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Monday, April 21, 2008

Milford will participate in "World Tai Chi Day." Why?

From the Connecticut Post:

Saturday, the 10th anniversary of the World Tai Chi and Qigong Day, will be marked here by a demonstration on the Green of the centuries-old techniques.

"It is the third time that Milford has participated in the event, which is called 'One World, One Breath,' " said organizer Lamont Thomas. "Beginning in New Zealand, people will be gathering in parks at 10 a.m. local time to do tai chi and qigong and to teach it.

"I've been a practitioner and a teacher for four years and I started as a way to reduce stress," Thomas said. "It is a healing modality and a martial art that stresses balance."

Bruce Walker, like Thomas a local teacher of the Chinese technique, said tai chi acts on the body's hormonal and immune systems. "You deliberately squeeze, stretch and pull your internal organs around with your core muscles and that gets the enzymes and hormones out of the organs and into the bloodstream."

What's wrong with this picture? This is an essentially religious practice, but advocates of Eastern religious and meditative practices have for many years been adept at recasting such things as exercise. Christians in the West typically do not understand the religious roots and scientific flimsiness - or even dangers - of many of these "imports."

What's the basis of Tai Chi? Dr. Stephen Barrett, M.D., writes at

"Chinese medicine," often called "Oriental medicine" or "traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)," encompasses a vast array of folk medical practices based on mysticism. It holds that the body's vital energy (chi or qi) circulates through channels, called meridians, that have branches connected to bodily organs and functions. Illness is attributed to imbalance or interruption of chi.. Ancient practices such as acupuncture, Qigong, and the use of various herbs are claimed to restore balance....

In 1997, a Consensus Development Conference sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and several other agencies concluded that "there is sufficient evidence . . . of acupuncture's value to expand its use into conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiology and clinical value." The panelists also suggested that the federal government and insurance companies expand coverage of acupuncture so more people can have access to it. These conclusions were not based on research done after NCAHF's position paper was published. Rather, they reflected the bias of the panelists who were selected by a planning committee dominated by acupuncture proponents. NCAHF board chairman Wallace Sampson, M.D., has described the conference "a consensus of proponents, not a consensus of valid scientific opinion."

Although the report described some serious problems, it failed to place them into proper perspective. The panel acknowledged that "the vast majority of papers studying acupuncture consist of case reports, case series, or intervention studies with designs inadequate to assess efficacy" and that "relatively few" high-quality controlled trials have been published about acupuncture's effects. But it reported that "the World Health Organization has listed more than 40 [conditions] for which [acupuncture] may be indicated." This sentence should have been followed by a statement that the list was not valid.

Far more serious, although the consensus report touched on Chinese acupuncture theory, it failed to point out the danger and economic waste involved in going to practitioners who can't make appropriate diagnoses. The report noted:

  • The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi) through the body that are essential for health. Disruptions of this flow are believed to be responsible for disease. The acupuncturist can correct imbalances of flow at identifiable points close to the skin.
  • Acupuncture focuses on a holistic, energy-based approach to the patient rather than a disease-oriented diagnostic and treatment model.
  • Despite considerable efforts to understand the anatomy and physiology of the "acupuncture points," the definition and characterization of these points remains controversial. Even more elusive is the scientific basis of some of the key traditional Eastern medical concepts such as the circulation of Qi, the meridian system, and the five phases theory, which are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continue to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture.

Simply stated, this means that if you go to a practitioner who practices traditional Chinese medicine, you are unlikely to be properly diagnosed. Very few publications have mentioned this, which strikes me as very strange. Even Consumer Reports magazine has advised readers who want acupuncture treatment to consult a practitioner who is NCCAOM-certified. I advise people to avoid "certified" practitioners. Because the training needed for certification is based on nonsensical TCM theories, the safest way to obtain acupuncture is from a medical doctor who does research at a university-based medical school and does not expouse such theories. [Footnotes omitted.]

We owe it to ourselves to be better informed, not only for our health's sake but for our spiritual health's sake, too.


Stephen Goodson said...

You wrote: "What's wrong with this picture? This is an essentially religious practice, but advocates of Eastern religious and meditative practices have for many years been adept at recasting such things as exercise."

1) How is Tai Chi Chuan a "religious practice"? Are all Asian Martial Arts religious practices?

2) If the practitioner does Tai Chi Chuan for exercise, fitness or self defense, is it "Christian" enough?

Nick said...

Hi Stephen,

Tai Chi is essentially religious as it involves regulating a harmonious flow of chi or qi through the body. There are plenty of Christian references on the subject, but I do not think its practitioners would deny the spiritual component. I am not even addressing the issue of whether qi even exists, but this is scientifically questionable.

I do not believe all Asian martial arts are occultic, but Christians should not engage in any martial art which retains its traditional religious component. Not to be flippant about it, these are different and distinguishable from the latest fad "martial art" that someone might have invented in his garage last year.

If the underlying basis of any exercise or martial art is non-Christian in its spirituality, practicing it for an ostensibly good reason cannot sanctify it.