Late in the evening, when I’m too tired to do anything worthwhile, I like to watch Jimmy Fallon YouTube videos on my iPhone. I google “jimmy fallon youtube,” and my phone presents me with a list of clips from his shows. Once I watch one, I start getting lists that include “recommended for you” links to other talk shows, plus, occasionally, a wildcard recommendation based on my having watched some completely different video weeks or months previous.
And so it was that recently my phone “recommended for me” a video by Damo Mitchell titled “Qigong, Problems in Practice and Jing,” recorded for Singing Dragon’s Virtual Qigong Festival 2016 in April. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtub+damo+mitchell+problems+in+practice&view=detail&mid=1189B55F133E015B5DFA1189B55F133E015B5DFA&FORM=VIRE
Oh, my. Thank you, iPhone. I’m a serious Damo fan—and I’ve certainly had problems in practice.
I have now watched the video three times and have concluded that the “spells” and the ongoing internal swoopiness I’ve written about previously may well be the sorts of problems Damo’s talking about and may well have resulted from my qigong practice.
In the video, Damo says that one or two people out of 100 who take up qigong in a serious way will encounter problems. Sometimes it’s because they’re tuning into their bodies for the first time, and an existing condition pops into their awareness—which is good, because then they can seek treatment.
But some people may actually be harming themselves because moving their qi around in qigong draws upon their reserves of jing, which is the energetic foundation for qi. If their jing was running low to start with and becomes even more deficient through their practice of qigong, they may develop kidney deficiency symptoms like chronic exhaustion, tinnitus, panicky feelings when asked to breathe deeply, pressure rising up in the head and headaches, to name the problems I most relate to—which is most of the ones Damo named.
If this starts to happen, Damo says, you need to rebuild your jing, and the way to do it is through healthy living and stress reduction.
Healthy living means getting the right amount of sleep, generally 7-8 hours; eating a healthy diet; limiting alcohol; and not smoking. (Damo says a qigong student who smokes won’t get very far and a qigong teacher who smokes is a fool.)
For people who’ve drained their jing through stress, he recommends not more qigong but rather sitting with eyes closed, breathing and observing the body, for 20 minutes per day.
When I saw Damo at a seminar in Ottawa in September, he did not say that my qigong practice was the cause of my spells and other symptoms. However, he did say, after listening to my story and taking my pulses, that my problems were consistent with a Chinese medical diagnosis of “kidney yin deficiency causing rising of empty heat leading to wind.” He said I needed herbs and generously offered to ask a student in Oregon for a referral to a good Chinese medicine doctor in the Seattle area, a practitioner I have since begun seeing.
I’m not sure if my jing is rebounding: The practitioner says my pulses are getting stronger, but I still can’t do the kicks or the spins in taiji because of all the ups and downs inside me. Sometimes I wonder if I should still be practicing qigong. Jing naturally dwindles with age, and I am 74 and unlikely to get younger any time soon. As well, I do get enough sleep, have never smoked, drink very little nowadays and have a diet that could be quite a bit worse (and will get better when Starbucks stops selling eggnog lattes after the holidays are over).
That pretty much leaves stress as the only thing I can change.
I have always known that stress might have been a factor in the “spells” that took place between August 2015 and February 2016. Early in 2015, I had made some major changes in my life and had also taken on new activities without cutting back on old commitments. Some of my friends said I was doing too much, but I was operating on the principle that if I could fit something into an empty slot on my calendar, I could do it.
I have lightened my life considerably since the time of that first spell. And every morning, I sit with eyes closed, cat in lap, breathing and observing my body, trying not to get hung up in obsessive thinking, for 45 minutes—twice what Damo recommends.
Yes, there’s probably still too much stress in my life, and I am trying to reduce it, but this is difficult because many of the things I could do without thinking twice when I was younger now wear me out. Is there really hope for my jing and kidney yin deficiencies? I am already spending so much time in my pajamas that I just ordered another pair.
Taking a slightly different tack, Damo says that only one or two people out of 100 develop problems, but I am wondering if the number is really that small. In my experience as both a teacher and a student, a lot of the people who start practicing qigong quit, and the teacher never really knows why. Perhaps these people can tell that qigong is not good for them. After all, who comes to qigong classes anyway? Often it’s stressed-out people seeking relief—people whose jing may already be scraping bottom.
Should everyone who’s stressed-out, and most especially those whose jing is dwindling because of age, be leery of practicing qigong? Probably not. I’ve seen quite a few such people significantly benefit from practicing qigong. I did quit teaching because I didn’t want to be responsible for others’ well-being when I hadn’t figured out how to deal with my own, but I continue to study qigong and am grateful to those who are willing to teach me.
Despite my doubts, I continue to practice qigong because I know of no other path as likely to offer the understanding I seek. Plus, sometimes, qigong is good and more true than anything else.
But, hey, here’s a thought. Perhaps Damo could write another book. One of his books, written with his partner Roni Edlund, was “Daoist Nei Gong for Women.” His parents are also involved in the internal arts. Perhaps they could join him in writing “Daoist Nei Gong for the Old and Stressed-Out.” I would definitely read it—even if Marketing decided it had to be titled “Daoist Nei Gong for Senior Citizens.”