By Adrian Stewart
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Members of a UA club that practices a 5,000-year-old Chinese meditation technique claim to have little need for sleep or food.
Zhen-Su She, applied mathematics professor, said he went through a period of 50 days last year when he needed to eat only 200 calories per day and slept seven hours every other day.
The 200 calories came from a "few grams of potato chips," he said.
"I had gone to a Qi Gong workshop in another city and my body was charged with their energy," he said.
Qi Gong (pronounced chee-gong) practitioners believe that people meditating in large groups create an energy between them that heightens their experience. Scientific observations have shown that living tissues emanate electromagnetic energy.
As time passed he needed to eat a little more and more, She said. He brought his diet back up to "about 1,000 calories per day, [which is still] less than my four-year-old daughter eats."
"I have never felt so healthy in my entire life," he said. The University of Arizona Qi Gong Club was formed in the fall of 1992 with four members. Now, about 30 people attend their Friday night meetings in the Rincon Room of the Student Union.
Qi Gong is "a method of developing the body's abilities, sensitivities and possibilities," said Christine Huang, UA Community Rehabilitation Center research specialist.
"Just as blind people develop great hearing as a response to their condition, we are trying to improve all of our senses," Huang said.
Zhiying Song, club president and a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, estimated that skilled practitioners of Qi Gong use "more than 50 percent of their brain."
"Normally, only 10 to 20 percent of the brain is used," Song said.
Not all Qi Gong practitioners experience these positive effects.
Anthony Della Croce, anthropology graduate student, said he tried Qi Gong but "only experienced a little heat, which is one of the first steps."
People meditating with the Qi Gong method claim to experience heat, spontaneous muscular reactions, inner peace and leaps in their cognitive ability.
"Americans did not seem to have the same results as Chinese practitioners," Della Croce said. "I don't know if it's because we're not culturally adapted or what." Della Croce believes that the Qi Gong phenomenon is "a combination of psychosomatic and real effects."
"I broke from Qi Gong several months ago," he said, citing the lack of dramatic results.
Gary Schwartz, UA professor of clinical psychology, describes Qi Gong as "both a philosophy and a theory."
"Qi Gong is the integration of mind, body and spirit," said Schwartz, who uses the techniques but doesn't call himself a practitioner.
"There has been tremendous scientific research in China into Qi Gong," Schwartz said. "As an American scientist, I find the Chinese research very suggestive, but still exploratory. We have started to replicate that research here in the West with more controlled practices."
Song, under Schwartz's guidance, is planning to research what Schwartz calls "coherence," or the level of similar activity in different parts of the brain.
Song's initial research has involved reading the brain waves of people meditating with the Qi Gong method.
Analysis of the results "shows a remarkable level of alpha-band activity, which is normally associated with sleep activity and is seen in the back of the brain," Song said. "My research shows alpha- band activity in the front area of the brain. This is the area that controls memory and the central thought process."
Qi Gong practitioners believe that their meditation improves their mental power.
Schwartz said the research is tentative and will be complete in six months to a year.
If results are positive, the researchers say they will apply to the Institute of Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health for a research grant.
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