(Clearwisdom.net) September 2007 - In the autumn of 2007 the Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) published a four page article about Falun Gong in their bi-lingual (English/Spanish) quarterly magazine SPLENDID, that is placed in the lobbies, VIP areas and each room of all the 60+ Intercontinental Group's hotels (Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Select, Holiday Inn Sunspree Resorts, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites) in 18 countries all over Latin America and the Caribbean.

"Based on five exercises and the study of the principles truthfulness, compassion and forbearance, the ancient discipline Falun Gong helps improve the body, mind, and spirit," assures the Finnish ex-model and executive Pia-Maria Sandas, who has been practicing it for five years and has verified its benefits."

The art of self-healing and the pursuit of longevity have been hallowed traditions in Eastern culture for millennia. In many parks in China and in Western cities with large Chinese populations, groups of mature and even aged individuals may be seen in the early morning performing graceful, slow-motion exercises. To a Western observer, these seem a cross between calisthenics and dance, and, generally, do not fail to captive and charm.

This exercise/dance described above is, of course, Tai Chi, and is now widely known and practiced in the West. But Tai Chi is only one among many techniques generically known as Qigong, or "cultivation practices" which seek to improve physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. In recent years the rise of one of these disciplines, Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, has been remarkable for the movement's rapid dissemination throughout China and its consequent extensive coverage by the media in both East and West. It was for awhile one of the spectacular success stories of the turn of the millennium.

Falun Gong had been a practice transmitted in secret from master to disciple from time immemorial until it was made public in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, often referred to as Master Li. Growing rapidly in popularity, it spread initially by word of mouth throughout China until its main text Zhuan Falun was published in 1996. This quickly became a best-seller, and, more and more people of all ages came to learn of Falun Gong and put its ideas and exercises to practice. Experts and government officials both applauded the movement for its benefits to health and society, so that by 1999, an estimated 1000 million [editor's note: 100 million] Chinese from all walks of life were practicing Falun Gong. Subsequently, it has spread to over 78 countries throughout the world.

Its recent history has been troubled, however. Although Falun Gong was initially approved of and even recommended by Chinese officials, for mysterious reasons the government suddenly turned hostile and declared it illegal on July 22, 1999. The ensuing repression and persecution of the movement has drawn sharp criticism and condemnation from scholars and political figures in both the United States and Europe.

Like many personal disciplines in Asia, such as Yoga and Karate, Falun Gong attempts to galvanize all the different aspects of the individual in a holistic effort at self-improvement. It consists primarily of a moral code of universal harmony, or xinxing, emphasizing truth, compassion, and forbearance. Through reading the literature, reflecting on these three virtues, and putting them into practice, the individual gradually incorporates them into his or her life and begins to grow mentally and spiritually, giving up addictions and other negative behavior. In so doing she becomes less selfish, more willing to sacrifice her personal interests for the sake of others, and, so, more productive to society at large.

Along with these mental and spiritual practices, Falun Gong has four standing exercises with gentle, slow movements. In one exercise, Falun Standing Stance, the arms are held motionless for several minutes in wheel-shaped positions. In the three others, the hands move along the path of the body's energy mechanism, or patterns of external energy flow. While the exercises stretch and strengthen the body according to Western paradigms, a deeper purpose is to reinforce these unseen energy mechanisms. The fifth exercise, a seated meditation, involves initial hand movements, followed by tranquil sitting. In all of the Falun Gong exercises the mind remains aware (i.e., not in a trance state), and clear and empty of thoughts. In none of these exercises do practitioners use special techniques, such as guided imagery or breathing.

Many experts in the West, particularly in Europe, highly recommend this millenarian discipline. Dr. Franz Susman, professor of the history of the Catholic Church in Austria, says "Falun Gong is the biggest hope for mankind because it's teachings and practices are in harmony with each other", while David Cooper, professor of philosophy at the University of Durham, U.K., assures us that 'it promotes both bodily health and peace of mind." In a world beset by tension, stress, and conflict, these ancient Chinese practices may be immensely beneficial in recovering a sense of balance and serenity, particularly at a time when the efficacy of many Western psychological therapies is being challenged by professionals in both Europe and the United States