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Bigu and Weight Loss:

Qi as a Food Source
by Qizhi Gao

In the medical literature, obesity is referred to as a “multifactorial disorder.” Defined by the National Institutes of Health as a body weight 20 percent or more above “desirable” weight, more than one-third of adult Americans are overweight. Perched at the center of chronic disease risk and psychosocial disability for millions of Americans, successful management of obesity offers unique patient care and public health opportunities. If all Americans were to achieve a normal body weight, it has been estimated that there would be a three-year increase in life expectancy, 25 percent less coronary heart disease, and 35 percent less congestive heart failure and stroke.

Unfortunately, obesity is also one of the most difficult and frustrating disorders to manage successfully. Primary care providers and patients with little benefit expend considerable effort. Using standard treatments in university settings, only 20 percent of patients lose 20 pounds at two-year follow-up, while only 5 percent of patients lose 40 pounds. This lack of clinical success has created a never-ending demand for new weight loss treatments.

A truly comprehensive program for weight loss mainly includes three parts: reducing caloric intake, exercise and behavior modification. The key point is reducing caloric intake, because change in weight equals caloric intake minus caloric output, according to the first law of thermodynamics. Normally, the purpose of exercise is to increase the caloric output and the purpose of behavior modification is to limit the caloric intake with self-control.

Based on the above understanding, Bigu Qigong shows its big advantage in weight loss. Bigu translates literally as “avoid (bi) the grain (gu).” In practice, it reflects the ability to live solely on qi without food.

Bigu is a period during which the qigong practitioner’s vital energy transitions from the air one breathes and the essence of food and water to drawing one’s sustenance strictly from the qi in the air. For the experienced qigong practitioner, this is a natural process that occurs when the accumulation of qi reaches a certain level. The ability to sustain normal body functions from qi only is possible with no change in one’s daily routine and has no side effects. Some qigong practitioners can live on the qi without food for a long period of time and oftentimes for achieving and sustaining a much higher energy level through the physical and mental discipline of the bigu exercise. For weight loss, it combines reducing caloric intake, exercise and behavior modification altogether.

One of the most elusive principles of Qigong is quantifying Qi as a vital force. Scientific methods are just beginning to define its nature, objectively supporting what has been experienced very profoundly on a more personal, subjective level. From the broadest viewpoint, everything is a form of energy. Body energy has an anatomy and physiology uniquely its own -- separate from the physical body. Despite the basic difference of air and food in terms of vibratory function and complexity, there is a homeostatic relationship between them, in which one acts as a back-up system for the other.

Bigu can be found in many ancient Chinese texts, in individual legend and exercise methods to experience. Here are a few examples:

A story from Bao Puzi’s Inner Treaties said that: A man name Jian was hunting in the field when he fell into a deep tomb in his early age. He was so hungry. Then he saw a big turtle, its head moved up and down to swallow the air. Jian was told that a turtle is good at Daoyin ? Conducting Qi, he imitated the turtle’s movement. He did not feel hungry any more until someone saved him 100 days later. After that he had the Bigu ability -- living on the air without food. The emperor Wei did not believe this and placed Jian in a room without food. One year later, Jian still was full of energy and his face had a normal healthy color.

Wang Chong Lun Heng -- Dao Xue Pian from the Eastern Han dynasty, stated: “The people who live on Qi have longevity, although they do not eat enough grain they are still full of energy.”

Among the historical relics unearthed from the Han Tomb No. 3 at Mawangdui, Changsha, Hunan Province, there was a silk book, On Abandoning Food and Living on Qi, and a silk painting, Daoyin Illustrations, of the early Western Han Dynasty period (3rd century B. C.). The former is a method of “inducing, promoting and conducting Qi”; the latter displays 44 colored “Daoyin Illustrations in which training exercises are painted.”

As a qigong practitioner, I have personally experienced Bigu twice. From July 20, 1993, until August 3, 1993, my daily diet consisted of a cup of juice or an orange. The first three days were the most difficult as I continued to feel hungry. After the three-day adjustment period, I was able to control my appetite and hunger with the qigong exercise and gradually increased my energy level, as well.

During the two-week period, I continued my normal work routine and required less sleep than normal; physically and mentally, I felt very comfortable and relaxed. I lost a total of 10 pounds in two weeks and have never gained the weight back. I repeated the same process for a two-week period in 1996, with similar results.

In June of 1996 I conducted a two-week weight loss experiment with 12 subjects, most of whom had no previous qigong experience. Subjects were initially taught two different Qigong exercises: one to control appetite and one to increase energy level. These exercises facilitated the body switching its primary nutrient source from food to Qi. Each subject was encouraged to eat and drink only what the body required. Emphasis was placed on the fact that this was not a deprivation study, rather a study to demonstrate the body’s ability to derive sustenance from sources other than food and in the process promote weight reduction.

At the conclusion of the two-week study, there was a significant mean weight loss of 11.2 pounds; mean weight loss per day was .9 pounds. Energy levels gradually increased during the two-week period with a concomitant reduction of hunger. Food consumption was rated on a six-point scale, with a six representing three complete meals. Mean food consumption was rated fewer than two for all days except Day 3 and Day 11.

There was a significant increase in energy levels post exercise for nine of the 13 days (67 percent). Hunger levels were significantly reduced 10 of 13 days (77 percent). Blood pressure did not significantly change between pre and post measures.

Ten of the 12 subjects lost a minimum of nine pounds during the 14-day experiment; the two subjects who lost less than nine pounds (3 and 4 respectively), both performed the exercises less frequently and had a higher food consumption. All subjects returned to normal eating habits within three days of terminating the exercise. The results were presented at the Third World Conference on Medical Qigong.

Bigu qigong is a safe and effective method for weight loss that uses self-control and the exercise to reduce caloric intake; however, for the lay practitioner, it is necessary to have an experienced qigong teacher as a guide. Bigu is a viable protocol for long-term, sustained weight loss.

Dr. Qizhi Gao is president and founder of the Kansas College of Chinese Medicine in Wichita, Kan., and is a Qigong Practitioner and Instructor. For further information, call (316) 691 8811 or toll-free 1 (888) 481 5226. (This article was published in its entirety by Kung Fu/Qigong Magazine, November 1998, and was presented at the Second World Congress on Qigong, San Francisco, Calif. November 1997.)