Saturday, June 20, 2009

IS there such a force as CHI, QI, or PRANA?

At the very end of the day, this is what we know: physical activity is one of the best activities for preventing a whole array of diseases. Greeks, Indians and Chinese knew this but did NOT or could not empirically prove it. They all created an energetic system of healing. Greeks had Pneuma, Indians have Prana and the Chinese, Chi. But we also know it is it is really hard to exercise everyday, maybe those ancient teachers knew this too?

Until someone actually does a study like one I have designed which isolates Chi practice from physical activity then there can be NO proof of any single activity that people claim cultivate Chi is valid. In other words, all the positive effects of 'Chi' could easily be explained by physical activity. My study would not prove the existence of Chi itself but it could prove that activities which claim to cultivate Chi are more efficacious than running on a trend mill. Maybe one day I will find myself in a situation where I could run that experiment. Or maybe a new technology will come along that measures Chi?

One of the biggest issues in discussing, explaining or even harder, proving Chi is that we have to fuse together two explanatory models about the world. An explanatory model is a structured thought or diagram or paradigm, which attempts to make sense of our world in a simplified way. Hence the only way to explain Chi must be in terms of physics and biophysics. The Chinese had no knowledge of what we would call modern physics but they did understand how to make use of it. This is where we run into problems, I could say Chi is energy but there is a whole field called thermodynamics that also deals with energy. I could say, Chi is the movement of neurotransmitters in the body; again there is a whole field of science that researches this. Unfortunately by applying an old language to a new science much gets lost in translation. Then why use Chi at all? Part of me thinks it is not necessary and part of me thinks that the concept of Chi gives us something to grab onto when explaining complex bodily functions. While leading a lesson on Tai Chi I can’t say, "now let’s feel the release of dopamine and serotonin." It is so much more convenient and accessible to say, "let the Chi sink into your belly." But I also feel it serves another purpose.

The activity of learning and exploring through being thoughtful or mindful is also extremely beneficial towards living a long and healthy life. Many cognitive psychologists are finding that if humans learn something new and complex they are less likely to suffer severe memory loss. Being thoughtful about Chi and its interactions with the complexities of our physiology serves two purposes. One, it keeps my mind active reading higher level material instead of playing video games, which have not proved to prolong memory and two, it motivates me to return to practice, day in and day out. The outcome of which is a highly functional system of cognitive and physiological benefits both inspiring each other. If the mystery of Chi keeps me practicing for 50, 60 or more years than that is quite an achievement by itself.

The paradox of physical exercise is that our minds know it is good for us but the mind has to motivate the body to get up and do it consistently for there to be any benefit. What if the mystery of Chi Gong is so complex that is can not be empirically 'figured out' as so many of us try? That makes it the ultimate cliffhanger created by a most wise sifu. If you ever have a chance to meet one of these people after-death or otherwise, and you finally get to ask that one burning question that has been tugging at you for years, "is Chi real?" Sifu would say, "the mind is dumb and the body is the smart." "Ah ha," you say, "I knew it was a trick all along." And before that smugness has a chance to settle, the sifu responds, "But the mind always has to be right."