“My doctor can’t believe how much it has changed my health.”
With these words Gail Rachlin, a 50-something New York City Falun Dafa practitioner, enthusiastically begins her description of the positive impact that this new interpretation of the ancient Chinese practice of Qi Gong has had on her well-being.
Closely related to Qi Gong is Tai Chi, a series of ballet-like movements that hone balance and strength. If you have visited any Chinese community anywhere around the globe you have probably seen Tai Chi practiced by the older people in the parks at daybreak.
The Falun Dafa organization estimates that there are now 75 million practitioners in China and 25 million elsewhere in the world, including the United States.
So, what exactly does this movement involve?
Above all, Falun Dafa emphasizes the cultivation of three fundamental principles: Truthfulness. Compassion. Forbearance.
The belief system is explained in two books that can be downloaded for free from the Falun Dafa Web site. Many of the themes will seem familiar to first-time readers, because they reflect common messages found in Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism.
The philosophy of Falun Dafa is accredited with promoting a good heart and healing the individual, emotionally and spiritually. The exercises, or Falun Gong, are aimed at reinforcing the messages of the books through training the body.
In general, the exercises involve holding the body in positions that are said to aid the movement of energy in the body. The positions are thought to promote contemplative thought and strength. Some of the exercises may be difficult at first, but these exercises are performed successfully and routinely by young and old individuals alike.
In addition to spiritual and physical healing, Falun Dafa is said to cultivate a sense of community.
One more thing: Falun Dafa is free. As many practitioners explained to me: If money changes hands, it is not Falun Dafa.
A Very Alternative Approach to Healing
Dr. Jingduan Yang may or may not be joking when he explains the rates that he will charge his future patients. Dr. Yang’s background is unusual in that it includes an MD (he is currently a psychiatry resident at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) as well as training and experience as a practitioner of Chinese medicine. He claims that once he opens his own private practice he will have three different fees.
He will charge individuals who want Western treatment and pharmaceuticals $200. He says this is justified because they will be depending entirely upon him for their treatment.
If a patient comes to him seeking acupuncture or other traditional medicine, he will charge them $100. Dr. Yang justifies this by saying that the patient will be shouldering half the responsibility for their own wellness by watching their diet and making prescribed changes to their lifestyle in order to heal.
If, however, a patient visits him and wants to learn Falun Dafa, Dr. Yang will teach for free, for however long it takes, because he knows that the patient has assumed complete responsibility for his or her own health and is on the road to wellness.
Dr. Yang agrees that “the medical healing power produced by Falun Gong is hard to understand because it belongs to another paradigm.” He explains, however, that the cultivation of mind and spirit that Falun Dafa teaches is consistent with the modern understanding of health.
Sen Yang (unrelated to Dr. Yang), a 39-year-old Chicagoan, was faced with a similar health reality when he was diagnosed 20 years ago with serious, chronic hepatitis that required him to suspend his schooling for a year. He explains: “A doctor told me directly, ‘There is no way to really cure your disease. You will have it for the rest of your life.’”
Today, a healthy-looking Yang regularly attends Falun Dafa meetings with his 9-year-old daughter. He began practicing in 1995 and perceived “a warm current moving in his body” after reading books on Falun Dafa. This physical sensation encouraged him to continue with the exercises and the philosophy, and his health improved rapidly. He recalls: “At the beginning my physical condition changed very fast. When walking, I felt [that] my body was so light that I could almost float up.”
Two years ago, Yang’s blood was checked during a regular physical exam, and all of the 32 test results came back normal, including four that were specifically designed to test liver function.
When asked about these apparent “miracle cures” that are so common among Falun Dafa practitioners, Dr. Yang discourages the line of questioning by saying: “It is very wrong to think that Falun Gong is designed to help heal an illness.”
While he concedes that many practitioners are initially drawn to Falun Dafa because of a health problem he emphatically states that a miracle will not occur with all people. He likens Falun Dafa to a school full of students. Some students learn faster than others and will get better grades, but like any good school everyone should improve.
Seeing Falun Dafa Up Close and Personal
After recently spending 2 weeks researching the wildly popular form of Qi Gong known as Falun Dafa, I decided that I should see a meeting for myself. I convinced two of my friends, Mary and Martha (all of us 30-something), to join in this excursion to Chicago’s Chinatown.
The increasing popularity of this movement is notable, but what most impressed me during my research were the people I interviewed. From Gail Rachlin on the East Coast to Zhi Ping Kolouch on the West Coast and Sen Yang in the Midwest, this had to be the nicest group of people I ever had the pleasure of talking to. They always returned my calls and emails promptly and were warm and enthusiastic.
In addition to their attitude, I was intrigued by their stories. Gail Rachlin, 50-something, claims that Falun Dafa allowed her to go off of antidepressants. Zhi Ping Kolouch, 43, credits it with maintaining her jet-black hair and healthy heart. Sen Yang, 39, says it cured his chronic hepatitis.
At 2 in the afternoon on New Year’s Day, I met Warren Tai and his wife, Maria, in the parking lot behind a bank in Chicago’s Chinatown. I left my coat downstairs where the rest of the Falun Dafa practitioners were gathering and headed upstairs with Warren. We were joined by my friends Mary and Martha, as well as a pleasant Chinese man whose English was poor.
As the five of us (four beginners and Warren) sat on our rugs, Warren began to explain the principles of Falun Dafa and to patiently teach us the exercises.
Warren told us that with time we would all be able to do it, but that the effects of the meditation could be felt just by sitting cross-legged. He slowly guided us through simple hand movements that involved moving the arms around the body as if defining a circular space.
Easy to Learn
We could hear the sound of traditional Chinese music coming from downstairs as we stood up and began to learn the standing exercises.
The movements were soothing and easy to learn. From the excited look on Martha’s face, I could tell that she was just as eager as I was to join the rest of the group and do the exercises with the music.
The main group had already done the sitting exercise and was ready to start the standing exercises. Warren placed himself in front of us to guide us. The traditional music started and we began to move our hands.
When it was over, we all were quiet, seemingly basking in the feeling of the exercises. Warren then shepherded us upstairs for the English-speaking discussion of the Falun Dafa book. Warren had water for everyone and extra copies of the book for us to use in reading along. I left the meeting feeling energized and content. When I checked in with my friends the next day, they agreed that it was a wonderful experience and one well worth repeating.
We discussed the simplicity and energizing quality of the exercises and Mary added: “My thighs got a major workout and I don’t even know why.”
This abridged article originally appeared as a three part series.