Chapter III


     This study examines the ancient practice and tradition of qigong, a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and its adaptation into contemporary American culture as an alternative or complementary health care modality.  My research was an outgrowth of seven years of experience with the concept of qi from training in the martial arts, where I first learned of TCM and was intrigued by its energetic concept of the universe.  This interest eventually led me to a four year study of the "mysteries" of qi which led to my seeking practitioners of qigong.

Research Methods

     Both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods were utilized in this study.  The qualitative method centered on ethnographic data collected mainly in the form of participant observation and personal interviews.   With three of the ethnographic informants I assumed the role of a student/apprentice; and, I still continue in this capacity learning each subjects' particular form of healing in depth and progressing to higher levels. The quantitative data were collected by means of a standardized survey instrument.  Additionally, research of the literature permitted a greater depth of understanding and interpretative capability to both the qualitative and quantitative data that were collected.
     In researching qigong there are basically three main groups of concern.  First, the qigong master healer who can use his qigong ability to cure others.  Second, the qigong master martial artist who uses qigong to improve his martial effectiveness but, can also use it to heal.  Finally, the qigong practitioner who simply does qigong for their own personal health and longevity.  Further, qigong can be broken down into external and internal forms and active and passive forms.
     The most logical focus for survey research was the largest group of  "qigong practitioners" because it was inclusive of the other two groups of "qigong master healers" and "qigong master martial artists."  As qigong is still a relatively young practice in the United States, it was difficult to find a sizable population to utilize for survey research.  There are several qigong groups and practitioners in the U.S., however, they are geographically spread all over the country.  The method that was utilized to overcome the distance problem was the utilization of new technology.  A survey of qigong practitioners, who had practiced qigong for a minium of six months, was posted on the World Wide Web (WWW).  The use of the WWW in the survey facilitated collection of data from various individuals that could otherwise not have ever been identified for a survey.  The minimum practice time requirement was determined both from opinions expressed in much of the literature and additionally from many qigong experienced informants.  The survey utilized was the Duke Health Profile (see appendix) which was adapted to use on the WWW.  The Duke is seventeen question, self-administered, questionnaire instrument that measures six function scales and five dysfunction scales to report functional health status during a one week period.  Requests to complete the survey were sent to several email discussion groups that had connections to the topic of qigong,  these consisted of  martial arts, alternative healing, and qigong specific groups.  Fifty-two qigong practitioners completed the survey for the experimental group.  Then a comparison group of non-qigong practitioners was surveyed and resulted in 25 respondents for the control group.  The control group was composed of members of  martial arts discussion groups who felt they did not practice qigong.  Additionally, the survey web site received over 500 hits and numerous individuals emailed me and indicated interest in the survey but noted that they did not fill out the survey because they had not been practicing qigong for the minimum time period required by the survey.  The occurrence of such a large number of hits possibly indicates an interest and popularization of the subject of qigong.

Ethnographic Methods

     The survey research was supplemented by utilizing ethnographic data collected from representatives of the three types of qigong groups and a yoga instructor, as yoga is conceptually and methodologically related to qigong yet, culturally distinct.  The ethnographic component can assist in observing  how this component of Oriental medicine and culture is being integrated into the American popular culture phenomenon of alternative and complementary health care.  The ethnographic data were collected by personal interviews assisted by supplemental communication by email, observation, and participant observation.
     Locating the research subjects was a complicated process.  My literature review provided an initial basis to begin with and I located several possible subjects within a reasonable geographic proximity.  Several possible subjects I initially contacted indicated interest in participating in my study but, for various reasons became unavailable.  One of my primary sources for locating possible research subjects was the Internet which eventually lead to my finding several suitable subjects and one subject even made initial contact with me.
     One of the most interesting things I found during my ethnographic work was the interest shown by energetic healers in being studied.  Many informants expressed interest in participating in more in-depth study of themselves involving hard science experiments of their techniques.  These informants expressed belief that the results of their practice would lend itself to measurement or quantification in some way.
     In my work with a qigong healer, a qigong martial artist and a yoga teacher my research took the form of assuming the status of a student and fitting into the category of qigong practitioner.  I learned and practiced the healing methods taught by these individuals and would communicate with them on a regular basis about the training process.  As well, I was able to observe the interaction of my "teachers" with other students and patients and speak with them about their experiences with these healing methods.
     The work with my other informants took the form of participant observation with less in-depth communication.  This is due to the nature of the other research subjects.  One of these was a group of people with their healing practice focused on weekly meetings of the group.  Because of this group dynamic, I focused more on the group than on individuals and assumed the role of group participant as a qigong practitioner.  Another subject was a professional in a healing modality which requires formal education and licensing and limited the role I could assume to interviewer or participant observation in the status of patient.
     From these various roles and statuses I was able to gain a fuller picture of the healing process and of the similarities and differences between the approaches used by each of these individuals.  The concept of the energetics of the human body were all very similar in all approaches.  The similarity of some of the energetic healing techniques among the subjects was quite an interesting occurrence as well.
     The main emphasis of all the methods is grounded in prevention and maintenance of health.  A common belief of all of my subjects was that they could initially help a patient,  but ultimately the patients' health has to be the patients responsibility.  Americans taking responsibility for their own health would most certainly help to resolve our current and expensive cure based philosophy.
In our own era, even after the development of scientific medicine, the idea of an approach to health based on curing, even of miracle cures (think of the term "medical miracle" as it is applied to the latest surgical intervention) has persisted. It is still a seductive dream.  Cures are sought that can compensate, not for unknown or misunderstood causes of illness, but for well-known abuses the body
the individual and society have themselves perpetuated--correcting at a stroke the effects of cigarette smoking, or of breathing polluted air, or of working in an unhealthy workplace over a period of years.
(1995 Kovner 13)

Chapter 4