Qigong Psychosis

shattering head abstractWhere I live in the northeastern United States, winter is dark, snowy and frozen. People hide indoors, the birds are absent and even the squirrels are in dormant mode. Everything, even the animals, is impatient for spring. Cabin fever is real.  It’s hard to think about cabin fever on a warm summer day like today, but that’s the day to prepare for it.

Qigong practitioners have to deal with their own form of cabin fever: people locked in their own minds as they develop strength that’s greater than their mental foundations. It’s called qigong psychosis. While it is rare, everyone is potentially susceptible.

If you practice any exercise diligently, you will grow stronger, mentally and physically. This is especially true of qigong. Eventually you learn to withhold parts of your strength to avoid injuring others and to allow qi to work its magic better. Sometimes, though, there is a weak part of our personalities that serves not just as motivation for getting stronger but as a foundation of who we are. Great power built upon great insecurity is a difficult combination. The victim’s mind becomes warped. He becomes intoxicated with power and believes the normal rules of the world do not apply in quite the same way. One classic distinction between neurosis and psychosis is that in neurosis, you filter data coming in from the world in a strange way, but in psychosis you think about the data differently. People with qigong psychosis may develop such a sense of self-aggrandizement that they believe they have mysterious powers. At some point, it can even cross over into Western concepts of paranoid delusions.

If you engage with someone who operates under a set of mental rules that does not seem grounded in the same world in which you live, you can try to understand and interact with them on their terms. However, the rules under which they operate tend to morph and twist in order to protect the delusion. You will always be on shifting ground, struggling not to become unmoored yourself! It is really interesting that too much standing practice qigong (zhan zhuang), which builds such a strong sense of physical balance and rootedness, can have the opposite effect on people’s minds. The best thing to do is to interact normally, from your own point of strength. After all, one of the tenets of kung fu is that since you can’t control your opponent, all you can do is to control yourself.

If you are concerned that you yourself might be thinking those strange sensations of qi flow are signs of your growing special relationship with the dao, that’s a good sign! You are reality-checking. The best internal tip I’ve heard is not to double down on your rising strength, but to use standing practice to climb out of the wormhole of your own mind. Focus your breathing on where you are tensing your muscles to support the weakness in your body. Accept that recurring twinge in your back as something to integrate and strengthen, rather than something to protect by strengthening the surrounding tissues.

If you are not into that kind of internal martial arts training but can see your life developing the same pattern as your power in a social setting or organization grows, keep yourself humble. Reflect on your weaknesses. Not only will it keep you from getting so caught up in yourself (or full of yourself) that you start to make dangerous decisions, it will keep you from believing that whatever you are in one setting does not automatically transfer over to others.  I’ve seen many senior executives fall because they thought they had grown above the rules.  I’ve also seen many marriages that fall apart because one spouse no longer wants to be married to someone who takes being King of the World home from the office.

Finally, be careful of how your social support network encourages or discourages changes like qigong psychosis. If you are a martial arts person or a powerful person within an organization, you can start to believe your own words a bit too much. Connect outside that network of self-reinforcing nonsense. Otherwise, you could end up like those in the not so distant past who believed their exercise and meditation programs could even protect them against bullets.


About Jeffrey FInk

In my day job, I'm a lawyer, mediator, arbitrator and advisor in Wellesley, Massachusetts with clients locally and from around the world. I advise clients about general business matters, act as outside general counsel to several companies and counsel clients in more contentious situations. Wearing a different hat, as a mediator, Collaborative lawyer and ADR professional I help clients resolve a wide range of business and family disputes. I've also studied a number of styles of martial arts and have a second degree black belt in kung fu.

Posted on August 3, 2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. My name is Rogério, I’m 46 years old and I’m from Brazil. I read your blog and found it very interesting, congratulations! I have a doubt about some side effects that I feel with the practice of Tai Chi Chuan, could you give me a light on the subject? I practice Tai Chi Chuan Yang (I’m still in the first 2 minutes of the series), and when I start practicing the series more often I have several unpleasant side effects. Among the side effects I feel are:
    “I’m very airy about the outside world and very focused on my own thoughts. I end up getting so focused on my own thoughts that I often forget the names of people and my mind takes time to get back to real life.
    – I feel dizzy, and persisting in practice this dizziness gradually increases.
    “I feel a sense of” suffocation, “it’s like I have some internal energy suffocating me.
    – Crying sensation trapped.
    – Apathy and sadness (but I already have a depression problem that seems to increase when I practice )
    – I feel a kind of pressure inside my head and a little mental confusion.

    -Impression that I will lose lucidity

    know it is difficult to give an idea of ​​the reason for so many symptoms without ever having seen the person practicing …. My goal here is more to have an idea about what could be happening, and not properly a definitive diagnosis. Would you have any idea why this might happen? Once an acupuncturist told me that I have excess energy Yin. I did a lot of acupuncture time but the symptoms when I practice have not changed.
    Thank you
    Have a nice day!

    • Hi Rogério,

      The good news is, you’re normal! When people begin to practice any kind of qigong – Tai Chi Chuan is a kind of moving qigong – they encounter blockages or energy imbalances (in the traditional Chinese way of looking at the world). In the Western way of looking at the world, if we get into the meditative side of things, we sink into a meditative state, clear away the unnecessary, maybe encounter personal demons and have a hard time emerging fully from our own alpha waves. Even after 15 years of practice, if I learn a new qigong form, the same things sometimes happen.

      Without getting into all the Taoist, TCM and my personal mix of theories behind it, it works, much of the time, for people in Western culture to focus on the body when trying to connect mind and body. I strongly recommend supplementing Tai Chi with standing qigong practice (zhan zhuang), ideally under the instruction of a teacher or qigong medicine practitioner, because it is easier to focus on particular internal sensations (=energy flow, if you want to think of it that way) when you are not moving. Zhan zhuang is like standing Chinese yoga. If you can’t find a teacher, there are plenty of resources in books and online. By grounding yourself into physical balance and balanced internal power, you should find that, over time, the issues dissolve and resolve. Go as slow as you need to. We all have a tendency to machismo, to push ourselves too hard, too fast.

      A few last thoughts, from a practitioner rather than a master who actually knows what he’s talking about. One is that, if it were me, I would avoid meditative techniques and qigong systems that involve visualization. It sounds like they would not be great for you. Whether you want to think of them as fire method Daoism that you’ll see online or just living in your head, they just don’t seem right based on your description. Two, tying all this in with the conflict theme of this blog, as a fringe benefit you should find it much easier to deal with personal conflict as you practice more. And finally, of course, if things get worse, you should stop. It may not be the right thing for you to be doing. However, especially if you are trying standing practice on your own without a teacher, please think about finding a teacher. There are a lot of subtleties you can’t get from a book or YouTube video and some approaches that are better to start with than others.

      Good luck!


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