View Full Version : qigong psychosis and political uses of psychiatry

01-05-2005, 06:13 AM
In the latest Psychiatric News there is correspondence indicating that the government of CHina is using a diagnosis of "qigong psychosis" as a pretext or as a misuse of psychiatry to suppress Falun Gong and others. This is compared to the abusive use of "sluggish schizophrenia" as a "diagnosis" is the USSR to suppress dissidence.

I recall a discussion of qigong psychosis in other context in this forum a few months ago. Serious practitioners of qigong do warn about entering too deeply or unguided into profound exercises.

Are there new data about the legitimacy of "qigong psychosis" or valid criteria that you all know about; is this threatened misuse of psychiatry a reality? Is there any way to know what is going on?

Have any of you experienced alarming or startling mental states while doing qigong?

Richard Livingston MD

01-05-2005, 08:33 AM

Qigong psychosis is a valid diagnosis per DMSR? but as you stated it is now used as a pretext for persecution of falungong.
The pretext of politics and psychiatry is a deadly (literally) combination.

That is why it is stated that people with psychiatric problems (mental disorders) must not be taught qigong while mental disorders are 'unknown' in China. It is attributed to spirits and the like. Now, it is being paid more attention to in a serious manner. Additionally, many people are undiagnosed therefore it is implicit their mental health is appropriate when in fact, a potential problem later.

I do not necessarily believe it is 'entering too deeply or unguided, although a minor problem. One has to initially grounded in reality and be able to distinguish false from real per the 'visions' generated by the specific practice. I may say that 'quick progress' (wanting to skip steps in learning process to reach ?) is more of a problem.
After practice some years ago, I left the teachers house and as I was waiting to catch the bus even though I was eye level with road, it seemed that I was towering over everyone, as if I werea giant. The seconf I realized it, I thought qihai, relaxation, breathing. no reaction and aftera while it subsided. Luckily my teacher had after practice sessions so we discussed it next session.
All problem were resolved.

01-05-2005, 09:59 AM
falun gong is a select small society who have found a way to attract attention to themselves through their government.
safe qigong practices will do you no harm mentally or physically;more than a few references have been made to the fact that some qigong practice can stir up deep seated issues mentally but other things can engender that result

01-05-2005, 05:19 PM
DMSR(Danish Multiple Sclerosis Registry criteria is a validation system in association with MS. I'm not a neurologist, but upon browsing criteria I didn't come across anything. Bill may know more.

Qi gong when practiced improperly without any professional instruction may cause some sort of hallucination or"Entering fire into devils reign"(correct me Paul). Skipping steps as Stanton mentioned could be avoided under the guidance of a teacher.TCM teachings state that the qi can be so wrong-tracked due to the static posture when not practiced correctly.

Personally I do believe there is some underlying psychosis or neurosis, or simply a mind that is not(yet) strong enough to go through visualization and deep meditation in static position. I do know that psychiatrists and therapists in Germany refuse to treat patients with meditation or autogenic training when the patient has a known psychiatric disorder. They stated that the stillness of qi gong or anything else can aggravate the uncontrolled flood of thoughts.

NO, I have never experienced anything. In the beginning starting with simple zhan zhuang first, then proceed to a deeper level. Stanton IMO did the right thing by breathing, relax and think of his qi hai(dantien) and sending the qi down

01-06-2005, 10:35 AM
I wonder if Stanton was referring to DSM-III-R, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Third Edition-Revised? This is the American Psychiatric Association's manual of diagnosis (in a slightly out-of-date edition). None of the DSM's mention a "Qiqong Psychosis". The closest is probably "Brief Reactive Psychosis" or "Psychosis Not Otherwise Specified". In most cases, the DSM doesn't address etiology.

I've never seen a case of psychosis caused(or believed to be precipitated by) Qiqong. Ironically, as I type this, a middle-aged woman with Schizophrenia is standing outside my office door, clapping loudly, and claiming to be doing, "Oriental Exercises."

I believe I saw a lawsuit reported in the psychiatric literature against a Yogi when a young American devotee developed psychosis while practicing meditaion and breathing exercises. I'll see if I can dig up that story. What immediately comes to mind is that 75% of cases of Schizophrenia develop between ages 18 and 22

Also, a colleague of mine called yesterday to report pain and heart palpitations (he did go to the Emergency Room) earlier this week in association with "Ham Mo Cong" or Vietnamese "Frog Breathing" he was taught to use while practicing the Didgeridoo (!!!).

Finally, as to Dr. Livingston's original post- we do train psychiatrists from the PRC here regularly. Their knowledge and medical orietation is consistent with the US standard of care; these are bright, caring doctors who seem reluctant to speak about how the political system in China deals with dissidents like Falun Gong. Incidently, during the annual Chinese New Year celebration in Washington, Falun Gong is by far the best represented of the Chinese groups marching, but I can find little about them. Bill

01-06-2005, 05:27 PM
Very insightful post Bill, I heard a few things about Falun gong but reluctant to post it here. I recall Paul was not particularly pleased about Falun Gong issues being discussed on this site. I agree.

Your colleague may have experienced valsava manuevre, which expresses itself in heart palpitations and pain. I don't know frog breathing but I do know how to play the didge. Many people with untrained lungs tend to hold their breath resulting in the above-mentioned valsava maneuvre. The proper way for the didge is circular breathing which is easier to learn for a TC practitioner.

01-07-2005, 06:48 PM
My teacher just told me that when you experience this, take a step back from the situation, chill out, enjoy and be kind to yourself. Cut out internally and externally what you have experienced with your improper practice.

01-08-2005, 09:33 PM
Thanks to all. As usual, what an interesting discussion--ranging from qigong to international politics and the proper breathing to play the didgeridoo. What a group!


01-09-2005, 09:09 PM
After giving the subject a fair thought, something came to mind. I recall patients with AMD(age-related Macular Degeneration), which is a degenerative disease of the retina and blood vessels. Very often after surgery, these patients see things which are not there. They are incorrectly misdiagnosed as psychotic.

The real fact is: After the surgery, the brain is often unable to interpret the (probably false) signals and messages coming from the eye. The result is hallucinations which may become dramatic when a person has a high degree of fantasy.

What I guess while applying this concept is: in a deep meditative Zen state such as in deep qi gong, the eye is in a resting position while the brain still creates pictures. Coming back to a normal situation, it may be possible that the brain at least for the time being will be unable to interpret the signals coming from the eye.

HOw does it make sense to you Richard and Bill? I'm not a neuroscientist but do have some knowledge of AMD due to working with many patients and experts.

01-10-2005, 02:53 PM
I really cannot say if the mechanism of some visual hallucinations in qiqong might relate to retinal output being misinterpreted. I know nothing about post-surgical hallucinations in Macular Degeneration. I can say visual hallucinations occur for MANY different reasons which are not fully understood by science. For example, delirium after surgery is very common, especially in the elderly.

Are you familiar with Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic hallucinations? These are very intense, dramatically REAL, dreams or hallucinations that occur at the transition from sleep to awake states and vice versa. My money would be on these as common culprits in otherwise healthy people developing hallucinations during or after a meditative or qiqong session. Such "hallucinations" would be transitory, lasting minutes to hours rather than hours to days, and could be very frightening to the perceiver. In what way does the brain activity of the person meditating or practicing qiqong resemble sleep? I am sure some people DO fall asleep while practicing qiqong.

Surely, some people develop illnesses which cause hallucinations at the same time they are studying qiqong. The US Army still gives soldiers disability benefits when they develop Schizophrenia while enlisted, although the role of military service in that illness is now known to be fairly small, rather than causative. Likewise, I have seen many college students develop psychosis, not because the college caused it, but because they were at the age at which it usually manifests. Also, as people develop illness, do they take up qiqong to try and cope? This can cause the perception that the qiqong triggered the illness, when in fact the reverse is true.


01-11-2005, 09:52 PM
Soraya, I have seen a couple of people with AMD who were referred because of the question of hallucinations. There was a confabulatory quality, like they were trying to fill in gaps or explain a misperception, and it was relatively clear they were not having hallucinations as such. Bill these are good observations too. There is a qualitative difference about trance-like phenomena. Hypnogogic/hypnopompic are usually obvious except I missed in a narcoleptic until I figured out that was what he had.

Richard Livingston MD

01-13-2005, 06:02 PM
Wow.......these are really interesting posts. Just remember a patient with AMD who woke up from general anesthesia seeing things which weren't there. Her mind was however clear and she could still remember all the happenings. She recovered during the course of time.........

Upon taking her history we could find out that she always had pictures of her subconsciousness between sleep and wake from a very early age. She is an artistic person with extensive fantasy and IQ level above average but a lot of personal fears.

Among others she was always afraid that something might happen to her or her children. Her daughter said that she woke up in the middle of the night, half asleep still, while telling her that she shouldn't have James, that dreadful man, in her room making love with her. She said she saw James but James was a history nearly 40 years ago. The next day she was trying to fill in the gap but clearly remembered what happened and also knowing that she saw something which was not there.

I think Bill and Richard's posts make a lot of sense. The lady above knows very well what is happening to her and is always annoyed when people tell her that she is "crazy" and her doctor wants to refer her to a psychiatrist.

01-13-2005, 06:09 PM
My post was a slight deviation but now I do remember that this lady practices qi gong and has seen things which were not there. She didn't tell anybody because she knew that these "visions" were not lasting........Now she has switched to Tai Chi, she has practiced jeet kun do in her younger years and experienced all the benefits of qi gong.

01-22-2005, 07:44 AM
Melanie, there is a fancy word for the kind of imagination so vivid that the person experiences it as if, or almost as if, real--it's called an eidetic imagination. As a child psychiatrist I occasionally see a kid with this quality just because the parents are worried by it, or because of truth vs "lies" issue in a young child with eidetic imagination.

I can see this occasionally emerging in a trance-like state too, in adults.

Thanks to all again for very interesting discussion.

Richard Livingston, MD

01-26-2005, 04:52 PM

The new DSM-IV as stated "example of this is "Qigong Psychosis" (Now included in the DSM-IV as a culture-bound syndrome: Qi-Gong Psychotic Reaction: DSM-IV General Information.....

01-27-2005, 06:34 PM
This article may be of interest:

Lim, Russel F and Lin(1996)
"Cultural formulation of psychiatric diagnosis case no. 3: Psychosis following qi gong in a Chinese immigrant. "
Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 20: 369-378

02-03-2005, 12:45 PM
Stanton's post prompted me to seek out some Chinese psychiatrists of my acquintance and ask specifically about qiqong psychosis.

Neither has ever seen an actual case. The Chinese press is full of the "Falun Gong" commentary. Their SPECULATION is that qiqong doesn't cause a psychosis, but that coincidental emergence of a condition like Schizophrenia or Major Depression with Psychotic Features can be attributed to qiqong. Although the official Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders lists this condition, the Western-trained psychiatrists I know view it as truly a cultural issue, more akin to Voodoo than a mainstream medically accepted condition (belief in "Root Medicine", a relative of voodoo or witchcraft, is common in parts of the US where I've lived, but only if you know to ask about it). Bill

02-03-2005, 06:31 PM

Being a 'culture bound' syndrome tends to marginalize the system if one is not aware. Vodun (voodoo in Louisiana, Florida) to a NE (Boston, Connecticut) US MD may seem irrational but to the one trained/or have experience in Louisiana, FL, etc) will be rational.
In area of US where I live (Midwest)e.g. Wisconsin, Minnesota) the Hmong have a certain set of 'diseases' that only they can 'cure', hence the use of a shaman, which to rational people may seem 'wacky'/out of place (for lack of a better word)
but for that specific group, this is part of 'heritage'. The shaman may be rational but his presence is a psychological benefit (rational or not) to those who believe.

08-15-2005, 07:21 PM
This is an old thread but there is a site that has published the cause of the psychotic episodes associated with Qi Gong and Kundalini Yoga.

Most authoritative sites now correctly state that the episodes happen when too many Qi Gong sessions are performed in a compact time frame. The effect is produced only in group Qi Gong sessions.

Each person performing Qi Gong must enter an eyes-open mediative state. That means that they will ignore every thing happening around them including peripheral vision reflexes triggered by the detection of movement from others exercising nearby.

But you cannot "stop subliminally seeing" that movement nor can you tell your brain to stop attempting to force a vision reflex.

That subliminal stimulus is the source of both the beneficial effects and the serious mental outcomes of Qi Gong.

If you have ever been startled or caught something out of the corner of your eye, that was a peripheral vision reflex.

About fifty years the phenomenon was discovered because it caused mental breaks for Knowledge workers using the first close-spaced office workstations. Cubicles solved that problem by 1968.

These episodes should not be blamed on Qi Gong alone. We all have exposure to this phenomenon every day. Most of it is harmless. But adding exposure by performing Qi Gong will push you over the 'threshold of exposure' to cause the mental events.

Advice given in the thread above to slow down and step away for a time is correct.

You can also examine your work and study areas to determine if you have exposure there. Simple changes can provide Cubicle Level Protection FREE.

Understanding the problem and the conflict of physiology will allow you to avoid these mental episodes.

VisionAndPsychosis.Net Qi Gong (http://visionandpsychosis.net/QiGong_Psychotic_Reaction_Diversion.htm)

08-15-2005, 08:00 PM

The vast majority of people who do qigong, experience no problems, and/or based on adverse experiences per clinical trial definitions, said experiences are either mild, moderate or severe.
Anecdotal experience are usually mild.

Moderate and severe tend to be those who fit the following criteria:
a. Unwilling, unable or incapable of following instruction of practice.

b. Rushing into practice and/or not allowing time for 'grounding' themselves

c. Those who MAY have a family disposition to mental health problems, in the mein undiagnosed but who fitting criteria (a) and (b) will label qigong as causing the problem.

d. The misuse of psychiatry as initially stated to control and label dissidents who are against the status quo. This tends to muddy the waters allowing for untoward bias against qigong skewing towards the DMSR-criteria.

08-16-2005, 07:14 PM
It is true that the vast majority of those who use Qi Gong do not have problems. The vast majority of students do not either.

There has been an increase in college suicides and the sudden disappearances of students. There are hints in those stories that this phenomenon causes those events.

I suspect those who do have problems include individuals with inherited physical abilities to detect movement in peripheral vision. Those features would include the shape of the eye and the number of rods packed on the retina where movement would be detected.

Those inherited physical features may explain inherited mental illness.

This psychiatric accident can happen to anyone with enough exposure. But those who are sensitive to it because of inherited abilities would fall victim first.

So few people are aware of the 1960's odd discovery that I can find no reference to it. Volunteers have searched the APA data base for me with a similar result. The Library of Congress did an email requested search and could find nothing.

I was there, 1960's, as an engineering student and found the phenomenon. I took psychology as an adult and the problem was included in a lecture on Subliminal Sight and Peripheral Vision Reflexes in 1990.

I began by looking at activities that had psychotic episodes associated with them. Then I compared the activity to the 1960's business office model.

I agree with your input. But having this small bit of information might save your sanity.

Some long term Qi Gong users exhibit permanent, psychotic, altered mental states.

Heavy exposure in a compact time frame produces the mild episode which resolves with no treatment, ICU Psychosis.

It is the low but persistent exposure over long periods that eventually creates disorganized thinking and irrational beliefs, Schizophrenia.

I have no direct evidence yet on why one person is effected and not another.

Anyone is welcome to use the information on my site to investigate and write their own paper.