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Old 12-05-2009, 06:12 PM   #1
Bxbhtjnr

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Default Is Qigong compatible with Orthodoxy?
I have a question about this topic - is qigong compatible with Orthodoxy? In Malaysia, the heterodox who become Christian renounce things like qigong but I have not too long ago come across an Orthodox who tells me it's ok to practice qigong. Is anyone of our priest on this forum able to tell me more about an Orthodox approach to practices of this sort rooted in non-Christian ideas (and energies)?
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Old 12-06-2009, 12:38 AM   #2
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Hi Nathanie- this thread is a discussion of the compatibility with Indian hatha yoga and other eastern psychosomatic systems. I'll just copy and paste my own opinions from it, as I think they apply to qigong too:

When considering some of the world's traditional health disciplines (yoga, traditional Chinese medicine, ayurveda, etc.) I think it's worth considering that the early Church came into a world whose science and medicine had been created by pagans, with many pagan presuppositions. The Fathers did not reject these outright- rather, they accepted the common understanding that the world is spiritualized and adapted these practices to Christian views.

Matter and spirit, while distinct, are intertwined. Focusing on one and ignoring the other produces a distorted picture. In this sense, I think Christianity has more in common with, say, the Indian or Chinese practices than with modern Western medicine, which is dualist or materialist in outlook. We would be wrong to think that, because a discipline does not have spiritual content, that somehow makes it spiritually neutral!

I would also point out that Buddhists also accepted the chakra system, but interpreted it in a very different way, corresponding to a very different cosmology. So the specific doctrines behind these ideas are not fixed.

I don't presume to be one with the wisdom to make such "adaptations" for Christian purposes. We should be always cautious, whether looking at yoga- or entering a modern hospital. Qigong is hard to generalize about, because there are so many different practices and ideas that fall under that general name. For many people, it's just a way of maintaining mental and physical health, like aerobics. I think the early Church, by necessity, accepted a lot of scientific/medical theories and practices which had some origin in pagan thinking- see, for instance, St. John Damascene's cosmological theories in An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith- nevertheless, it was possible to Christianize these and maintain their basic usefulness. I think some kinds of qigong might be acceptable in this way.

There are, however, many qigong lineages specifically connected to religious systems, like Daoism or Buddhism. There are also many gurus out there peddling their brand of qigong, claiming supernatural powers, and demanding devotion from their followers- the Falun Dafa cult came out of this milieu. My mom used to take me with her to a qigong center which I could only describe as a cult- we were constantly told about the miraculous abilities of the group's leader and why his qigong method was superior to any other. So obviously anything like this should be avoided by Christians.

But I'm always a little amused by people who flatly reject any form of qigong, yoga, etc. as incompatible with Christianity, while uncritically accepting modern Western medicine and science.
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Old 12-06-2009, 07:40 AM   #3
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Also, as an attempt to apply a general context for the question, please read the book The Gurus, the Young Man and Elder Paisios I think that even with the many different eastern spiritual disciplines, this book provides a good foundation from which to proceed.

Fr David Moser
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Old 12-06-2009, 01:50 PM   #4
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Dear Ryan and Fr. David,

Thank you for the responses. I am concerned when people claim to be able to practice any form of 'healing' with the flow of qi. Having been brought up in a Buddhist/Hindu environment, I am inclined to be very cautious.
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Old 12-07-2009, 01:12 AM   #5
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IMHO all forms of yogic practices ought to be kept at a distance by Orthodox, if for no other reason than they are a diversion and distraction from all of the disciplines that we have already. I mean, why practice yoga when we have prostrations, the Jesus Prayer, fasting, vigils, standing in Church for long periods, etc.? I have noticed that if am am standing on a hard floor in Costco for an hour I get back pain, but usually just the opposite if I am standing in Church for a couple of hours -- my back loosens up. So there you are! On the other hand we know that Jesus was an expert practitioner of Tai Chi, since he was able to pass through a hostile crowd to the other side...
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Old 12-07-2009, 01:17 PM   #6
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Thanks for writing Owen. I was starting to wonder if I had gotten it right - there is already so much of wealth in Orthodoxy. I wonder why folks have to look for other diversions.
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Old 12-07-2009, 09:29 PM   #7
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We see the deeper issue here in this question (and other similar threads) when it is considered in terms of what is a 'diversion' and what is a 'distraction.' Whether we are talking about such things as either physical health or mental health I think we all would agree that what is a hindrance and an obstacle for one can be benefit and an aid for another. Regardless of whether it is a form of physical exercise or a certain non-Orthodox author . . . what can be an aid to "cracking shells" and "germinating seeds" for one on her path to salvation can be a severe diversion/distraction for another who would seek experience/encounter. What is a gift of God and serves as a tool in the hand of God for one can be a curse for another. Who am I to say that either striking a certain pose while spending time in nature or spending time reading a certain non-Orthodox author is counterproductive for you?
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Old 12-07-2009, 10:43 PM   #8
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Look, I could give you a long list of things that I do that are counterproductive, a waste of time, a diversion of the one thing needful. But the topic was one particular waste of time...
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Old 12-07-2009, 11:16 PM   #9
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Look, I could give you a long list of things that I do that are counterproductive, a waste of time, a diversion of the one thing needful. But the topic was one particular waste of time...
Which is kind of the point here. What is for one a waste of time and something to be dismissed may be for another (especially one who is struggling) something that matters very much at a given point on her particular path to salvation.
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Old 12-08-2009, 01:21 AM   #10
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Dear friends,

I haven't much to say on this issue, save for what I've said in reference to other similar questions. And all under the great preamble that I don't know much at all about Qigong, so my comments are really rather more general to the issue than the practice itself.

I rather agree with Owen on the essential issue being one of distraction. Of course, it is always possible to argue that what works well with one mightn't with another - and vice versa; but the question of distraction from Orthodox ascesis is one that I don't think can be responded to in quite this way.

Perhaps we might foster a more positive approach to the ascetical work of Orthodox heritage...

INXC, Dcn Matthew
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Old 12-08-2009, 01:43 AM   #11
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If the issue is concerning one who is a practicing Orthodox who is fully participating in the life of the Church and the question is, "Should she practice Buddhism too?" Then the answer is clear as it relates to the ascetical work of Orthodox heritage. But, when these kinds of topics usually come up, I do not feel that all of the questioners/contributors are participating fully in the life of the Church. But, this is just my feeling from being a part of these conversations in face-to-face situations and here online in the past. So, in this, the essential issue does not seem to be one of distraction but one of direction . . . and in this the essential issue becomes one of pastoral care and guidance, as opposed to a black and white answer in the fashion of one-size-fits all. Possibly, this is at the heart of what I write in these threads, in terms of seekers and pastors as opposed to seekers and proclamations. And, I think this is how most of these threads usually end up (after favorite quotes are traded from the fathers and saints), it is concluded that this is a personal matter of spiritual guidance for the seeker from his spiritual father or her mother.
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Old 12-08-2009, 02:56 AM   #12
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Which is kind of the point here. What is for one a waste of time and something to be dismissed may be for another (especially one who is struggling) something that matters very much at a given point on her particular path to salvation.
My sentiments exactly! I think, every single topic posted, is important to the person posting it, and should be treated as such, even if it is a minor thing or a non-issue to someone else.

Personally, I do not do prostrations in order to get sleek muscles, nor do I fast to lose weight. If I think about my muscles when I'm doing prostrations, I am not praying. In order to avoid fasting seasons from becoming a time to lose weight, I do not weigh myself during fasts. These are issues for me, because all my life, I've been trying to lose weight either by diet or exercise or both. And it would be easy for me to turn prostrations and fasting into something that it was not meant to be.

SO - I do other forms of exercise. I see nothing wrong with eastern forms of exercise - as long as they are only exercise. Different kinds of exercises work for different people. Just as we are adviced to seek the approval of a doctor before starting any exercise program, I think it would be just as advisable to make sure that the exercise you're choosing isn't some form of demon worship. But I don't expect someone else to do the research for something I'm interested in. It may be that two people doing the same research will come to different conclusions. For one, to keep physically fit doing only prostrations, will work well. But for me it will distract from prayers. In the same way, one can do yoga without it competing with orthodoxy, and another cannot.

The Chinese have done a lot of work in many fields of science. They have their own way of explaining things and labeling what they find. I find their way of teaching to be very allegorical. They take things that are visible in nature and apply similarities to things that are unseen. Thus all that stuff about the flow of energies. Just because it hasn't been seen or labeled in the same way, doesn't mean that western science doesn't also recognize it in some form.

As an example - I've been reading this from a book of Chinese medicine. It talks about the systems in the body, and how every organ is dependent on another but also acts upon a different one. So there is a cycle of interdependence. When they're all in balance, the body functions well. When one gets stronger or weaker, it affects the organs it acts on or depends on. Western science agrees with this. There are organs that release certain hormones and chemicals that act upon other organs. There are things to keep the body from releasing too much of a chemical and others to trigger release. A healthy body, is balanced. They're not called 'energies' but there is a similar pattern and understanding.

But, the Chinese seem to be a few thousand years ahead of the West in some ways. One of the conclusions in the book, based on this 'flow of energy' thing, is that the physical condition of the body affects the emotions as well. Only recently has the West caught up with this idea, as people suffering with depression or other mental problems, were usually sent only to the psychiatrist, and not to an internist. The psychiatrist might order a drug, but what the patient really needed, might've been something to control diabetes - for which you would've needed to do a blood test. But, they're finally doing that... ruling out physical causes for mental problems.

Anyway, all this to say... just because something comes out of the mysterious east and is labeled in an earthy way, doesn't mean it is any less scientific. It might be more accurate. And in some cases, more beneficial.

in Christ,
Mary.

PS - I'm not talking about religion. Just about exercises and medicine. Maybe even food, but I haven't researched that yet. =)
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Old 12-08-2009, 04:14 AM   #13
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I mean, why practice yoga when we have prostrations, the Jesus Prayer, fasting, vigils, standing in Church for long periods, etc.?
Depending on the kind of yoga (or qigong) being talked about, this can be like asking "Why bother exercising, when we have prostrations, prayer, and fasting?" or "Why take medicine?" Why not apply the same caution to modern Western health practices?

There are kinds of qigong which are not intended to fulfill the role of prayer, fasting, prostrations, etc. They are health exercises which need not be invested with deep cosmic/ spiritual importance.

Again, I don't think it makes sense to generalize so much about these practices. Consider astrology- much of it, as it is popularly thought of, is clearly pagan and un-Christian; nevertheless, some ideas and forms of astrology were accepted by the Fathers.

I am concerned when people claim to be able to practice any form of 'healing' with the flow of qi. Having been brought up in a Buddhist/Hindu environment, I am inclined to be very cautious.
I can understand your wariness, and I'm not a practitioner of any of these arts myself. But I've also had experiences that convince me that there is real practical wisdom in Chinese medicine, as Mary points out, just like there were worthwhile aspects of pagan learning that the Fathers did not reject. And what does "qi" mean anyway? Just like words like "prana" or "nature", or even "god", it can have a totally different interpretation or significance depending on the philosophical school you consult.
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Old 12-08-2009, 10:16 PM   #14
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Here's the problem. Society is filled with people seeking enlightenment, and they glom onto all sorts of "Eastern" practices that are detached from their roots. Buddhist meditation is one example. People think they can just meditate using Buddhist nonsense words, and that makes them spiritually enlightened and self-sufficient. These physical practices, martial art forms, etc. are of the same category. They don't need to accept any of the dogma and other practices and virtues that go along with it. The key element missing in all of these practices is virtue. There can be no true healing without virtue. So there is a kind of slight of hand at work in all of these practices. Insofar as physical exercise goes, well, how many monks do you know that do push ups. I suppose there is nothing wrong with doing a little cardio each day, but actually the prayer and ascetic routines bring healing to the heart/mind complex without really needing intense physical exercise. Physical exercise in fact can be a distraction from actually attending to these ascetic exercises. I think it is a non sequitur to object by saying that one has no right to generalize. Everything that is said here on this site is a generalization. We can't do without generalizations.
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Old 12-08-2009, 11:37 PM   #15
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Here's the problem. Society is filled with people seeking enlightenment, and they glom onto all sorts of "Eastern" practices that are detached from their roots. Buddhist meditation is one example. People think they can just meditate using Buddhist nonsense words, and that makes them spiritually enlightened and self-sufficient. These physical practices, martial art forms, etc. are of the same category.
They really aren't. Buddhist meditation forms are specifically rooted in Buddhist philosophy, with specific Buddhist goals, and don't make much sense outside of that context. The Buddhist mantras are not "nonsense words"- they are believed to be invested with inherent power and often contain the names of deities. That is why Western "Buddhism" and "Zen" are often so shallow, because the teachers and students alike tend to be ignorant of the religious underpinnings of their practice. Many of the practitioners are in fact not even interested in "enlightenment"- they hope these practices can relieve stress, manage negative emotions, improve their work habits, etc. It is basically secular psychotherapy in an exotic package.

Physical practices like qigong, acupuncture, and taiji quan, on the other hand, were "detached from their roots" long before they reached Western lands. In fact, it's difficult to discern any definite "roots" at all for these practices, despite the many myths and legends. Any number of mutually contradictory philosophical and religious schools lay claim to forms of these practices, as well as people without any particular persuasion at all. The reason why these practices are popular is basically earthy and practical- people saw good results from them for their health, even if they disagreed about the explanation for why it worked. So I don't agree that these practices can be put in the same category as Buddhist meditation.

Insofar as physical exercise goes, well, how many monks do you know that do push ups. I suppose there is nothing wrong with doing a little cardio each day, but actually the prayer and ascetic routines bring healing to the heart/mind complex without really needing intense physical exercise. Physical exercise in fact can be a distraction from actually attending to these ascetic exercises. I don't know about push-ups, but I certainly know that monks perform serious physical labor- tending vineyards, construction, woodcrafts, etc.- as part of their obedience. Is this a distraction too? And I certainly know that monks and even saints have benefited from the application of secular medicine. If I take medicine at the advice of my doctor, does this mean I am participating in the dualist or materialist worldview that went into its manufacture?

I think it is a non sequitur to object by saying that one has no right to generalize. I don't believe anyone raised such an objection. My only point was that some things cannot be generalized too much about, without distorting the truth. The wholesale rejection of a nation's medical/ scientific heritage, on the basis of its non-Christian origins, does not strike me as the approach that would be taken by the Fathers.
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Old 12-09-2009, 02:36 AM   #16
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I am willing to concede the point that a non-Orthodox person can try using the Jesus Prayer detached from its roots, and this has been done and is being done. But is it advisable, and is it ideal? On the other hand, I think it is perfectly reasonable to scoff a bit at yogic practices by Orthodox.
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Old 12-09-2009, 02:56 AM   #17
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I am willing to concede the point that a non-Orthodox person can try using the Jesus Prayer detached from its roots, and this has been done and is being done. But is it advisable, and is it ideal? On the other hand, I think it is perfectly reasonable to scoff a bit at yogic practices by Orthodox.
I hope you're being funny. Because it sounds funny to me. =)

Is the ideal ever achieved by the 'general' population? In my case, it was the dabbling in orthodox practices that drew me into orthodoxy. It wasn't ideal. But I was curious. If I hadn't been allowed to eat the crumbs that fell off the table, I would've left.

If an orthodox person is using yoga in order to find peace for their soul, or relieve stress, then I'd say something is wrong. It's like licking the crumbs off the floor instead of sitting at the table and enjoying the entire meal. Still nothing to scoff at. That's not a very compassionate response. I think you should go pray for that person, instead of making fun of him.

I still don't think I'd use prostrations in place of push-ups, even if the results are almost the same. And for those of us who do not labor in the fields, our bodies do need some kind of additional physical activity to keep us healthy. I don't think anyone teaches that taking care of your body is unimportant.

Also, the monks and saints we hear the most about, lived in a time when just living your every day life was a very physical act. I don't think they needed to think a whole lot about exercise.

in Christ,
Mary.
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Old 12-09-2009, 08:54 AM   #18
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I must apologize here - when I meant qigong, I had neglected to say that it wasn't for the purpose of exercise. It's more like a folks who say they can heal other people through the energy that flows through you. I am not at all sure how this is compatible with Orthodoxy and need some perspective here.
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Old 12-09-2009, 09:43 AM   #19
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Scoffing is Biblical. There is a time for everything under the sun, and sometimes there is a time for scoffing!
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Old 12-09-2009, 10:00 AM   #20
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I must apologize here - when I meant qigong, I had neglected to say that it wasn't for the purpose of exercise. It's more like a folks who say they can heal other people through the energy that flows through you. I am not at all sure how this is compatible with Orthodoxy and need some perspective here.
I'm not very familiar with qigong or all forms of eastern healing. I have seen the energy flow thing work - but I also know there's very many different kinds of healing through energy flows, and I know for sure the one I've seen is not qigong. There is energy that flows through us. That's what the EKG machine and a similar one to test brain waves measures - real electro-magnetic energy flowing through us. Is it possible for this energy flow or other similar ones to get blocked and then released by whatever methods these people use? I do not know.

When I go a doctor, any kind, I don't so much judge how their medicine works or doesn't work. I'm usually 'testing' the doctor as a person - do they respect me? Do they listen? Do they think they know it all? If they make me uncomfortable or treat me like I'm a dumb sheep and they're the vet, then, I don't care how good their medicine is. (The ones who think they know it all, are usually the ones who treat you like you're less than human).

I like to ask questions, because I like to know how things work, and why they do the things they do, and why they don't do something else, and why they think something is reliable, etc. Yes, I'm a very annoying patient. But hey, my body. My kids' body. You better be properly qualified before I let you near it. That's how I see it. I find it hard to trust any doctor.

in Christ,
Mary.

Another thing I look for - their attitude towards healing by methods other than their own. I can't stand either naturopaths or allopaths tearing each other up. Anyone want to work together to make REAL progress?
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