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USC Off the Beaten Path: The Search for Spirituality

Scientific Qigong

An ancient Chinese healing art is repackaged for the secular West — but stripped of its sprituality to make it more 'marketable,' does qigong lose its essence?
By Allison Louie, July 24, 2007

An ancient Chinese healing art is repackaged for the secular West — but stripped of its sprituality to make it more 'marketable,' does qigong lose its essence?

(Editor's note: The following is a summary of an embargoed report. The full report, plus multimedia elements, will be posted here upon publication.)

In the same way that yoga and meditation are no longer exclusively religious practices — often being repackaged as useful tools for physical and mental health — the ancient Chinese healing art of qigong is similarly replacing its Buddhist and Taoist traditions with science and secularism.

Dr. Shin Lin, a biomedical engineer at the University of California at Irvine and newly appointed chairperson of the National Institutes of Health advisory board, has been researching the science behind qigong for the past four years. He teaches a class called Science-based Qigong, with techniques he has tested and proven effective in his lab. And he's trying to prove that the miraculous healings the ancient Chinese attributed to the spiritual unknown can actually be physiologically explained.

However, some qigong practitioners are not proponents of stripping qigong of its religious elements. They stress the synergy between the physical and the spiritual.

This dichotomy between science and spirituality, according to medical anthropologist Linda Barnes, is a common trend in Eastern practices brought to the West. Ultimately, the fight is between adhering to authenticity and religious essence, and appearing more marketable to the masses.

Image: Dr. Shin Lin teaches his science-based qigong class

Dr. Shin Lin teaches his science-based qigong class at a community center in Irvine, Calif.

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