The word baraka transcends several languages, and most often refers to some sort of "blessing." In the case of the ancient healing modality and alternative medicine Qigong, baraka applies to "a blessing that stays in a place," according to local practice leader Patricia Seator. Qigong calls that latent energy a "chi field," and it's not unlike the palpable energy some people feel in sacred spaces like churches or areas of dramatic natural beauty.
But the difference between a chi field and a sense of humbled awe is that you can supposedly access and use a chi field for self-healing. Seator, psychologist and co-owner of the Poor Richard's complex with her husband Richard Skorman, has practiced Qigong — a gentle, slow series of postures — almost daily for nearly seven years and says it has "made an enormous difference" in her life.
Ten years ago, she fell and sustained multiple fractures; migraines followed, and even today she's vulnerable to them. But after trying "everything: all kinds of bodywork, herbs, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy ..." she says the most consistent suppression of the headaches has come through regular Qigong practice. She's also seen other results: "I've had scoliosis since childhood — now it's unwinding and my back is healing."
Over a 12-day retreat at the Chi Center outside of San Francisco this past June, Seator says, she observed a classmate who suffers from multiple sclerosis go from wan to radiant and from wheelchair to walker. Other testimonials found at chicenter.com detail healing transformations experienced by people afflicted with ailments ranging from Lyme disease to advanced-stage cancer.
Between Oct. 9 and 11, Chi Center founder and Qigong master Mingtong Gu will be in Colorado Springs to teach workshops and to host a free healing spiral. Event organizer Ellie Coriell, a local psychotherapist and certified Qigong instructor, says this "is a rare opportunity for Colorado Springs to be on the cutting edge of this new paradigm — of what healing can be and how individuals can be empowered."
Gu, one of the pre-eminent Qigong figures in the West today, spoke to the Indy last week; below is a condensed version of the interview. (Note: English is not Gu's first language; for clarity's sake, we have corrected errors of syntax.)
Indy: How do you describe Qigong for those entirely new to it?
MG: It is a kind of technology to use pure life energy to effectively cultivate our mind and to work with energy of love and wisdom and harmony and apply that energy for many areas of life.
Indy: Is there any spiritual or religious component to it?
MG: It's strictly a healing art, but it can be applied into a very spiritual way of working with life. ... There's a spiritual dimension to it, but it's not a belief system or faith tradition. It's a science of mind.
Indy: How long does it take for someone to become a proficient practitioner?
MG: It's almost like learning to ride a bike ... one day, two days, then you have the basic skill, but learning how to apply it can be a lifelong journey and depends on your needs. ... If you're just releasing pain, some difficulty, some stress, then you practice 20 to 30 minutes a day or here and there. But if say you want to really reverse a condition and strengthen your energy, invest longer — 30 minutes to one hour of daily practice. Gradually, it becomes a way of life.
Indy: In yoga, it's more about the breathing and the meditative aspects than the postures. Is it the same with Qigong?
MG: Yes, absolutely ... the mind is not so much focused on the stretch, it's more on ... invoking the subtle energy. ... It becomes energy of nourishment toward your organs, brain, cells, blood, your immune system. That's the very special quality. As a result ... the mind settles into the body, which is the home for the spirit. You're feeling this moment, the wholeness of the present.
Indy: Can you briefly explain the Chinese government's effect on Qigong throughout history?
MG: Qigong has been quite a secret for 5,000 years or more ... there were a few grand masters teaching it, but it was still very underground. It came out to the mainstream in '70s ... [mainly because of] the cultural revolution. The country was in crisis ... people introduced Qigong to the public in the beginning for health reasons. The government realized it was good and they supported it ... it became so popular ... [that] the government felt threatened — so they basically crushed down the whole Qigong movement.
Indy: One of the doctors who gives a testimonial on your site says you've "brought a new level of transmission of mind-body practice unparalleled in [his] experience." Is there a style or method you've pioneered, or are you traditional in your approach?
MG: [My style is] from the teaching of my teachers, but my own self-cultivation is always involved. ... When you practice together in a large group, it becomes so amplified. We call this effect a chi field — it's a collective energy synergized together for a unified purpose. I teach students how to work with it. ...
Ultimately, it is not about me. It's about our capacity as human beings ... now we are in the time that we need to realize this capacity, to train ourselves to go beyond what we've experienced, what we know. That's the exciting part. I see that as a wonderful human experiment.
Indy: Many view the Western medical system as broken in many regards. Is Qigong truly an alternative medicine?
MG: I don't see Qigong as a fix of the Western medicine problem ... it's merely expanding our options ... conventional medicine is focused on the physical, while ancient medicine like Qigong is focused on the energetic ... the physical is only 4 percent of the universe; 96 percent is formless and invisible ... I want to see how 100 percent works, how the formless and form interact with each other ... The underlying assumption is, 'Can this body heal or not?' Beneath that assumption is that the body is separate from the mind ... that's limiting our potential ... my invitation is for people to ask, "Can my mind and body heal together?" That's a profound difference.