COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Jerry Cupit, 65, said it was by accident that he wound up in a workshop demonstrating the traditional Chinese healing practice of qigong.

Cupit, a Vietnam War veteran, said he was at Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder on a recent Friday night. When he walked by the door of the auditorium, he saw a group of people gathered and was interested to find out what was going on.

What he discovered was a newfound passion for meditation and qigong, despite initial skepticism about the practice. He came back for the second workshop yesterday and plans to attend a weekly class.

"It was a sense of spirituality," he said. "I feel like there were some things in my life I needed to work on, like concentration, relaxation and the ability to heal myself."

Cupit said he has a lot of bone pain, and the qigong techniques helped ease it. By yesterday afternoon, he said his hip didn't hurt anymore and he was able to stand up straight for the first time. Emotionally, he felt better, too. As he's aged, he said he's started to feel more sad and guilty about surviving a war when so many of his friends didn't. After some qigong, those feelings started to fade.

"I feel stronger, I feel like I'm centered . I feel balanced," he said.

He attributes the progress to qigong helping him concentrate and open up his mind to a higher power.

Progress such as Cupit's was exactly what Effie Chow, a qigong grandmaster, was hoping for. She put on the free introductory workshops at Truman Memorial. Qigong uses breathing techniques, gentle movement and mediation to "strengthen and circulate the life energy or qi," Chow said.

Chow said she grew up with the practice and has been doing workshops for 45 years. Veterans, she said, seemed like a group that would really benefit from the practice.

"They are not getting good results with Western medicine," she said. "PTSD is not being taken care of. Suicide rates have gone up in the past year. Family reunions aren't so happy. They have aches and pains that can't be relieved."

The free sessions at Truman Memorial were a pilot program for an introductory workshop Chow said she plans to bring to veterans across the country.

Chow said she has seen a man in his 60s who hadn't been able to run for eight years, and within 10 minutes of doing qigong he was running around the room.

She attributes the success to qigong's focus on the body's energy system — when that is balanced, she said, a person can have perfect health.

Carol Busacker, one of Chow's students who volunteered at the workshop, said qigong has been life changing for her, and she plans to continue it for the rest of her life.

"This is a way of life. It's not a one-time shot like a pill," she said. "I don't want to go back to where I was physically."