A Rash Is a Rash Is a ???

When is itching, plus a rash, merely the releasing of toxins and negative energies from the body—and when is it shingles?

On a Friday, I had a headache—I called it a sinus headache—and then Saturday, my shoulder began itching fiercely. Actually, it was the outer portion of my back on my left side at about armpit level—one of those places it’s darned tough to see, even in the mirror.

On Sunday morning, it looked liked I might have a rash. By Sunday evening, the itching had abated, I could see several red spots, and the area felt vaguely numb, vaguely uncomfortable, vaguely shinglesque. (And I do know shingles because I had a mild case 20 years ago.)

So what was it?

On the one hand, rashes and itching can result from energy work—or at least so I’ve read and heard from other people.

On the other hand, because I had chickenpox as a child, I am always eligible for shingles, even though I presumably have some immunity from my long-ago case of shingles and more recent shot of shingles vaccine.

I didn’t know whether to view my itching and rash as a qigong phenomenon or an issue I should address via western medicine.

However, since the consequences of shingles can be most unpleasant, and western medicine can offer effective treatment. I decided I would call the doctor Monday morning if my shoulder discomfort progressed to pain.

It didn’t, so I didn’t. There was no more itching and no particular pain—just some red spots and not enough of those to impress my doctor, since it was pretty certain I didn’t have shingles.

A doctor once told me that the cause of 90% of the rashes people go to the doctor for is never determined. Could this be because all those rashes are merely signs of toxins and negative energies being released from the body? I have no idea.

However, there is a larger issue.

This wasn’t the first time I’d had physical symptoms and didn’t know whether to call my doctor or my qigong teacher.

A few months earlier I’d had an odd sort of vertigo, where I reeled like a person who’d had way too much to drink if I moved my head when I walked.

It began shortly after a particularly intense energy experience during a time when I was having sinus problems. I saw a physician assistant who said it was my sinuses, although the antihistamines she recommended didn’t help; then I saw a physician who said it was crystals in my ear canals and sent me to a physical therapist. The physical therapist did give me an exercise to train my brain for better balance, but she said she thought it was my sinuses, too, and suggested I see an acupuncturist for help. And so there I was, back to my internal energy system. (Note: The vertigo soon went away.)

I know I’m not the only person who has had this dilemma. I have talked with other Yi Ren Qigong practitioners who’ve investigated physical symptoms via western medicine and in the end concluded they were just releasing some negative energies, or that they had some negative energies they needed to release.

And yet it is hard to know when to make this assumption, because there are some things where you really should see a western doctor and where you may be putting yourself at risk by thinking you can fix the problem if you do enough qigong.

Indeed, if you’re doing any sort of extreme energy practice or doing it in an obsessive manner, physical symptoms may be a sign that the energy practice is the problem and that you should stop.

Many qigong books include warnings about unsafe practices. Although the unsafe practices are rarely specified, and the groups that do them and teachers that teach them are never named, I take these warnings seriously.

At a weekend seminar in San Francisco in April, Damo Mitchell said that despite some of the horror stories you hear, advanced internal energy cultivation practices like the ones he teaches are really quite safe—IF you have good teachers, pay attention to what’s going on in your body and use common sense.

Really, he said, wouldn’t it occur to you that something might be wrong if you were bleeding from your eyeballs?

But then he sighed and said: “People just think they’re releasing something.”

I used to worry about doing myself harm by practicing qigong—and I worried even more about teaching something that could harm someone else.

I’ve pretty much come to terms with that fear, because I do believe that everything I know how to do, in Yi Ren Qigong and other systems, is natural and gentle and unlikely to cause harm.

And, in truth, there are risks to just about everything one does, no matter how necessary or beneficial, starting with getting out of bed in the morning (don’t trip on the cat!), brushing one’s teeth (what’s in your toothpaste?), and eating breakfast—well, let’s not even get started on breakfast.

Such is life….

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