A different method for pain, stress relief

4-day Qigong convention offers various workshops on Chinese exercises

August 29, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

For years, Svaha McWilliams felt a dull pain in her chest that wouldn't go away.

Medical tests turned up nothing wrong with her heart, and doctors told the 48-year-old Indianapolis woman she was healthy. Then a few months ago, McWilliams attended a Qigong workshop, where she learned ancient Chinese meditation and breathing exercises to direct negative energy out of her body.

"The pain stopped completely," McWilliams said. "And I realized it wasn't hocus-pocus. It was valid."

To learn more about the exercises, McWilliams went to the Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville yesterday to join 200 teachers and enthusiasts for the third annual National Qigong Gathering. The four-day convention in northern Howard County features seminars that teach basic Qigong (pronounced chee-gung) techniques, medical Qigong therapy and methods such as "Eight movements of opening lotus."

Qigong, which means "energy skill" in Mandarin, is a technique that dates back thousands of years in China and uses breath and movement to direct "qi," or vital energy, around the body. Falun Gong, which the Chinese government banned last month, is a version of Qigong that Li Hongzhi of New York created and promoted.

To some, Qigong may seem years away from mainstream culture, but it has gained popularity in America in recent years as a pain- and stress-relieving exercise, said Solala Towler, board member of the National Qigong Association, the Ely, Minn., group that organized the event.

In fact, Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson began offering classes in tai chi -- a type of Qigong -- two years ago when doctors noticed more and more cancer patients were interested in the technique to alleviate pain.

Trish Lynch-Alokones, program coordinator for GBMC's Alternative and Complementary Health Center, said hospital officials emphasize that such classes are meant to complement conventional treatment and medication -- not replace them.

GBMC is one of two hospitals in the Baltimore area that has a department specializing in holistic healing. St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson offers acupuncture and yoga therapy classes.

Holistic healing "is definitely a growing field," said Lynch-Alokones, whose center has logged 3,000 patients since it opened -- and seen a 338 percent increase in the number of participants in the past six months.

"Part of it is that people have not gotten the release that they're seeking through traditional means, meaning Western medicine," she said. "So they're looking toward some of the Eastern philosophies."

Surrounded by a handful of people yesterday, Ludmila Belova from St. Petersburg, Russia, went through the graceful, slow movements of dancing with an imaginary ball while meditating. In perfect silence, the group stretched and fluttered their arms like cranes while breathing deeply and thinking about moving their qi.

Some participants attended the convention to learn more techniques to teach others. Dr. Journel Alexandre, 68, a Philadelphia surgeon, said he runs a Qigong class for HIV patients.

"Through doing Qigong, some have found out that they need less [pain] medication," Alexandre said.

Jerry Alan Johnson, founder and director of the International Institute of Medical Qigong, based in Pacific Grove, Calif., said he could heal people by placing his hands over the infected area and meditating on driving the negative qi out of the body system.

In a seminar, Johnson, 46, directed almost 100 participants to bend over and slowly rise back up while making a scooping motion and meditating on drawing positive energy into their bodies. Then he asked them to slowly push downward while contemplating flushing the negative energy out.

Watching participants at the convention, Towler said he hoped the technique would become as popular as it is in China.

"When people first started jogging, many thought it was a weird thing to do," Towler said. "It took a while for people to accept it. They were like, `Why are they just running on the street?' We want people to realize that Qigong is not foreign, mystical or New Age. We want it to become part of American culture."

Pub Date: 8/29/99

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