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 Qigong and Taiji: Oxygen Metabolism 

The human system will begin to disorganize and die after several minutes without oxygen. It is a logical progression of thought that leads to the possibility that altering oxygen metabolism might be curative for diseases that have an oxygen deficiency component to their etiology. Both moderate and vigorous body movement and the accompanying muscle work increase oxygen demand in the cells. Evidence from research in exercise physiology demonstrates that muscular activity accelerates the rate of oxygen uptake from the blood(10,11,12,13). It has been shown that training and practice increase ventilitory threshold, anarobic threshold and mechanical efficiency.(14,15) This suggests that regular body movement with increased breath activity supports adaptation toward increased functional efficiency in the uptake and utilization of oxygen from the blood.

One early source (1896) suggests that just the muscular activity of the breath mechanism itself is enough to increase the uptake of oxygen from the blood.(16) This is not a widely accepted idea. However, most traditional systems of medicine include elaborate methods of breath practice. Some exploration of this mechanism for the absorption and utilization of oxygen is being undertaken.(17) A recent animal study demonstrates that the movement of the breathing apparatus alone may generate oxygen demand(18). Both Qigong and Yoga/Pranayama include breath practices where there is no body movement except of the breathing apparatus itself. Such research suggests that simple breathing techniques alone may increase the amount of oxygen absorbed from the blood. Individuals who are resricted in their movement due to health problems may have access to some of the benefits that have traditonally been reserved for those who do vigorous exercise.

Certain dynamic (active, moving) Qigong and Yoga methods increase the oxygen uptake by virtue of the greater requirement for chemical energy by the cells. Other more quiescent (inactive, still) methods tend to decrease oxygen uptake due to the the lowering of metabolic activity. It has been found that some practitioners of these traditional practices have refined their ability to the point where they actually enter into altered states where the physiological need for food, air or sleep have been almost completely suspended.(3)

The Framingham Study on risk factors for cardiac disease, completed in 1970 by the National Heart and Lung Institute, found that decreased vital respiratory capacity (breath volume in relation to tissue uptake) was directly associated with increased mortality.(19) In Australia an extensive 13 year study completed in 1983 which measured similar parameters of long life, demonstrated that respiratory capacity was "a powerful determining variable", more significant in predicting longevity than tobacco use, insulin metabolism or cholesterol levels. (20)

Recently there has been a tremendous amount of activity in both research and clinical practice which suggests that many deficiency disorders and degenerative diseases are, at least partially, attributable to oxygen metabolism dysfunction, oxygen deficiency or hypoxia. (21,22,23). This view is supported by many of the great names in research; Albert Szent-Gyorgi, Otto Warburg, Emmanuel Revici and Linus Pauling. The Asian systems of self applied health maintenance like Qigong and Yoga/Pranayama proposed this view and developed specific methods for application centuries ago.

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 About The Author
Roger Jahnke OMDRoger Jahnke has been in the health field since 1967 beginning with body therapies, herbal medicine, Tai Chi, Yoga and meditation. He turned his attention seriously to Oriental medicine in 1972 with study at the North......more
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