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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Excerpts from 2007 NYTimes Article

Exercisers Slow It Down With Qigong 
Published: April 5, 2007

“Qigong is growing like crazy in the United States in the past few years,” Mr. Lin said. “People want to be more proactive with their health care.”

The face of exercise is changing in America. Instead of relentlessly pursuing a sculptured physique, people are chasing longevity, stress reduction and improved health through mind-body practices like qigong. “The realm of working out has shifted from people just wanting to build bulk and lean, toned muscles to them understanding that the inner health of the body is just as important as the outer health,” said Bernard Shannon, a medical qigong therapist who works one on one with clients and sits on the board of the National Qigong Association, a trade group. It’s taken decades for qigong — which is an umbrella term for numerous energy-based practices, including tai chi — to spread across the United States, in part because there weren’t enough instructors. That started changing in the 1980s and ’90s, when a handful came from China. Then in the late ’90s, after the Communist party made most forms of qigong illegal, an influx of teachers immigrated to this country.

A decade ago, most Westerners didn’t know how to pronounce qigong (CHEE-kung). Plenty still don’t, but that hasn’t stopped them from attending classes at YMCAs, gyms, medical centers and college campuses. Roughly 950,000 American adults have practiced qigong in their lifetime, according to a study conducted in 2002 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and released in 2004 by the C.D.C. and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The yoga boom has made mind-body exercise more run of the mill. “Yoga has now become acceptable,” said Judith Hanson Lasater, a yoga teacher since 1971 who now teaches restorative yoga, a form that encourages relaxation. “Qigong is a little further away, but yoga has opened the door.”

Because some forms of yoga are downright strenuous, qigong appeals to yogis tired of the mat race. “I went to power-yoga studios and practiced in heated rooms crammed with people’s mats, shoved over each other,” said Kyle Burton, 27, from Los Angeles. “But once I was introduced to qigong and learned the difference between a muscle-based workout versus an energetic-based practice, I switched.”

Practitioners say that qigong helps alleviate joint and muscle aches, increases energy and deepens their breathing. “It’s taken my body, mind and spirit to a completely new level,” said Shelley Marks, 46, a talent manager living in Los Angeles who started qigong after showing early signs of rheumatoid arthritis. “It’s created a very peaceful feeling,” she said, and her inflammation and pain have diminished.

Scientific evidence or not, plenty of Americans find mind-body exercise a waste of time. To give gymgoers a taste of qigong without scaring them away, health clubs have introduced hybrids like Kung Yo, at the Sports Club/LA, and Qigong Yoga, at Equinox. “If they were to go take a regular qigong class, most people would be bored,” said Steven Leigh, who teaches Kung Yo, a blend of yoga, kung fu and qigong. “I sneak it in at the beginning.”

Qigong practitioners predict the easy-to-teach practice will one day rival yoga stateside. Does that mean a future of designer qigong clothes and S.U.V. ads? Not necessarily. “Qigong probably won’t be as popular as yoga because you can’t really get a beautiful body — it’s such an internal practice,” said Kimberly Ivy, founder of Embrace the Moon School for Taijiquan and Qigong in Seattle. “And qigong does not have the same cult of personality as yoga. How do you get celebrity status when you are standing still, breathing?”