'Qigong' becoming almost as popular as yoga, instructors say
SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJLA) - On this warm and sunny afternoon, people of all ages and walks of life have packed into a large martial arts studio in Silver Spring not to learn self-defense - but to learn to manage their chi.
"Chi" is a Chinese word for energy. The class is on how to manage one's chi.
"It's not easy to see it, but you can feel it," explains the teacher, Shuren Ma.
An ancient Chinese practice called "qigong," the only sound you'll hear is Ma's voice as she leads students through slow exercise movements and visualizations.
Ma helped bring qigong to the Washington area 33 years ago when he moved here from China. Just about two to three years ago, he started seeing his classes fill up, as people like William Pettiford, who came suffering from lymphoma.
Pettiford says practicing qigong has been helping him heal.
"It was like someone taking a straw and putting it down my throat, and it just opened up," he said.
Ma says, in an often high-stress area like Washington, qigong can make a big difference for many people.
"It's a wonderful relaxation process. Especially in a society with so much stress - you need tools to manage that stress," he said. "It can make them healthier, support their immune systems, and bring balance and harmony."
Regular attendee Carolina Esteva agrees.
"If you feel any pain or if you have something that is bothering you or you are stressed, whenever you take this class, it is really great," Esteva said.
Eve Soldinger is a medical qigong practitioner and a licensed acupuncturist who leads patients through meditation and mystical movements called "Managing the Chi."
Catalina Schrader suffers from pain due to a torn Achilles tendon.
"When I come it really rearranges my energy," she explained. "It feels different once I'm done."
Doctors from Georgetown University to the University of California and Harvard are studying qigong. While they won't support claims it can miraculously heal diseases like cancer, studies do show the meditation and slow, repetitive movements of qigong can help with depression and in lowering blood pressure.
"Those who teach qigong say it is bcoming so popular that very soon it will be like yoga, where there are studios and classes being offered just about everywhere," said Soldinger.
"If it's good enough for the chinese for 2,000 years, it's good enough for us here, right?" said loyal attendee Albert Zara.