Dementia Throughout History

Author takes us briefly through the the harrowing history of the treatment of dementia patients,. Walking through from ancient times to the modern day, take a look at how the development of medical and neuroscientific knowledge occurred.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is the modern term that we use to describe a collection of diseases of the brain, like Alzheimer’s Disease, Lewy Body Dementia, or Vascular Dementia. These diseases vary in their symptoms, but all share these common features.

  • Loss in ability to think
  • Loss in memory
  • Decrease in ability to make decisions

Dementia will affect between one in ten and one in twenty of all people over the age of 60 worldwide. Dementia has been affecting people at this rate since the beginning of mankind. Historically, different cultures have treated dementia patients differently throughout time, sometimes barbarically. In this article I will take you through the ages, and try to give you an understanding of how dementia patients were treated or described by the famous doctors of these times.

Ancient Greece

Pythagoras, arguably the most interesting philosopher of all time, considered life to be a progression through stages. The last two stages of life were considered ‘old age’. These two stages included features like the decline of both the body and mind, matching the dementia symptoms of today. Importantly, these later stages were considered by Pythagoras to be essential to life, and therefore dementia was not seen as a problem to be solved.

A couple of centuries later came Hippocrates, a philosopher known for his incredible and longstanding contributions to medicine. At the time, Hippocrates separated mental disorders into several classifications, such as mania, insanity, disobedience, paranoia, and hysteria. He believed that treatment of these so-called ‘diseases of the soul’ required a health-care model that included physical exercise, massages, diets, as well as divine treatment. However, he still believed that these ‘diseases of the soul’ were caused by the brain, and should be treated as physical disorders.

Plato also believed that dementia was a disease of the soul. He thought that to truly heal our soul, we must be the ones to do it. This led to a great deal of Plato’s patients sitting in large, open rooms by yourself for extended periods of time as a form of treatment. Asclepius, another Greek philosopher, claimed that music could be used as a therapy to treat diseases of the soul, a practice that has transformed from imaginary to medical over the years.

As a side note, Pythagoras was also one of the first physicians to push the idea of ‘encephalocentricism’, or the idea that the brain was the center of consciousness. Other philosophers of the same time period believed in ‘cardiocentrism’, or the idea that the heart is the center of intelligence.

Ancient Rome

Cicero, a Roman philosopher, wrote a book titled ‘On Old Age’ in the year before he was executed for royal treason at the age of 82. Cicero, in ‘On Old Age’, did not believe in the ‘fallacy’ of memory loss as you got older. He cleverly remarked in his book that “an old man never forgets where he had hidden his money”. He believed that losing your memory in age was a mere projection of the apathy of old men to the regular plights of young ones. He likely drew a line between dementia and growing old, as this was the beginning of an era of scientific discovery that would mark the beginning of something that resembled medicine as we know it today. 

Galen, the so-called ‘father of neuroscience’, was the first of the Roman physicians to put a name to dementia, calling  it ‘morosis’. Galen described morosis as the loss of memory and the loss of reason. These are two of the key symptoms of dementia that we use today. Whilst Galen did treat dementia as a disease, it was thought to be a side-effect of growing old and therefore; incurable.  

The Dark Ages

It would  be in later years that a stigma would begin to form around dementia. Although Hippocrates established medical science as we know it today, there was a significant backslide away from science and research in the western parts of the world, due in large part to the rise of the Christian church. This, as well as the endorsement of a book by the Pope, led to the horrific tales of witchcraft and stake-burning.

By the Middle Ages, medical literature was almost non-existent. Tales of red-hot iron treatments for hemorrhoids, bloodletting, and metal catheters plagued the streets of the justly-called Dark Ages. Dementia patients were represented to the general public as demon-possessed witches, too dangerous to keep around. 

The 1486 medical tale, “Malleus Maleficarum”, or the Hammer of the Witches, provided the simplest Alzheimer’s cure that exists: burning on the stake. The Hammer of the Witches was endorsed by the pope at the time, Pope Innocent VIII, and contributed to the brutal persecution of mostly women throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The bodies of hundreds of thousands of innocent, confused, and terrified men and women have been charred since 1486 in a practice that still continues to this day in some parts of the world. 

The Early Modern Era

It wasn’t until the 18th century, with the rise of anatomical dissection of human bodies and brains that scientists were able to point to a physical symptom of dementia, that being the degradation of the brain. At the time there were many different academic groups functioning throughout Europe, and many of these believed that there was only one mental illness: insanity. All other mental diseases were still considered insanity, but just of varying degrees. Dementia was known as the final stage of insanity. 

Even during this time of supposed enlightenment those living with dementia were confined to asylums and ‘treated’ with barbaric frontal lobe lobotomy – the frontal part of your brain would be separated from the rest of it; normally through the eye socket. 

The ‘Modern’ Era

It wasn’t until 1880 that the idea of dementia as a diagnosis would be separated from the umbrella term of insanity. At this point there was a reorganization of patients to put Vascular Dementia and senile dementia in their own class of disease. It took until 1908, when Dr Alois Alzheimer discovered the presence of specific forms of brain degeneration in a young patient, that Alzheimer’s disease would be separated again. Lewy Body Dementia would be separated in a similar way, as Dr Friederich Lewy discovered abnormal brain deposits in a patient during 1912. 


Today, the idea of throwing family members in asylums or burning them at stake sound repulsive, but that doesn’t mean that the stigma of being diagnosed with a cognitive disease doesn’t resonate deeply with people of today. 

Oftentimes patients will shy away from the diagnosis of incurable diseases, not wanting to be considered a burden or a liability. We have a long way to go before we cure dementia, and but we should be looking back to the early Greek Philosophers to see how they treated dementia patients; as they were treated in life, with dignity and respect.

What Can You Do to Prevent Dementia?

  • Avoid inhaling anything that isn’t air
  • Stay at a healthy weight, whatever that might be for you
  • Try and exercise for at least 30 minutes per day
  • Stay mentally and socially involved, especially as you age
    • Read books, join community clubs, have hobbies!
  • Have the correct genetics: this is a big one. 

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Understanding Psychological Disturbance

An argument for the for the important of understanding psychological distress for the general population. Anecdotes, examples and scientific reference.

The purpose of this post is to provide an argument for why I think it is important for people in general, rather than just those of us studying or practicing psychology, to understand at least a bit about the nature of psychological disorders. A psychological disorder is a pattern of abnormal thoughts, feelings and behaviours which lead to disturbances in the lives of those suffering from it, and those close to them.

The main component of my argument is that psychology is the study of the human mind, how it operates and how it responds to its environment. Seeing as we are all human, it is necessarily of primary importance for us to understand it to at least some degree.

Just How Common Is It?

The statistic from John Hopkins Medicine states that 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental illness in a given year. In a large proportion of these cases, they will be suffering from more than one mental disorder simultaneously. This statistic does not include the further 10-13% percent of people who suffer from the dysfunctions of having a personality disorder. I suspect that the real statistic is in fact, much higher.

Not everyone seeks help, which can be the case for a number of different reasons, not least because we still have not fully overcome the stigmatizing at a universal level. Also, the very nature of some of these disorders can be the driving factor preventing people from seeking help and contributing to the statistics.

 It would make sense for this to be especially true for certain personality disorders with paranoid and antisocial elements, as seeking help is directly in opposition to the nature of these personality types. Those suffering from paranoia are already on edge, thinking that people are out to get them, and being diagnosed as paranoid would, in their eyes, be another avenue for people to persecute them.

Why Is It Important?

Given these statistics and the gregarious nature of the human being, I think it is safe to say that the probability that we could manage to go through life, without ever having to come into close, meaningful contact with the effects of psychological problems, is astronomically low.

 Furthermore, the diagnosis of a psychological disorder is not always black and white, and there is plenty of mental suffering to be found within the grey areas. For example, to be clinically diagnosed with a particular mental disorder, one would have to meet a certain number of the diagnostic criteria. If for example, there are eight diagnostic features, of which one needs to meet six to fully qualify for that disorder, what happens to the people who meet five criteria rather than six? How about those who meet a substantial amount of the criteria for not only one, but several mental disorders? They would not be clinically diagnosed with anything, but to say this means they are not subject to psychological dysfunction would be ridiculous.

Therefore, I think simply understanding the different elements of psychological disorders can really help us to identify what are the different things that can go wrong with the human mind? What aspects of our personalities and behaviours are dysfunctional? How might we target them and try to improve them?

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are disorders which effect people at the state level, meaning that they distort the mood or emotional state of the afflicted individual. Examples of such disorders are major depressive disorder, anxiety and anxiety related disorders, bipolar, mania just to name a few. These disorders are ego dystonic, what this means is that the manifestations and symptoms are not in harmony with or reflections of the individuals actual personality. A person may be quite open and extroverted at the trait level, but as a result of being burdened with depression, they withdraw from socializing and say no to invites to social events. Being able to recognize these patterns and identifying the incongruencies with their usual behaviour patterns, understanding the nature of what they are going through can help us to generate greater degrees of empathy and patience for them, or even ourselves. Am I wrong to presume that this can only be a positive thing?

Personality Disorders

This category of disorders is really a whole other ball game, and some of them are just about near impossible to treat. However, that doesn’t mean that we cannot benefit immensely from being aware of them and optimize how we approach them when life throws them our way. Unlike mood disorders, they are ego-syntonic, which basically means that the behaviours associated with them, really are reflections of that individual’s actual personality, at the trait level. It’s kind of just the way they are. Let’s take the example of antisocial personality, more commonly known as psychopathy. Psychopathic people, as we all know, are notorious for their inability to feel empathy, how can you treat that? Many ardent researchers have tried and failed. Something that seems like a good idea at face value, like administering them doses of oxytocin ( the hormone responsible for social bonding) renders volatile results. It some cases it seemed to have a positive effect, but in a substantial proportion of trials, it made them worse.

It has proven rather difficult to just make them feel empathy, when their genetic and neurological make up, simply does not permit it. Being able to recognize traits of this disorder, could save many of us a lot of pain. When we are dealing with the likes of narcissistic and psychopathic individuals, it would serve us well to understand their boundaries, before subjecting ourselves to abuse and manipulation. Without understanding the true nature of the problem, many of us are liable to think that the problem is us, repeatedly trying and failing to mend relationships and get something from them which simply cannot be gotten.

Why Some and Not Others?

There are a vast sea of reasons and factors which influence whether or not someone will end up with mental disturbances. I will not go through each of them in detail here, but rather just talk a little about the backbone of it all. The gene-environment interplay.

Most of us are familiar with the nature- nurture argument. Do you think we are born like this? Or do we become like this over time? Good questions. The truth appears to be somewhere in the middle.

A series of twin studies in Northern Europe, which involved huge databases of twins either growing up in the same environment or in separate adopted households, revealed how much of a role genetics really plays. It plays a huge role not only for our susceptibility for developing certain types of physical illness throughout our life, but also for mental illness, and interestingly, personality traits!

Nature Nurture?

The genetic heritability for personality traits is in and around the 50% ballpark, more accurately between 40 – 60%, depending on the trait in question. If you have open minded and hardworking parents, the likelihood that you will be open minded and hardworking is significantly higher than someone who doesn’t. This is true, even if you have never met your parents, which rules out the environmental factors. Also, as time goes by, the older we get, the more we abide by the nature of our genetic code, and the less our environment plays a role. However, this is true for ordinary circumstance, of course and abnormally harsh environment would have a larger effect.

So, we are built in a certain way, and we are also subject to the influences of our environment. Though, two people in the same environment, say two nonrelated children in the same adopted household, are still likely to grow up to be quite different. They have different genetic code, and they are responding to the same environment, but in distinctly different ways. This is the gene-environment interplay, in short, how our genetic make up responds to our environment.

Cognitive Behavioural Model

There are also other reasons why one may become psychologically dysfunctional. One note worthy model, is the cognitive behavioural model. According to this, our engagement in negative and dysfunctional cognitions plays a huge role. In cognitive behavioural therapy we would focus on firstly identifying these dysfunctional cognitions, what they consist of, when they occur, and so on. We would then set out to target them and put efforts in to rectify the negative patterns of thought. This has shown to be a rather effective form of treatment, which would propose some truth to the cognitive behavioural model.

The Utility of Understanding Cognitions


Something that I found particularly useful to have learned, and hope can be useful for others, is the concept of rumination and catastrophic thinking. These concepts pertain to anxiety and anxiety related disorders. Although, I have not ever been diagnosed with such a disorder, the experience of anxiety is for me, like many others, very real.

Ruminations can be considered deep, persistent, and intense thoughts, and in relation to anxiety, they are often catastrophic. Assuming the worst, preparing for the worst, remembering the worst.

Pre-event rumination refers to the catastrophic thoughts one has before coming into contact with a particular event. The event could be anything, a social event, an exam, a job interview. This is a common phenomenon for individuals with high levels of anxiety. Just by having these catastrophic thoughts, we put ourselves in a state of heightened anxiety and experience physiological changes. Our body temperature rises, our heart rate increases, our perspiration becomes excessive. By the time we actually come in contact with the event in question, we are in such a state of anxiety, both psychologically and physiologically. Anything that occurs will be associated with those visceral anxious feelings.

With anxiety, we are essentially warping reality with our minds, processing the occurrence of otherwise neutral events as catastrophic and terrible. Upon leaving the event in question, we enter into the post-event rumination phase, wherein we are recalling the contents of the encounter with a similar sense of catastrophe. We further consolidate the memory as something terrible and traumatic, so by the next time we are exposed to a similar event, we have all of these dysfunctional memories associated with it. This creates a very vicious cycle.

However, simply knowing about this phenomenon, being aware and able to identify these cognitions, gives us the window of opportunity to hack them in a sense. Once we know when and how they are occurring, we can dedicate our mental faculties to dismantling them and rectifying the damage. We cannot fix a problem that we are not aware of.

The Purpose of this Series

This article is meant as a sort of introduction to a series of articles still to come, the purpose of which will be to shed some light of topics of mental disorders. In this series, the most common mood disorders will be discussed in fair detail. We will be writing about some of the research pertaining to the nature, causes, and the available treatments for a range of these disorders. Additionally, we will dive into the world of personality disorders, of which there are 10, discussing them one by one.

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John Hopkins Statistics For Mental Disorders

Statistic For Prevalence of Personality Disorders


The Role of Oxytocin in Antisocial Personality Disorders: A Systematic Review of the Literature

The Impact of Perceived Standards on State Anxiety, Appraisal Processes, and Negative Pre- and Post-event Rumination in Social Anxiety Disorder

CLASSICAL TWIN STUDIES AND BEYOND (Dorret Boomsma, Andreas Busjahn, and Leena Peltonen)

Gene-Environment Interaction in Psychological Traits and Disorders

Psychology & Conspiracy

Grapples with the multiple definitions of ‘conspiracy theory’. A scientifically supported narrative of the world of conspiracy theories.

Definitions of ‘Conspiracy Theory’

There are several definitions of the term ‘conspiracy theory’ floating around, both in the mainstream and in scientific literature. Let us examine a few of them here. The following is the Oxford definition: ‘a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for an unexplained event.’

Another, proposed by Van der Linder, is ‘A conspiracy theory purports that some covert and powerful individual(s), organization(s) or group(s) are intentionally plotting to accomplish some sinister goal’

A definition used is another study ‘Conspiracy theories can be treated as both rational narratives of the world as well as outcomes of underlying maladaptive traits’.

And yet, another definition commonly encountered in relevant literature. ‘A conspiracy theory usually refers to a subset of false narratives in which the ultimate cause of an event is believed to be due to a malevolent plot by multiple actors working together’.

The Problem of Multiple Definitions

The lack of consensus on a clear definition seems problematic. Upon closer inspection you will see that there is nothing in the former three definitions that imply that the theory is intrinsically false, only that it is alternative and involves conspiring forces.

The latter definition is closer to the implication of the falsehood of such theories, but falls short by using the word ‘usually’. This is problematic for the coherent categorization of alternative or anti-establishment theories as true or false. It lacks conscientiousness and does not provide us with a clear framework on which to operate, when investigating the causes, correlations and effects of the belief in these theories. It enables us to categorize any alternative-to-mainstream theory, that involves conspiring parties as a ‘conspiracy theory’. Which, although not explicitly stated in the definition, is generally presumed to be false.  

Did Hitler not conspire against the Jewish people? Was Julius Caeser not conspired against by the group of senators that eventually murdered him? Does believing in these historical events make me a conspiracy theorist?  I hope this is enough to illustrate the convoluted nature of a having multiple definitions for a word that is so frequently used in both mainstream and science.

This Review

For the pragmatic purpose of being able to continue with my narrative, to be able to justifiably include results from various studies, I will set the definition as ‘an alternative, unpopular view involving the covert conspiracy of influential forces’.

However, I would like it to be made clear that I am not making any assumptions about whether such theories are true or false. There is an overwhelming amount of ‘conspiracy theories’, some far more difficult to swallow than others. I have not addressed them and falsified them one by one, nor do I believe, has anybody. The remainder of this post is simply to review some surrounding factors involving conspiracy theories.

I will review some individual (internal) and environmental (external) factors that predict the belief in such theories, alongside the effects of conspiracist ideation on a societal and individual level.

What causes belief in conspiracy theories?

Results from a representative survey in the U.S reported that half of the American public believes in at least one conspiracy theory. This raises concern, considering it’s correlation with negative health and psychological outcomes.

Social unrest, uncertainty and the occurrence of very consequential events results in an increase in conspiratorial thinking. This is reflected by the serious rise in conspiratorial ideation that has occurred in parallel with the Covid-19 pandemic.  Some researchers have suggested that this is a type of defensive response to a complex problem. This perspective states that conspiracy theories help to regulate levels of acute stress prescribing an all-encompassing explanation for an otherwise very complicated problem. It does this by reinstalling the sense of order, control and predictability, after exposure to an external threat.

Conspiracy and personality

There are several individual factors that predict the belief in conspiracy theories. Studies have shown that people with a higher level of education, socioeconomic status and analytical thinking are less likely to endorse such theories. They also suggest that individuals who are mistrustful and cynical by nature tend to engage more in conspiratorial thinking. This brings me to an interesting personality type.

The Schizotypal Personality


The bells of familiarity will ring for many of us when we hear about a character, more likely male, that is somewhat detached from society and social relationships. This character is often considered a loner, and usually has very strange supernatural and superstitious beliefs. They are often paranoid about the intentions and loyalty of other people, even those who are presumably close friends of family members.

Such individuals often endorse the existence of a magical realm and have strange perceptual experiences accompanying their strange beliefs. They likely experience a good deal of social anxiety, and sometimes lack the appropriate emotional responses, often appearing dull to others. They are not loners because they do not have social contacts, rather they isolate themselves by choice, feeling that nobody understands them. This is the Schizotypal personality.

Due to its maladaptive nature, it is considered a disorder, and resides on the lower end of the schizophrenic spectrum. It turns out that the Schizotypal personality is a very strong predictor of conspiratorial thinking, which makes sense when considering their intrinsically mistrusting nature.

In my opinion, it is not the role of mental health professionals to tell others whether their philosophical world view is right or wrong, and none of us can say with full certainty whether there are ‘supernatural’ elements to our world. This will remain true as long as we do not know everything about the universe. However, what is helpful, is aiding people in understanding what elements of their cognitions are resulting in their own suffering, and helping people make informed choices about how to orient their lives.

Consequences of Conspiracist Ideation

Although we cannot say whether the long list of all conspiracy theories out there are true or false, we can measure what effect the have on society.

We know that exposure to conspiracy theories decreases willingness to engage in politics and reduces prosocial behaviour, namely, reducing one’s carbon footprint. It also predicts the tendency and willingness to engage in everyday crime. Furthermore, it is associated with higher levels of anxiety.

A Suggested Antidote to False Beliefs

Don’t just believe everything you read at face value. Know the difference between a reliable source and an illegitimate source. Be willing to listen to reason.

See in text references

Other article sources

A Brief Introduction to Qi Gong: The Healing Art of Ancient China

Reviewing China in historical perspective to the rest of the world. A brief Introduction to the concept of Qi and comparison with bioelectromagnetic energy. A quick look at some scientific support for the perks of this art.

China in Perspective

When looking into the history of China, one finds many fascinating insights into, not only Chinese culture, but also into the capabilities and nature of all humankind. In recent revisions, Chinese civilization has been proclaimed to be over 10,000 years old.

To put that in perspective, America was founded less than 250 years ago, the rise of the British empire was less than 500 years ago, Rome was founded less than 3000 years ago. The ancient Greeks who had their time for a period of about 300 years, were not even 3000 years ago. The ancient Mesopotamian’s, famous for math, the wheel, sailboats, maps and writing, were around 6000 years ago.

Considering the magnitude of impact these civilizations have had on the world as we know it, it begs the question, what did China produce during their long stretch of civilization?

When we look at China, we see a nation that bred some of the world’s greatest philosophers, scholars, architects, and engineers. They achieved unimaginable feats, while most of the rest of the world lived in technological darkness. The small, enigmatic human beings that can manifest unfathomable outcomes with a seemingly inhuman ability to labour. There is a long list of almost stupefying innovations from China. The 8,000 warrior statues made of terracotta, the rivers of mercury, the moving of mountains, the medicine, the tea, the 5,500 miles of Great Wall, the ability to endure incomprehensible amounts of suffering. The vast suffering is what some say advanced the development of much of Chinese philosophy and healing arts. Of course, this is conjecture, and suffering is not historically unique to China.

The art of Qi Gong is believed to be about 5,000 years old, so why hasn’t most of the world heard of it until so recently?

China, in the past, seems to have made seclusion from the rest of the world one of its more serious missions. They didn’t begin trading with the outside world until the 1900’s. Before that, they did have a brief period of trade when during the 1400’s hundreds the Ming emperor built the largest fleet of ships that the world has ever seen. The fleet was said to have up to 3,500 ships, to put this in perspective, the U.S navy today only has 430.

After the death of the emperor, the fleet (known as the ‘Treasure Fleet’) was burnt by his successor, in an almost superstitious stance to power.  Along with the fleet, most records of it having ever existed were also destroyed. This kind of tendency toward isolation and secrecy that we can observe from the Chinese, might explain why Qi Gong has yet to become as popular as its Indian counterpart, yoga.

Personally, I see no other reason that this body of knowledge shouldn’t be known to the west to a greater extent.

Benefits of Tai Chi / Qi Gong

It is on par with yoga for its health benefits and could certainly play as big of a role in aiding us into understanding our minds and bodies to a greater extent.

This art is said to lead to increased longevity. Studies have shown that it increases flexibility and agility, boosts cognitive ability in elderly, improves balance and coordination, and increases physical strength and stamina.

A qualitative meta-analysis on the effects revealed that it leads many practitioners to having extraordinary experiences at various levels of bio-psycho-spiritual/energetic functioning. This is congruent with other iconic, though non-scientific literature on the practice.

The metanalysis of randomized controlled trials referenced below, shows evidence supporting the claim that Tai Chi helps in the management of Parkinson’s disease. This is no small feat, considering the lack of options at hand for sufferers of this harrowing neurodegenerative disease.

Results from one of the studies show that patients who received a 6-month training intervention, had 67% less falls than those who did not.

It shows clear and promising signs for helping patients cope with and reduce symptoms. However, the mechanism which might underlie this is not understood, and more research needs to be done in this.

So, What Is Qi Gong Anyway?

Qi (also spelled ‘chi’ or ‘ji’) is often described by eastern exercise practitioners as ‘life force energy’. Whether they are yogi’s who refer to this energy as ‘prana’ or whether they are Reiki practitioners who refer to this energy as ‘Ki’. Qi is said to be present in all living things, such as plants and animals but also said to be in the air around us. It is described as a driving force that influences and nourishes all things, an invisible body of energy that is working in accordance with its laws whether we are aware of it or not.

Dr Yang Jwing Ming, PhD. Physics, and Tai Chi Scholar, suggests in his book ‘The Root of Chinese Qi Gong’, that what has always been known as Qi to the Chinese, is the same as what we now know as bioelectromagnetic energy. This was first detected by Luigi Galvani, an Italian physician and physicist in the 1800’s. This electromagnetic energy is produced in living cells, tissue and organisms, which is so far consistent with the behavioural nature of Qi as described in ancient texts.

‘Qi Gong’ can so be directly translated as ‘energy work’. It is comprised of a series of physical movements and forms, which are integrated with constant mindfulness through the fluidity of slow movements. In this way, it’s not so different from yoga, and in fact operates on many  of the same principles. Many of the breathing techniques can be compared, along with the theory behind the mechanism. While Qi Gong has the famous Yin & Yang, Yoga, similarly, has Ida & Pingala.

Qi Gong involves the cultivation of energy to achieve the perfect Yin Yang balance, although we in the west are all familiar with the iconic Yin Yang Symbol, few of us know what it really about.

If you are interested in learning more or beginning to practice yourself, check out the links below (not sponsored).


A History of the Chinese Martial Arts

A short reflection on the early days of eastern practices, some key historical figures, and the interplay between Daosim and Buddhism.

Bodhidharma & Buddhist Qi Gong

In 527 A.D, a well-regarded ‘bodhisattva’, or ‘enlightened being’ named Bodhidharma (known by the Chinese as ‘Da Mo’) was invited by Emperor Liang Wu Di into China to preach Buddhism. Bodhidharma, who was once the prince of a small tribe in southern India, is often depicted for his barbaric appearances. He was said to be a hairy, bearded, dark skinned man, dressed in orange robes, as many Mahayana Buddhists did at the time.

After the emperor (for reasons unknown) decided that he did not like Bodhidharma, the monk was forced to retreat to a temple in Shaolin. Upon arriving, he saw that the priests who resided in that temple were physically very weak. Many had become ill, as they had been fully neglecting their physical bodies, thinking that it was not necessary to cultivate physically to attain enlightenment. This is still considered true for many meditation intensive schools of practice, Vipassana, being one very notable example.

They believed it was altogether, a waste of time to exercise the body and laughed it off. Bodhidharma then put the argument to them, that attaining enlightenment requires time. That by being weak and sickly they are decreasing their longevity, shortening the span of their life and therefore, shortening the time with which they had, to work towards becoming enlightened.

The monks agreed that this was true and Bodhidharma stayed in the Shaolin temple, ardently working on the problem at hand. After nine full years, he emerged with a series of techniques, known as ‘Da Mo’s Muscle/Tendon Changing & Marrow/Brain Washing Classics’.

In this book is a series of physical, breath and meditation exercises, aimed to increase the strength of the physical body and bring one’s mind closer to an enlightened state. These exercises are commonly referred to as a type of ‘Qi Gong’, directly translated as ‘energy work’. Qi Gong is said to be the ancestor or parent of Tai Chi, which is an evolved, martial form of the healing art. Tai Chi is said to be the child of Qi Gong and the sibling of Kung Fu.

It is characterized by its martial arts-type forms, involving highly technical coordination of a liquid-like flow of movement and focuses on mindful presence and relaxation.

Where is Tai Chi From?

In the 12th century, a Taoist monk named Zhang San Feng, who had given away his property to his family and was living life in accordance with the Tao, was strolling leisurely between the summits of the Wu Dang mountains in Hubei province in China. He stopped, captivated by the sight of a bird attacking a snake. After seeing how the snake defended itself, keeping still, observing and then lunging in for a fatal bite upon the bird, he was inspired.

It was from this legend that Tai Chi Chuan is said to have emerged, and that it was Zhang San Feng went on to create a set of 72 Tai Chi Chuan movements.

Prior to the discovery of old documents, which confirmed the existence of Zhang San Feng, many people believed, and in some cases still do, that Tai Chi was created in Chen village, Henan Province. Yang style is possibly the most popular style of Tai Chi which circulates around the west today, it is said to be a later expression of Chen style and can also be traced back to Chen Village.

Internal and External Tai Chi

While styles such as Yang and Chen are said to be ‘external’, what is now Wudang Taoist Tai Chi is characterized by being uniquely ‘internal’. Now, what exactly is meant by ‘external’ and ‘internal’? There is also some room for debating the implications of these labels and where they come from. Some will say that the ‘external’ styles are characterized as being ‘hard’, while the other ‘soft’, some will argue that as Tai Chi as a whole is comprised of both external and internal exercises, that one focuses more heavily on one part than the other. But interestingly there is also another argument which relates not to the practice itself, but to the geographical origin. The styles which originated from Chen Village date back to being influenced by Da Mo. As Da Mo came from India, the manifestations of his influence are labelled as ‘external’ (outside of China). Taoism, being indigenous to the Chinese Wudang mountains, has resulted in their style being named ‘internal”.

Again, it is quite difficult to say with any certainty at this time, and there seems to be much room to open argument on the subject still, as is the nature with ancient histories.

Taoism vs Buddhism

For many people, distinguishing the difference between Taoist philosophy and Buddhism is a very convoluted and tightly tangled endeavour, and with good reason! Most people know at least, that Taoism is Chinese and Buddhism was originally Indian (though the Buddha himself came from Nepal).

”Do not dwell on the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment”

-Gautama The Buddha

Actually, Taoism is comprised of a large degree of Buddhist philosophy, over time they absorbed many of the philosophies of Buddhism that were being preached in China, being influenced by the general zeitgeist.

It apparently wasn’t uncommon for Taoist and Buddhist monks to befriend each other and share philosophies. However, while Taoism’s open- minded approach to learning enabled it to move like water and adapt, Buddhism was far more conservative than that, and refrained from making new adaptations based on newly available knowledge.

The Buddhist’s then were absolutely forbidden from eating meat, drinking alcohol, in the cases of monkhood they were forbidden from sexual activity and made to shave their heads. The Taoist’s had a slight touch of rascality to them. They could eat meat, drink wine, grow their hair long and priest’s (in some casts) were even allowed to marry and have children.

”If you are depressed, you are living in the past.

If you are anxious, you are living in the future.

If you are at peace, you are living in the present”

-Lao Tzu

Despite these considerably minor differences, both philosophies aim toward the same goal of enlightenment and cultivating the ‘Tao’. They both focus on taming the emotional body, in order to achieve inner peace, purifying the self and attaining the ultimate goal of enlightenment in order to escape the cycles of ‘Samsara’ (cyclical death and rebirth).

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  • Dr Yang Jwing Ming, The Root of Chinese Qi Gong
  • Qigong, The Secret of Youth: Da Mo’s Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing Classics

Understanding Samadhi

A short explanation of Samadhi accompanied by timeless poem written by Paramahansa Yogananda.

The Sanskrit word ‘Samadhi’ might be most accurately translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘unification of mind’. The word is used to describe the trance-like state that one can experience through practicing yoga and meditation.

In this state, a person is devoid of any negativity, or fear. They are engrossed in the feeling of being totally interconnected, inseparable from the very essence of the universe. In Samadhi, a person remains in a joyful and enlightened state and are free from the bonds of their human conditioning.

Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda was a renowned Indian yogi and monk, who introduced millions of people to the practices of meditation and Kriya yoga. He lived from 1893 until 1952, and he was the first of the Indian Yogi’s to settle in America, to popularize the ancient teachings.

He founded the Self- Realization fellowship and wrote the world famous book, ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’. This book has been reported worldwide as being a life-changing read. Though this book has many stories that may turn heads, and be unacceptable as fact to the scientific mind. One excerpt, a poem wherein he describes the experience of Samadhi, is, in my opinion, a perfect description of the seemingly universal experience this particularly deep state of meditation.

Those of us who have had particularly deep meditations, might recognize our own experience in the verses of this beautiful poem written by Paramahansa Yogananda.

Vanished the veils of light and shade,
Lifted every vapor of sorrow,
Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
Gone the dim sensory mirage.
Love, hate, health, disease, life, death:
Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.
The storm of maya stilled
By magic wand of intuition deep.
But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.
Planets, stars, stardust, earth,
Volcanic bursts of doomsday cataclysms,
Creation’s molding furnace,
Glaciers of silent X-rays, burning electron floods,
Thoughts of all men, past, present, to come,
Every blade of grass, myself, mankind,
Each particle of universal dust,
Anger, greed, good, bad, salvation, lust,
I swallowed, transmuted all
Into a vast ocean of blood of my own one Being.
Smoldering joy, oft-puffed by meditation
Blinding my tearful eyes,
Burst into immortal flames of bliss,
Consumed my tears, my frame, my all.
Thou art I, I am Thou,
Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!
Tranquilled, unbroken thrill, eternally living, ever-new peace.
Enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy, samadhi bliss!
Not an unconscious state
Or mental chloroform without willful return,
Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
Beyond the limits of the mortal frame
To farthest boundary of eternity
Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
Watch the little ego floating in Me.
Mobile murmurs of atoms are heard,
The dark earth, mountains, vales, lo! molten liquid!
Flowing seas change into vapors of nebulae!
Aum blows upon vapors, opening wondrously their veils,
Oceans stand revealed, shining electrons,
Till, at the last sound of the cosmic drum,
Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
Of all-pervading bliss.
From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.
Ocean of mind, I drink all creation’s waves.
Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
Lift aright.
I, in everything, enters the Great Myself.
Gone forever: fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory;
Spotless is my mental sky, below, ahead, and high above;
Eternity and I, one united ray.
A tiny bubble of laughter, I
Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.