Healing the ‘Root’

Treating the symptoms of a disease can be faster and often much easier than addressing its root. Any chiropractor with the required 300 hours of training to use acupuncture needles should have some success in alleviating pain. But to treat the problem that is causing the pain, from a Chinese medical perspective, takes more skill. It often requires lifestyle changes that sometimes may be pretty big.

Qigong, loosely translated as “the skill of cultivating vital life energy,” skips the “treating the symptoms” part and directly addresses the root cause. It can be unforgiving that way. That is why, when I teach, I take it slow.

I am halfway through teaching my 5-week class, Exercise as Medicine, at the Open Center. Near the beginning of each class, I usually suggest that everyone set an intention: for their health or their life or whatever springs forth for each of us.

I always stay at the end of class to see if anyone has any questions or comments or suggestions. A student came forward last Wednesday and said she came into class with a headache on one side of her head. Her intention was to get rid of it. She told me that now the pain was on both sides.

I was not surprised. When we want to be healed of something at a deep level, the path is not always what we expect. This is especially true for something that is chronic, and this woman told me that she has suffered migraines for years. I was glad to hear that she was under a doctor’s care and would take medication when the migraines got to be too much.

The exercises we were doing are designed to address moving through blockages which can cause disease. In my educated guess, they did just that. Often things become worse for a time. Sometimes, the new pain is acute. The circulation of blood and qi moving through a blockage can make it worse, in what we call a “healing crisis.” In qigong practice, we learn to stay calm, to continue taking medication if need be, and to have patience. During a “healing crisis,” it is often a good time to discern if anything is contributing to our dis-ease. Perhaps we’ll find a stressor that we can cut out of our lives. Perhaps we need to change our diets or our form of exercise. These things all take time.

Patience and confidence are our friends when we want to heal. We need to be open to what might be revealed. In my experience, profound healing occurs on all levels: not just physical, but emotional, mental and spiritual. Sometimes we are led to other healing professionals: an M.D., a psychotherapist or a spiritual counselor.

I am eager to hear from my student in the next class how her week went, in terms of her symptom. In Chinese Medicine, we call a symptom like a migraine the “branch” of the disease. Needling acupuncture points can take away the pain. But our goal is to address what we call the “root” of the disease; this requires a different needling strategy and often takes more time.


With qigong, we go straight for the “root healing” that can lead us down an unfamiliar road. Healing rarely comes in one fell swoop. Sometimes it does, but usually not. It takes effort, an open mind and often the courage to change.


Each student of mine is important to me. My students come for different reasons and have diverse histories. I am grateful to be able to share what has taken me decades to learn: a source of healing through movement, breath awareness and mental focus. My affinity for qigong is based on my years of study and practice of Chinese Medicine, as well as years of yoga and dance training. Yes, the path to healing comes in many different forms.

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