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The Qigong Kid

The Qigong Kid
The DreamHealer in a recent TV appearance. Guarding Adams identity has become a full-time job for his family. Credits: Claudia Ward

Michael Joyce broke his left hand playing street hockey last September, and underwent a delicate operation shortly afterward. Michael’s doctor inserted a metal pin just above his pinky, but struck a nerve, and the UC Berkeley sophomore awoke in severe pain. Even after a thick cast had settled and dried the next day, Michael still suffered sharp jolts that felt like an ice pick to the back of the hand each time his arm shook from the slightest vibration.

“Riding in the backseat of a car was so painful, you couldn’t believe it,” the engineering major recently recalled. “Each time the car hit a bump, I’d feel it all the way up my arm into my shoulder.”

Doctors proposed that Michael wait it out and take OxyContin to relieve the pain. They said his hand would heal with time. But his mother couldn’t stand watching her son toggle between states of writhing in agony and bumbling around on meds, so she arranged for him to undergo something different — something called “distance healing.” All Michael needed to do was send a photograph of his face to a seventeen-year-old named Adam in Vancouver, Canada.

Raised in an Indian-American household, Michael wasn’t averse to non-Western healing techniques. So the basic idea of being healed from a distance didn’t sound out of this world. Still, he’d never done anything like it before. But caught inside the exhausting volley of pain or meds, the possibility of any escape plan was persuasive enough. He told his mom he’d try it. She signed him up for two sessions, and e-mailed his photo to Adam.

At precisely 9 p.m. on the first scheduled night, Adam, who does not reveal his last name and prefers to be known as the “DreamHealer,” called Michael and directed him to lie down on his couch, close his eyes, and relax. Adam said he would “look into” Michael’s body. Essentially, Adam claims he has the ability to visualize any human’s interior, find the pained areas, and use his own mindful energy to remove the pain, which he calls “energy blockage.”

After the first session, which lasted about thirty minutes, Michael says he came away drowsy, then headed off to bed. That night, he recalls, he slept well for the first time in weeks and awoke refreshed. “Ninety percent of the pain was gone,” he said. “And after that, I didn’t need the drugs.”

Michael finally met Adam in person in San Francisco a few weeks ago when the teenage healer appeared at the sixth annual Qigong World Congress. Practitioners of qigong — an ancient Chinese discipline whose name is pronounced “chee-gong” and translates roughly as “the skill of attracting vital energy,” or qi — use breath movement, often while in deep meditation, to initiate wellness and strength in different parts of the body. Yet qigong isn’t simply closing one’s eyes and hoping to direct bright thoughts to an aching knee. It’s an entire worldview.

Qigong has been practiced for thousands of years in China, and its principles are purportedly used in some fashion by as many as seventy million Chinese people daily. Generally speaking, the practice has three faces: as a martial art, a spiritual discipline, and a medical regimen. Perhaps the most popular US face of qigong is in the practice of the martial art tai chi. Spiritually, qigong is rooted in the mystical philosophies of Taoism. In medical qigong, doctors attempt to direct a patient’s qi to parts of the body where flow is constricted in order to break through the blockage. Practitioners say a qigong doctor can project a laser-like energy into a patient and restore flow to the afflicted area.

The principles of qigong are beginning to enjoy mainstream acceptance — perhaps next season’s yoga, if you will. Even though there is no raw data to show how many people practice the discipline in this country, several new qigong studios have opened in the East Bay in recent years, and the first world congress was based in Berkeley. The practice even has its own set of celebrity believers. Last year’s conference attracted Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and best-selling spiritual adviser Deepak Chopra, and former Mayor Willie Brown declared Qigong Week in San Francisco.

This year’s event, however, was abuzz about Adam. The young healer has been in high demand since an article in the November issue of Rolling Stone that explained how Canadian rock star Ronnie Hawkins credits Adam with dissolving a cancerous pancreatic tumor via distance healing. San Francisco qigong grand master Effie Poy Yew Chow, one of Adam’s mentors, invited the boy to attend. Chow has long been the driving force behind the Bay Area mainstreaming of qigong, and her endorsement carries great weight within the community. “The energy that emanates from Adam is untroubled, pure, and fresh,” she said at a press conference opening the event. Chow glowed, sounding much like she was describing a messiah. “He can help show us what the potential of mankind truly is.”

As Chow spoke, Adam sat in the front row alongside his parents and younger sister. He wore a red baseball cap, baggy blue jeans, and shiny leather basketball shoes, looking much like any other white kid from the ‘burbs with hip-hop tendencies. Each time a photographer raised a camera, Chow insisted that they not aim it toward her protégé. “We need to protect his identity,” she said, in the dramatic tone normally reserved for sharing secrets. Since the Rolling Stone exposure, she noted, Adam has been besieged by sick people seeking his thoughts — and his healing touch.

While Chow fussed about shielding Adam, the boy’s presence at the conference at times resembled that of a circus freak. Qigong was clearly at a crossroads, about to gain more attention than ever. And its largest attraction that day was a boy who said he could bust up cancer tumors from a few thousand miles away, and needed only a photograph to do it.

Alex Feng’s Taoist Center is located in the shadow of a KFC on a bus-clogged stretch of Oakland’s MacArthur Boulevard. Feng has practiced qigong for 31 years, and opened his center two years ago, the largest of its kind in the Bay Area. Now he sees 25 to 30 patients each day, teaches tai chi three times a week, and lectures regularly on Taoism. He also was Chow’s cochair for the recent Qigong Congress.

Feng has the soothing presence of a man who meditates daily. To provide a visitor with a quick example of how qigong works, he placed his open palm an inch above the back of his guest’s hand. He explained that human energy, especially warm energy, can be manipulated to flow to any direction of the body. He said that was why a qigong master at the press conference was able to stab himself in the throat with the sharp end of a bamboo chopstick, which then snapped in two. The master had directed his qi to the vulnerable spot in his neck, then stacked an internal blockade of energy beneath the skin.

As Feng spoke, he said he was directing the heat of his palm to transfer to the hand below. Was it hot? he asked. Indeed, there was a sudden warm sensation. He called this a projection of his energy, and said it could be used to heal.

“Or,” he said, “I can emit coolness.”

Feng wiggled his fingertips in a raking motion. A slight breeze was evident, although the fanning action of his hand, and not his mind, seemed to have created it. To this suggestion, Feng slowed his hand movement, and after a minute or so, said, “If I keep doing this, you’ll feel it.” He extended his hand to show that his fingertips were already cool, while his palm remained hot.

That bodies can transfer heat energy is uncontroversial for anyone who has cuddled with another person on a cold night. Yet in qigong, practitioners such as Feng believe their energy flow can be used not just as a heating pad, but to unsnarl the blocked energy of others. Feng says he has had particularly strong results with asthma sufferers. He is able to assist their breathing technique and, using the gentle assistance of his qi, free the patient’s breath into a more relaxed, fluid rhythm. The process can take weeks, months, even years, Feng says, because everyone’s body heals differently. The most vital component is the patient’s capacity to believe it’s possible: “Positive thoughts are essential.”

Thus, qigong ultimately teaches self-healing. So even though Feng may show his patient the way toward health, the responsibility falls on the patient in the long run. In this sense, healers such as Feng view themselves as catalysts, not saviors. Their role in the universe is a decidedly humble one, and largely unknown — at least until recently.

According to some texts, the qigong concept took root somewhere around 1122 BC in the I Ching, the “Book of Changes,” which introduces the idea of qi as three “natural energies”–heaven, earth, and humankind. Some six hundred years later in Tao Te Ching, a Taoist text whose title translates roughly to The Book of the Way and Its Power, the sage Lao Zi described simple breathing techniques that contribute to good health. “Concentrate on qi and achieve softness,” he wrote. Half a millennium later, when Buddhism and meditation came to China by way of India, qigong entered its spiritual era, and breathing for health acquired a religious component. Eventually its teachers also incorporated qigong into the martial arts, using breath to motivate body movement.

Today, qigong is practiced in countless ways, all centered on the idea that breath equals life. Oakland-based teacher Vicki Dello Joio compares it to dance. She typically leads her students in seated meditation for up to thirty minutes, then takes them through a handful of slow, flowing body movements. In this sense, she says, qigong can be practiced outside the studio too, while doing something as mundane as washing dishes. “It’s how we take what we learn in here and apply it to the world outside,” she says.

The experience of Ted O’Brien demonstrates qigong’s appeal to some practitioners. This 33-year-old took up the discipline last year. His diet once consisted of fatty foods and several beers a week, and he exercised infrequently. His youth paid the bills, but by his mid-thirties, the slothful lifestyle had taken its toll. “I was at a place where I didn’t think I’d ever attain the vitality of a young person again,” he says.

He tried health supplements, which led to more exercise, which begat a trip to the acupuncturist, which initiated the idea of meditation. For O’Brien, qigong offered a mix of exercise, health, and spirituality. “I tell my friends qigong is a combination of yoga, tai chi, and meditation,” he says. Now each day he does an hour’s worth of qigong, which usually includes the “Five Animal Frolic,” a series of animal-inspired poses reminiscent of yoga.

“The first thing I noticed was that my emotional balance was no longer about fears, anxieties, angers. Those just melted away,” he says. “After a few months, the ache in my knee — I’d been wearing a knee brace when I played basketball — was gone. I didn’t need it anymore. I wasn’t fatigued. I had high energy, suddenly. That vitality that I never thought I’d see again had returned.”

For his part, Feng has been impressed by qigong’s gradual influx into the East Bay. In the early 1970s, he had few colleagues and worked out of a small studio in Berkeley. He’d been trained by his father, Wei Ren Feng, a scholar and spiritual adviser himself. Over the years, the younger Feng has witnessed a huge increase in the number of practitioners and has seen the formation of two national associations, the Qigong Association of America and the National Qigong Association. In 1996, he helped Chow start up the first Qigong World Congress in Berkeley. “We get people who walk into the center and ask specifically, ‘What’s qigong?'” Feng says with some pleasure. “Before, that didn’t happen.”

Feng credits Chow with much of that spike in interest. “She brings such a variety of people to the congress, people in the continuum who wouldn’t otherwise be in the same room. She’s able to bring that whole chop suey onto one plate to let you decide — is this for you?”

Somewhere along the way, Chow added Adam to her wok. Feng was curious to meet the boy, and they had a brief conversation at the congress, but Feng says he was busy with his duties as cochair and didn’t attend any of Adam’s workshops. When asked directly for his impression of the teenager and his claims, Feng considers the question thoroughly. “Adam,” he says, going silent for a good ten seconds before placing his palm on his chest, “Adam, in my brief meeting with him — and this is my personal opinion — was that he is on the path. That he is discovering who he is, and that he is willing to discover who he is.

“In my personal opinion, we all have healing abilities,” he continues. “We just need to harness it, practice it, perfect it. But first, you have to be aware of it. So Adam’s gift is very common — if you open yourself up to that realm of possibility. It happens more frequently than you think.”

Adam claims to have opened himself up to the possibilities at a very early age. In his book, DreamHealer, he writes of having always been able to see and feel auras, rainbow-colored energy fields that he says surround each person. He likes to joke that he never understood the allure of hide-and-seek because he could always spot his prey’s aura “bulging” from behind the tree where he or she was hiding. He also writes that “God must have a sense of humor” to bestow such gifts on a kid from a “regular, middle-class family.” Had he been born into an East Indian culture, he immodestly adds, he might have been “spirited away into an ashram for mentoring.”

From an early age, Adam claims, his energetic flow was so untamed that it surged beyond his own body. At the grocery store, cans of soup allegedly dropped from shelves as he passed by. In classrooms, pens flew from his hand and clacked against the blackboard. His bicycle spun unexpectedly in 360-degree flips along the sidewalk.

Shortly after the latest bicycle-spinning incident, Adam’s mother Liz contacted Effie Poy Yew Chow. Liz had attended one of Chow’s workshops years earlier and thought the grand master could help.

Chow confers a certain Western legitimacy upon the world of qigong, thanks largely to her tireless promotional efforts and her interest in fusing Eastern and Western healing techniques. In 1973 she founded the East West Academy of Healing Arts, a training ground for people interested in integrating traditional Chinese medicine with Western-style scientific principles. According to her book, Miracle Healing from China, written with Dr. Charles McGee, qigong is responsible for a wide array of cures, from reducing stress to relieving the symptoms of fibromyalgia, a fatigue disorder that causes aching muscles and tendons. In their book, Chow and McGee cite medical studies that suggest qigong stimulates blood flow to the heart, which in turn increases delivery of oxygen to the muscles.

In March 2000, Chow was one of twenty appointees to the board of President Clinton’s White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. At a time when more American patients were turning to Eastern disciplines such as acupuncture, the board made recommendations to assist the integration of Eastern medicine into Western health care, such as covering some holistic remedies in insurance plans. “Health involves all aspects of life-mind, body, spirit, and environment,” the board’s final report concluded, “and high-quality health care must support care of the whole person.”

Even though the report took no specific steps to implant qigong coverage in American health-care packages, Chow says her efforts heightened the discipline’s profile. Since the report came out in 2002, Chow says, she has consulted with several hospitals on how to integrate qigong into their health-care regimens.

Chow is small and energetic, and keen to give quickie demonstrations at any turn. She is the ultimate believer, an optimist who sees no boundaries to qigong or human potential. Some see her as perhaps too enamored of what one of her contemporaries calls the “circus element” of qigong, if only because it jibes with her role as a promoter.

At the recent World Congress press conference, for example, Chow excitedly called a qigong master to the front of the room to absorb nine kicks to his crotch. To the discomfort of several in the audience, the man squatted, put his hands on his knees, and asked his teenage son to repeatedly kick him in what Chow called his “qigong-enhanced organ.” Later in the weekend, the same master tied a rope to said organ and hitched it to the front axle of a van. With his nine children seated inside, he waved at the audience and strode backward, pulling the vehicle a good five yards. Chow applauded the feat and turned to the spectators, joking, “Now he’s looking for an airplane.”

Lately, Chow has focused her promotional energies on Adam. When she flew to Vancouver, she tested him over the course of three days, then left convinced of the boy’s rarefied talent. In the foreword to DreamHealer, she writes, “With over forty years of experience in healing and teaching, one learns to discern the levels of spiritualness in healing. Adam reflects a level of honesty and truth that is of the purest form.”

After receiving encouragement from his family and from Chow, Adam says he saw beneath the auras and into the organs and muscles of a body. It was then he decided to harness his energy and focus it on wiping out disease. According to his book, Adam projects holograms of a patient’s body in front of him, then concentrates his way beneath the skin. When he “sees” energy blockages inside, or something such as a tumor wrapped around an artery, he visualizes himself breaking apart the obstacle.

Chow, Adam says, taught him how to “vacuum out” the blocked energy and deposit it elsewhere. And since then, he’s been able to do it for anyone. “When I see a picture of someone,” he writes, “I can instantly connect to their energy system.”

Times are busy for the young savant. Since the Rolling Stone article appeared, Adam has declined to take on any new clients, and his Web site says he is swamped. To say the article was favorable is an understatement. Headlined “The Boy with the Magic Touch,” it described the teenager as a healer “with gifts no one can explain.” On his Web site, Adam thanks the writer, Charles M. Young, for doing “a super job!!!”

The Toronto Sun and Canada’s Globe and Mail also ran stories this winter about Adam’s work with rocker Hawkins, and both mentioned the restrictions Adam’s family places on personal information. Guarding his identity and struggling with requests for time evidently have become the family’s priority. Before Adam arrived in the Bay Area, his father, Frank, answered an e-mail request for an interview with his son by noting that it would be difficult, since the organizers had so much planned for Adam during the weekend. And if a meeting were to happen (it didn’t), Frank said he would not allow a recording device. “We are torn between trying to live a normal life and sharing the knowledge that Adam has,” Frank wrote. When members of the family made a recent appearance on Canada’s Discovery Channel, their faces were blurred behind colored glass. Adam explained the obsessive secrecy to the show’s host by saying, “I don’t want the other kids at school to know.”

Fair enough, but sooner or later, as Chow realizes, the masses will demand more from Adam. If indeed he has the ability to eliminate cancer using mental telepathy, his knowledge could be invaluable to Western researchers. “When the time comes, Adam will make himself available to researchers, and I will be happy to make those connections for him,” Chow said recently. “Right now he’s still young, so we must protect his identity.”

Chow knows that her association with Adam, and the resulting press coverage, have brought qigong into the limelight. Even though Adam doesn’t practice qigong, she says his Taoist worldview places him under its umbrella. “The way we foster cooperation, of course Adam will assist with qigong and qigong will assist with Adam’s type of healing,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Many people who have contacted us about Adam are generally new or first-time neophytes to the field of healing, and his book is the first healing book they have read, so for these people, through Adam, they are hearing about qigong. We are happy about that.”

Since most people who seek Adam’s distance healing go through his Web site, they need to do three things. They have to agree to buy and read the book; they have to send in a mug shot; and they must read a legal disclaimer that wouldn’t otherwise be found inside a qigong studio. “I freely acknowledge that I am fully aware that Adam and his associates are not medical doctors,” the disclaimer begins. “I have not been cajoled, coerced, threatened, or persuaded by Adam or his associates to undergo or partake in any particular treatment or medication or substance, and that I freely acknowledge that any unorthodox or unusual treatment or medication or substance that I may utilize is done with my full awareness and acknowledgment that it is of my own free will.”

In the last few weeks, presumably to accommodate the potential rush in business, Adam has upgraded his Web site. His book is in its second printing and he is writing a follow-up. He also is planning six-hour workshops in cities across the continent, where he’ll conduct “group healings.” The first one will be held on February 14 in a Vancouver hotel — and it’s already sold out. According to Adam’s site, 150 people will attend at a cost of $79 a head, which translates to $12,000 for the gig, not including book sales ($15 for one, $25 for two).

In San Francisco, Adam gave a skilled presentation. He took off his baseball cap, clipped a small microphone to his collar, and opened up a laptop for his PowerPoint presentation. The audience of about fifty included several qigong masters from China, a handful of Berkeley students, local massage therapy students, and a few of the simply curious.

Adam used his youth as both advantage and excuse. He started with a few disarming jokes about his age, but when someone asked a pointed question about the brain science behind his techniques, Adam turned bashful. “The brain is a collection of … smooshes,” he said, getting some laughs for his word choice. “It’s easy for me to get lost in there. When I finish high school, I’ll have a lot more time to learn. Right now, I have to read boring things — like Shakespeare.”

One of Adam’s first statements to the crowd was that “negative thoughts aren’t allowed” in the room. In Eastern philosophical circles, skepticism or ideological challenge can be viewed as negative energy, and are therefore unwelcome. So when Adam banned negative thoughts, he was in effect asking his audience to accept his claims outright, ignoring any red flags that might arise.

Adam talked about discovering his talents, then told about his vision quest. A couple years ago, he said, he dreamt he was flying over water and running through the woods when he came upon a large bird. The bird spoke a single word: “Nootka.” When Adam awoke, he looked up Nootka, Canada, on the map, and convinced his parents they needed to take him there at once. After a short flight, a boat ride across a river, and a miles-long hike into rough terrain, Adam and his family arrived in Nootka. “I knew every rock, every tree,” he told the crowd. “I had been there before.”

Then, he said, they came upon a black bird that Adam said was four feet tall. It had a massive beak. As he projected a photograph of the bird onto the screen, several audience members gasped. “It’s not an eagle,” Adam said, “and it’s not a hawk.” The bird was unidentifiable, he said, although he didn’t keep the pictures up long enough for anyone to get too close a look. He said his parents had taken the photo to ornithologists, but that they couldn’t figure out what it was. He moved on.

Most of the audience showed the greatest interest when Adam began describing his distance-healing techniques. He explained it this way: We’re all connected, and if he can heal you while he’s in the same room, what’s to stop the process from working twenty feet away? Twenty miles? Two hundred miles? Distance doesn’t matter when we’re all part of the spiritual universe, he said. Many heads nodded in agreement.

In his book, Adam explains that he’s not actually responsible for healing one person’s body. Ultimately, he’s just an instigator, and the individual is really doing the work, as in qigong. But during his talk, his performance got out in front of him. He started to sell the idea that he was responsible.

As Adam boasted of using distance healing to awaken a woman from a four-year coma — doctors could do nothing for her, he said — his tone sounded awfully close to that of a savior. “You get people’s images more vividly when they’re in a relaxed state than when they’re not,” he said. He then talked about a man in a four-month coma, whom he’d allegedly also brought back to consciousness. One qigong master who’d traveled from China sought clarification: “You say you’ve healed many people,” he said in broken English. “But is it you? Or is it you teaching people to heal themselves?”

The teenager said at first that he didn’t understand the question, but when it was repeated, he reiterated his self-healing techniques, straying as far off-point as a politician during a debate. But the questioner didn’t press — perhaps not wishing to be viewed as negative — and by the time Adam had reached the part about visualizing healing, another question had been raised, and all was forgotten.

Most of the facts behind Adam’s story are difficult to check out. In part, this is because his parents and Chow have kept his identity secret. Much of his written account also is purposely vague; solid timelines and dates are avoided, and the only witnesses to his remarkable energy flares are other members of Adam’s family. With the exception of Ronnie Hawkins, the names of the people Adam has healed are kept secret, the explanation being that they don’t want to be outed as weirdos who believe in this hocus-pocus. Conveniently, Adam apologized on their behalf during his talk: “This is something our culture doesn’t accept, so I understand.”

Yet those who came with open hearts and minds left Adam’s talk filled with encouragement. He spoke passionately about the power of a positive attitude, and about how self-love is the start to a better world, “like ripples in a pond.” He was especially effective in communicating his enthusiasm to use his gifts to change the world.

Karen Kim, a 31-year-old Berkeley resident, had come to see Adam after reading the Rolling Stone article. After a recent experience, Kim wasn’t impressed with Western medicine. She’d been complaining of a pain or cloudy feeling in her head for a while, and when a CAT scan failed to turn up anything unusual, she sought out another opinion — Adam’s. She was aware of qigong, but Adam’s presence drew her into the weekend, where she took a deeper interest in the discipline. She’d hoped he could work on her individually, but he was swamped with requests. Still, she came away inspired.

“I think just his manner of speaking, his tone, was totally honest,” she said. “I think he was authentic. He was speaking straight from his mind. I don’t think that can be fabricated.”

If anyone at the conference was troubled by Adam’s remarkable claims, they didn’t exactly go public with their concerns. In fact, qigong’s admonition to have an “open mind” seems, paradoxically, to forbid any such challenges. And that’s why Adam thrives in this community.

Many of the people who attended the workshop were even reluctant to share whether they thought his claims were true. The world isn’t that black-and-white, they said. Dr. Dean Ornish, a popular TV commentator known for integrating Eastern practices with Western medicine, and who sat through Adam’s workshop, sounded the familiar, noncommittal answer: “It’s hard to judge anyone without knowing more about them, but I found him to be sincere and charismatic and very likable.”

It was hard to discern where a line might be drawn. It is well-documented that some people, given a little practice, can willfully increase blood flow to an area, relax tense muscles, or even control their own pain. Tai chi-style routines, like many other forms of exercise, help promote good health, as does maintaining an upbeat attitude. But curing cancer from different time zones? That suggests an astounding leap of faith. Perhaps most surprising is how few in the qigong community seem willing to question it.

“The majority of people in qigong are looking to improve themselves, to self-heal,” Hayward qigong teacher Kenneth Charron said. “They’re not going to call someone up on the phone and say, ‘Hey, send me some qi my way.'” Charron stopped and laughed at his suggestion, then continued, “Although that works. And I understand that aspect.”

Even Adam’s father has commented upon how easy it has been for his son to gain stature within the qigong community. “Adam does not practice qigong,” Frank explained in an e-mail. “However, the qigong people we met are very open-minded, and can easily accept what Adam does. Whether we call it qi, quantum energy, universal energy, prana, or whatever, it is all energy, just with different names.”

At the dinner banquet for the Qigong Congress, Effie Chow presented Adam with the “Junior Visionary of the Year” award, but the teenager did not attend, probably because of the many cameras in the audience. Instead, his parents and younger sister approached the podium, and Frank was asked to speak a few words. “It’s good to be here,” he said, sounding a bit relieved, “to be around people who know there are things beyond our five senses.”

Frank told a story about an interviewer who had recently asked him about all the “negative” attention that was bound to come toward Adam and his family. “We thought about it,” Frank said to the hundreds attending the banquet, “and we couldn’t come up with anything negative. We think he was alluding to the opportunists who would try and take advantage of Adam and his gifts. But still, we didn’t feel anything — we couldn’t find anything negative that’s come of this. Adam is positive energy. Being here has reminded us: This is positive energy. This,” he said, looking around the room for effect, “is positive energy.”

A week after the conference, back at the Taoism Center, Feng at least acknowledged the potential for exploitation in the name of qigong. Still, he steered clear of the possibility that Adam might be other than the real deal. “The continuum is wide,” Feng said. “There are quacks, and there are those who are truly gifted. It exists in every field. We’re honest about that. But you have to test your own reality. Does it work for you?”

But if an idea under the qigong umbrella such as distance healing turned out to be a sham, wouldn’t it be worth exposing to maintain the integrity of qigong?

“Who am I to judge?” he said. “If one of his patients says he had a tumor, and he says he was healed, who am I to judge? I have nothing to say to that person or to challenge a person on the efficacy of their treatment. If a patient says he was healed by Adam, who am I to say he wasn’t?”

At one point during his demonstration at the Qigong Congress, Adam called upon a volunteer to sit in a chair and undergo an individual treatment. But when the volunteer said he felt no significant difference — he still couldn’t lift his injured right arm above his head — Adam told the audience, “I know everybody wants him to raise his arm and see a difference in the range of motion, but it probably wouldn’t be best right now.” Adam prescribed rest, and told him to expect a “release” sensation in the next few days.

Later, Adam offered to perform a “group healing,” during which he made some requests of his audience. He asked that we all squeeze in close to one another without touching. He then had the lights dimmed so he could see the colors of the group’s aura, and see where it needed to be manipulated. He asked two people to switch seats. “Even if there’s nothing wrong with you,” Adam told the crowd more than once, “you’re going to benefit from this.”

One audience member asked what they should hope to feel. Adam said, “It’s okay if you don’t feel anything.” Then he added, “But if you feel something, that’s okay, too.” Given these choices, he had the bases covered — there was no way not to have a positive experience.

Adam asked that we close our eyes and allow our feet to sink into the earth like tree roots. He stood in front of the crowd, which was now grouped around him in a tight crescent. He sank into a trance state, his head bobbing from shoulder to shoulder. Then, like Tom Cruise’s character in the movie Minority Report, he raised his hands wide in front of him and began jabbing the air around him like an orchestra conductor. With the room still silent and dark, Adam made quick, sweeping motions. At times, he looked as if he’d ripped a piece of taffy from the wall, tangled with it, and then thrown it aside, only to find another.

After five minutes of silence, Adam stopped, then reached for a glass of water. He said that healings left him fatigued, and he looked as plowed as Superman stumbling away from a box of Kryptonite. Adam declined an offer to raise the house lights. “No,” he said, shading his eyes and making his way to the podium. “I’d like to hear what people experienced.”

One woman said that when she closed her eyes, she saw an image of Adam.

“That’s a common experience,” he replied.

Another woman said she felt a warm flow run up and down her back. “Me too!” another person called out from the other side of the room. Adam said that was also common.

Adam told us he’d need a few minutes to collect himself, but that we were free to go; the session had ended. He said he was still practicing his skills with group healings. In the future, he said, after he graduates from high school, he hopes to incorporate the group healings into his distance-healing schedule. Adam foresaw a day when he would gather thirty like-minded people together in a room, say in Berkeley, while he would be in Vancouver, sending positive vibes south, based on nothing more than thirty photographs and his personal energy.

After the lights went up, UC student Michael Joyce was milling around, pleased with the experience. He said the group healing was much like his private session with Adam. He felt relaxed, almost sleepy. In general, better.

Adam had given Michael a new way to consider his pain: That his hand wasn’t degenerative or hopeless, that it could actually get better with positive thoughts. That healing is a state of mind — first Adam’s, then Michael’s.

As Adam signed and sold books, Michael talked about Adam, and his tone was neither one of proselytizing amazement nor skeptic-turned-believer. It was matter-of-fact. The concept of distance healing had raised no red flags in Michael’s mind, nor would it. In fact, it made perfect sense. And for that, he felt healed.