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Experienced Qigong meditators who regularly perform the exercises “Thinking of Nothing” and “Qigong” were studied with multichannel EEG source imaging during their meditations. The intracerebral localization of brain electric activity during the two meditation conditions was compared using sLORETA functional EEG tomography. Differences between conditions were assessed using t statistics (corrected for multiple testing) on the normalized and log-transformed current density values of the sLORETA images. In the EEG alpha-2 frequency, 125 voxels differed significantly; all were more active during “Qigong” than “Thinking of Nothing,” forming a single cluster in parietal Brodmann areas 5, 7, 31, and 40, all in the right hemisphere. In the EEG beta-1 frequency, 37 voxels differed significantly; all were more active during “Thinking of Nothing” than “Qigong,” forming a single cluster in prefrontal Brodmann areas 6, 8, and 9, all in the left hemisphere. Compared to combined initial–final no-task resting, “Qigong” showed activation in posterior areas whereas “Thinking of Nothing” showed activation in anterior areas. The stronger activity of posterior (right) parietal areas during “Qigong” and anterior (left) prefrontal areas during “Thinking of Nothing” may reflect a predominance of self-reference, attention and input-centered processing in the “Qigong” meditation, and of control-centered processing in the “Thinking of Nothing” meditation.

This study explores two conflictingmodels of how patients experience mind-bodytherapies; these models frame the design of aclinical trial examining the effects of qigong (a traditional Chinese movementtherapy) on the immune systems of former cancerpatients. Data consist of ethnographic researchand in-depth interviews conducted at the Bostonteaching hospital where the trial is to takeplace. These interviews, with biomedicalresearchers who designed the trial and with theqigong master responsible for the qigong arm of the trial, reveal twofundamentally different understandings of howqigong is experienced and how thatexperience may be beneficial. The biomedicalteam sees qigong as a non-specifictherapy which combines relaxation and exercise. The qigong master, on the other hand,sees qigong as using specific movementsand visualizations to direct mental attentionto specific areas of the body. Thus while thebiomedical team frames qigong as a“mind-body” practice, the qigong masterframes it as a “mind-in-body” practice. This research suggests that the biomedicalnotion that mind-body therapies work byeliciting mental relaxation is only one way ofthinking about how patients experiencemodalities like qigong: indeed,characterizations of mind-body therapies whichemphasize a mental sense of relaxation may bespecific to biomedicine and the cultures whichsurround it. More broadly, the paper arguesthat gaps in understanding between researchersand practitioners may be hindering scientificefforts to assess therapies like qigong.It concludes by proposing that clinical trialsof traditional and alternative therapies buildethnographic inquiry about practitionerexperience into the design process.
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