There are many studies that show tai chi and qigong (chi gung) benefit in reducing stress, but what about helping with allergies?
Connecting the dots between stress and allergies and asthma is easy. The most common symptoms of stress are achingly similar to those associated with allergy and asthma: tight chest, shortness of breath, insomnia, fatigue, muscular pain and headaches. Unfortunately, the more run down you get, the more susceptible you become to seasonal illnesses, such as colds, bronchitis, sinusitis and pneumonia.
Moreover, clinical evidence backs up what sufferers know first-hand: tension and anxiety make symptoms worse. It is a bit more difficult to connect improvements in these maladies with the slow, benign-looking, gentle movements of qigong and tai chi, however lets look at the whole picture.
Tai Chi and Qigong Reduce Stress
Both tai chi and qigong develop in you the ability to let go and relax—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This is the heart of Taoist energy and breathing practices. These techniques directly train the central nervous system (the intermediary between the body and the mind) to relax and release tensions that have built up inside the body and its internal organs.
This allows the production of stress hormones to slow down. Working with the body, tai chi and qigong train you to focus your awareness inside your body so that when you try to release specific points of tension with your mind, your body will listen, attempt to obey the suggestion and finally relax.
An art such as Tai Chi is a very sophisticated and systematic process of mind training.
Tai Chi and Qigong Train You to Relax
First, tai chi and qigong movements are a container through which you learn to recognize where tension and stress are lodged inside your body and mind.
Second, the slow motion movements help your nervous system to relax. They give your mind the time first to recognize, and then to exert conscious effort to change a host of specific interactions with your body, chi-energy and emotions. Moving too quickly—physically or mentally—causes many to miss these interactions.
Third, the movements encourage chi to flow progressively more smoothly and powerfully, promoting relaxation with full awareness.
Finally, they teach you how to conserve your chi and not to dissipate it.
Harvard Study Aborted
Although there have been many clinical studies that clearly demonstrate that chi energy practices such as tai chi and qigong mitigate many chronic illnesses and improve circulation, no formal studies have been completed that directly link the benefits of these practices to the mitigation of allergies and asthma – that I am aware.
The only study I know of was one conducted by Harvard University in 2003. Taoist breathing was taught to 48 asthma patients, most of whom were middle-aged. The purpose was to determine whether it would alleviate asthma symptoms. The study was aborted after 3 months.
According to Bill Ryan, founder of Brookline Tai Chi and one of the teachers, few were willing to practice by themselves on a consistent enough basis to gain results. And some, told that they would have to learn to breathe from the belly and relax their stomach muscles, were afraid of having big bellies.
That is a sad commentary on some of the conditionings imposed in our culture that were strong enough to overcome the desire and motivation to potentially reduce the suffering that results from asthma attacks by so simple an exercise as breathing.
Qigong and Tai Chi: Gentle and Safe
Qigong and tai chi are gentle enough that they can safely be done if you have allergies and asthma. You can practice indoors when pollen levels are high. The slow movements will not cause exercise-induced asthma attacks.
In addition, the adrenalin rushes and release of hormones that sometimes accompanies vigorous exercise or team sports are seldom triggered by the practice of tai chi or qigong. Over time, qigong helps the body and mind adopt habits of moderation.
As the body and mind let go, the nervous system relaxes. The circulation improves. The immune system is strengthened. As I like to tell my students, no one goes to the hospital for a relaxation attack.
Miracle Cures Are Not Always Instantaneous
People who have experienced the benefits of qigong often call them miracle cures. However, practitioners also know that improvements happen incrementally and synergistically. The symptoms of allergy and asthma slowly settle into the background, and more miraculously, there is a decrease in use of inhalers, antihistamines, decongestants and anti-inflammatory pain medicines.
The beneficial effects of tai chi and qigong are as gradual, natural and inexorable as water etching out a canyon, or the warm sun melting an iceberg. The lack of pain and strain means that everyone can do these exercises, whatever their age or body type.
Taking Control of Your Health
At a deeper level, these practices provide you with the ability to feel deeply inside your body. You can gain the ability to recognize what triggers symptoms and to work with your limitations rather than fight against them. The feeling of being in control of your body helps to build the foundation for wellness.
Becoming proactive against allergies and asthma helps your anxiety levels drop. And so does the physical tension that can accompany it, such as the tightness of muscles that cause headaches and neck and shoulder pain.
Being in control of your body and your emotions and feeling the beneficial results inside you helps encourage you to continue. You can make healing yourself your business and not someone else’s.