Chrystal Marshall is taking a break from a weekend workshop given by Master Mantak Chia, who travels around the country teaching the Healing Tao, an offshoot of the ancient oriental philosophy of Taoism.

The Healing Tao, according to its followers, is a fantastic way for people to channel energy through their “Microcosmic Orbit”; an effective way of meditating and concentrating in order to conserve the body’s physical resources and refuel the spiritual ones; and a method of “cleansing the bone marrow, renewing the tendons, and keeping the body from decay.”

Chrystal takes a slug of her orange-mango juice and leans over. “I shouldn’t tell you this,” she says. “But I feel high. This is a tremendous high. The sun is brighter and the birds chirp more. I want perfect health. I feel like the James Brown song, ‘I feel good, da-da-da-da-da-da-da.'”

One of Chrystal’s goals is to stop her menstrual cycle with the help of the Healing Tao. Master Chia’s followers say that menstruation fritters away energy that could be put to better use. “It’s a compelling thought to live and never have another [menstrual period],” she says. “Some women, in trying not to have negative feelings about menstruation, have embraced it so much they don’t want to let go. But it’s OK to let go. You don’t need it if you’re not going to have a baby. Now mine is shorter….Some women report anecdotally that they’ve stopped it completely with meditation.”

Chrystal says concentrated thought about the ovaries–and massage of the labia–circulates energy which eventually stops the menstrual cycle. “It pulls the energy from your ovaries into your Microcosmic Orbit. You end up having more energy for life. More joie de vivre.”

Chrystal is one of ten children of a schoolteacher and a contractor from Woodlawn. She was raised a Methodist and studied Islam, Buddhism, and Yoruba, but never really practiced anything until the Healing Tao came into her life.

She says many people take up the Healing Tao to improve their sex life–which can be accomplished for women by stopping their menstrual cycles, and for men by stopping ejaculation. “Not orgasm–just ejaculation,” says Chrystal.

Chrystal was about to explain the Healing Tao breast massage, but it’s time for her to rejoin the seminar across the street at the Evanston Holiday Inn. She says Master Chia, who is originally from Thailand, “makes a comfortable living–not millions–but a comfortable living” teaching and writing about the Healing Tao. He has studied lots of esoteric Oriental philosophies in both Thailand and Hong Kong, and for a while he ran a printing and copying business.

About 20 people pull up their chairs and Master Chia begins suddenly. Almost in mid-sentence. He wears a coat and tie and sandals. He speaks softly with a heavy accent and is difficult to understand. He looks like a jolly, young, roundish Chinese restaurateur or dry cleaner.

He draws a big round body on the board, with a navel in the center. The navel, according to Master Chia, is where the principal force is stored. He draws circles and lines around the navel on the board until it looks like a cross between a cobweb and a dart board.

He massages his abdomen off and on while he explains principles of energy and balance and force. He tells the people to “spiral” around on their seats with their eyes closed. They look like gyrating belly dancers. Seated gyrating belly dancers.

Master Chia rubs his abdomen very hard while spiraling around in his chair. He lets out three huge burps.

Chrystal doesn’t flinch. Nor does anyone else. Their eyes are shut tight. They rub. They spiral.

Chrystal is an advanced student of Master Chia. She will pick up with the workshop students after Master Chia leaves. In the coming months she’ll answer questions for new devotees, review the master’s lessons with them, host classes, consultations, and seminars in her home or in the party room of her building. She’ll keep them on track until he visits again this time next year. There are 575 people on the Chicago-area Healing Tao mailing list.

Chrystal had already answered a battery of questions by new aficionados before she slipped out of the hotel for the break. She warned a timid, plain young woman about the danger of sending her own energy to other people rather than cosmic energy, which with concentration, practice, and “an opening up of the cosmic orbit” should become distinguishable from her own. Once new fans of the Healing Tao realize they have control over the energy both inside and outside of their bodies, they are afraid of picking up negative energy, Chrystal explains. They’re also afraid that their newfound ability to keep the energy circulating through their systems will falter and the energy will get “stuck in their necks.”

It’s easy to see why people confide in Chrystal or ask her advice: She looks like a nurse in her white jumpsuit, white wrap, and white boots. Her hair is braided and on top of her head. Her glasses are studious; her earrings are tasteful, but hip. She has a soothing voice and manner.

Chrystal, who is in her 30s and who used to work in computer programming, says she used to drink and smoke and use up energy in places like Excalibur and Baja Beach Club. “I don’t know what I was looking for. Not a man. I had a boyfriend….It was just sexual energy. Not that I was going around screwing everyone’s brains out.”

Luckily, Chrystal says, she picked up the Village Voice a little over three years ago and read an article about a guy who went from kung fu to t’ai chi to chi kung in order to cultivate his sexual energy. She learned her energy could be positively channeled. In the course of researching this concept, she ran across books by Chia, Healing Love Through the Tao–Cultivating Female Sexual Energy and Taoist Way to Transform Stress Into Vitality. She learned about and practiced things like “inner smile” meditation. “You hear about PMA and loving yourself,” she says, “and this was a concrete way to do that. I learned where all my organs were–like my liver and my spleen and my kidneys–and how they worked. I practiced healing sounds and learned to feel courageous.”

She raises her hands over her head and hisses like a snake. “You see, after I do that I look courageous.” She does look sort of like the Cowardly Lion after the Wizard of Oz has bestowed the gift of courage.

“Electromagnetic energy does something. Boom. Boom. Boom,” she says.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J. Alexander newberry.