COLUMBIA — About 70 people hugged and laughed with one another Friday at Truman Veterans Hospital. It was all part of a Qigong workshop this weekend.
Qigong is a combination of physical postures, breathing technique and mental focus, according to the website of the National Qigong Association. Laughing and hugging are part of the mix.
"If you think you've got to hug, go and hug everyone," said Effie Chow, a Qigong grandmaster who conducted the workshop. "The sound of laughter comes from your heart. Let's hear you laugh!"
Chow, who is also an acupuncturist, nurse and founder of East West Academy of Healing Arts in San Francisco, made the trip to Columbia to help veterans feel energized and invigorated — a release from their physical and emotional pains.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, experts think that about 30 out of 100 Vietnam veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. An equal number of veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are believed to suffer from the disorder, according to a 2012 Veterans Affairs study.
"I'm hoping to bring veterans to a spiritual, energetic level that they are not familiar with," Chow said "It will be great if Qigong opens whole new doors for them."
Jerry Cupit, 66, who served as a medic in Vietnam 48 years ago, is treated for post-traumatic stress disorder at Truman Veterans Hospital. He said he joined Friday's workshop with skepticism, at first, but soon realized the power of Qigong.
"It was very eye-opening," Cupit said. "I was amazed at how much power I felt."
Chow's Qigong workshop Friday included lectures and demonstrations to help attendees understand the basic concept of Qigong and the power of breathing.
"Qi is the breath, and gong is maneuvering that breath," she said. "Breath is the life. When you breathe well, you are balanced, and you are in good health."
Chow also said having a positive mind has the power to change anything. "In traditional Chinese medicine, when you have physical symptoms, you are also having an inner heart problem," she said.
Shelley Lyle, a Columbia dentist who served in the Navy, said people with health problems often suffer from mental and emotional anguish as well, and offering them positive influences is very important.
"If I can help myself with Qigong, I can offer the same help to my family, friends and staff members," Lyle said.
Jaimie Arkelian, a Miami resident, said she decided to come to the workshop in Columbia after reading Chow's "Miracle Healing from China" about 20 times in the past five years.
"I am so glad I got on the plane," Arkelian said. "I study and research about energy, but today was so phenomenal, how much power I gained."
Chow hopes to reach as many veterans as possible with her Qigong workshops because when a group of people do Qigong together, their energy is collected. Its infinite power allows one to help others as well, she said.
"You are all family now, and you are all connected," Chow told those gathered. "Energy can be transferable, and collective energy can change anything."