follow through with normal activities
Intolerable Serious and/or life threatening

The term 'side effect' may also be an alternate way of defining a symptom as it may be both favourable or unfavorable. An event (experienced by the practitioner that never happened before) associated with qigong will have at least 4 definitions associated with it. They can be classified as: (see chart)

Those with symptoms rated as intolerable will usually encounter problems that are cardiovascular or psychiatric in origin.

In anecdotal cases, many cardiovascular problems may be grounded in prolonged QT elongation, a potential life threatening condition while the psychiatric diagnosis may be of undiagnosed origin but manifesting with the onset some type of 'novel health enhancing regimen'.

Some examples of symptoms are 'insomnia', 'difficulty sleeping', (degree and intensity) and 'awareness of heart beat'. A serious adverse event (as with the term 'zou huo ru mo') includes any event that; a. Is life threatening b. Requires, or prolongs in-patient hospitalization c. May be potentially fatal d. Causes a significant disruption in an individual's ability to follow through his /her normal routine.

Why Do Adverse Events Manifest In Qigong Practice?

It can be said that the romantic version of qigong deviations begins with teachers telling students to ignore any thing that happens during practice, or, to actually seek what many may be called 'qi flow'.

It can escalate to so called 'qi experience' where the student momentarily loses touch with reality and becomes addicted to the illusory mental scenes being playing out (a mental psychedelic experience) and as a result, potential psychological problems may occur. By itself, this is not a problem. If the events continuously are being overlooked or ignored over time, it can turn into a full fledged diagnosis if not corrected.

It must be acknowledged that there are some qigong methods that require no visualization and they may be safer than those that require various degrees or levels of visualization or thinking of qi channels/meridians.

Anecdotal reports point to book and video instruction as part of the problem despite its well known benefits as an alternate teaching methodology. These are still excellent teaching tools but if we rush the sequence of training, this can potentially harm the person in the long run. We must also keep in mind that some people can actually learn with proper teacher feedback (and video) and there are those whose learning requires more teacher facilitation and limited video access or instruction. For grounding to occur in yangshenggong practice, one must slowly acclimate to the system and do the gong1 associated with it. Hurrying to reach a goal when the body is not prepared can lead to many health associated conditions.

The beginning and ending routines (shougong) are usually de-emphasized in modern practice so it is best to incorporate a systematic pattern. For beginning routine, one can add putting hands at qihai2 or guanyuan3 area for one minute to tell the body "I am ready and centered' as a type of self talk (self hypnosis) and for shougong, put hands at lower dantian (qihai) for 5 minutes to return qi to lower dantian. After that, rub hands together, dry wash face, neck, rub/massage ears, mingmen4 and shenshu5. When completed, slowly and gently adjust body so as to return to regular daily tasks!

The author had an experience where he had just finished a practice (Xuan Ming Dao6 qigong of Teacher Huang Yucheng) and on his way out the door of the practice hall, it seemed that the world was getting smaller and he (this author) was growing like a giant! Even though at street level with cars, everything was shrinking! Luckily Teacher Huang had given instructions that if those type of experiences were present, relax, see but do not interact with the vision and document what you saw. The author brought the problem to the next class and it was discussed within the greater group of students so if they had similar experiences, they would know how to address and solve the problem.


1. Gong (work or effort)

2. Qihai (sea of qi): REN 6

3. Guanyuan (gate of origin): REN 4

4. Mingmen (vital gate): Du 4

5. Shenshu (kidney shu): UB23

6. Xuan Ming Dao was developed by Huang Sifu and it was a synthesis of the methods he had learned earlier in his youth. He also absorbed methods associated with Hexiangzhuang (Soaring Crane Qigong).

Stanton Alleyne has worked in health care industry for over 25 years. He started out developing therapeutic recreation programmes in nursing homes as part of the activities group, then did the same for the Recreation Therapy Department at a Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC). He has worked in clinical research in various capacities and groups (Rheumatology, Anti-Infective, Cardiovascular and Tropical Disease). He teaches taijiquan and qigong for seniors with various disease conditions at a local park district and health center.

Copyright 2007: Qi Journal Spring 2007