In Dartmouth's New Theory about Stress, Qigong Gets Spotlight
May 15, 2015 -
The term "stress" is widely used, and its significant contribution to human
disease and suffering is well recognized. However, some researchers from Geisel
School of Medicine at Dartmouth University think the term is often poorly
Over 50 years after the first use
of the term, there are enough questions left unresolved that they suggest that a
different way of looking at these phenomena is needed. Below they list these key
• What is
the difference between "good" stress and "bad" stress?
distinguishes acute, chronic and traumatic stress, apart from the differing
• What is
resilience to stress?
• What is
appraisal, and how does it influence the stress response?
• What is the actual nature of
stress, apart from its neurological and neurochemical correlates?
physiological definitions of stress do not appear to answer these questions. The
propose that the concept of
preparatory set (PS) can clarify these issues.
The term "preparatory set" has been in use in the scientific literature at least
since 1918. Here, the researchers use the term to refer to the rapid preparation
of the organism for response to the environment.
The PS involves integrated action of 5 elements: the subcortical systems
controlling muscle tone and posture, autonomic/visceral state, affect,
attentional arousal, and expectation. It is a key point in their hypothesis that
these all tend to respond together, as different facets of a single process.
What are BTES and How Do They Relate to PS?
BTES (body-mind therapeutic and educational systems), including meditation,
meditative movement, Somatic education and body-oriented psychotherapies, offer
approaches to alleviating human suffering that differ substantially from
mainstream pharmacological, cognitive, exposure and exercise interventions.
BTES address the person as an integrated
whole, an approach quite different from the bio-medical approach of
isolating, analyzing and treating the functioning of separate systems. Using the PS as an explanatory framework, the
researchers hope to demonstrate that current neuroscience supports the view of
the BTES that bodily aspects are, at a basic level, inseparable from affective
and cognitive aspects of the organism.
Qigong and Tai Chi
Qigong is one of the few BTES forms
that the Dartmouth researchers discussed in depth.
Qigong teaches balanced standing and movement accompanied
by spatial, proprioceptive and interceptive awareness. It brings conscious
awareness to the (mechanical) postural processes of grounding, orientation, and
correct relation of the longitudinal axis to gravity, thus promoting optimal
postural preparedness and a sense of self-efficacy; and through the monitoring
of breathing and other interceptive information, muscle tone and movement
(proprioception), and thought activity, brings about a calm, centered state in
which one is responding to the actual present condition rather than preparing
for past or future events.
Further, it trains one to let go of inappropriate
anticipatory tension, to maintain resilient flexible posture with balanced
muscle tone, and to maintain this balanced preparatory state while moving in
simple or complex ways, moving with a partner, or even simulating attack and
One of the great benefits of martial forms of Qigong
(like Tai Chi) is that it teaches one to prepare for extreme challenge by
remaining flexible, grounded and aware rather than tensing in fear or anger or
collapsing in fear. Although Qigong practice may not specifically address past
traumatic memories, we suggest it may facilitate processing such memories by
retraining the dysfunctional PSs associated with them. Qigong practice
characteristically involves using imagined movement to create very subtle
changes in bodily posture and proprioceptive experience. This engages the
premotor areas, central to our concept of the PS. The methods of Qigong are
fully congruent with our hypotheses concerning the PS.
Research into Qigong has been hampered by poor experimental
design, small studies, and difficulty translating the traditional theory into
scientific terms. However, most studies point to positive results in a wide
range of physical and psychological conditions, in some cases even when compared
to standard treatments.