BEFORE leaving for work each morning, Alex Henshaw spends an hour seated on the floor cross-legged, his eyes closed and his palms facing upwards, in what he describes a 'state of thoughtlessness'. This has been a routine for Mr Henshaw for 14 years, ever since, as a student of industrial design in Sydney, he discovered Sahaja yoga. Born with a congenital heart defect, Mr Henshaw had been in poor health for much of his young life - no matter how well he tried to look after himself, he always felt weak, rundown and tired - until his father, a 'sceptical university professor', suggested he try meditation to help alleviate his fatigue. 'I was exhausted when I went along as I had been working all night,' Mr Henshaw said. 'But right after, I felt relaxed and energised. In the beginning, I meditated every day for two weeks, and felt almost euphoric.' Now the owner of a technical design company, Mr Henshaw says he has cultivated the discipline needed to meditate every morning. And in the process, he believes he has given his body a second chance. Mr Henshaw is one of the millions of people around the world who have experimented with yoga and meditation, and who have found these ancient practices to have enhanced their well-being. For despite the explosion of pulp New Age philosophies over the past decade, there appears to have been a tempering in the attention once given to bizarre, flighty theories proffered by modern gurus. In its place is a return to the fundamentals of natural healing, a renewed subscription to the belief that many illnesses are borne of chronic stress and that body, mind and spirit should be treated in unison. This is a philosophy that even the most conventional of scientists and medical doctors are beginning to accept. In his book Medical Science Enlightened, medical physiology specialist Umesh Rai, a consultant to the World Health Organisation and a visiting professor to the Institute of Brain Research in Zurich and the physiology department of Oxford University, discusses how the most modern scientific communities in the world are keen to explore the possibilities of natural healing techniques. 'This approach of Western medicine has gone to a stage where doctors are now able to view disease as a disturbance of a whole organism,' Dr Rai writes. 'They look into the psychological, social and environmental aspect of a patient's illness. 'Yoga, which deals with both the physical and psychological aspects of human beings has gained a tremendous momentum to become a world philosophy.' For his book, Dr Rai spent several months documenting the effects of Sahaja yoga meditation at a special research centre in India. Sahaja, which means 'spontaneous union', is described by followers as a technique through which energy points in the body are balanced to help fortify it against sickness and disease, and to help induce a sense of peace and calm. Followers of Sahaja yoga essentially believe the subtle energies in the body, called kundalini in Sanskrit, are awakened through this type of meditation and that energy points, which are located near the pelvis, the chest and the head are slowly stimulated and unblocked. Like the ancient system of Qi Gong and a number of other oriental philosophies, followers of Sahaja yoga believe that allowing the free-flow of energy within the body is the antidote to stress and illness. In his tests, Dr Rai found that through prolonged stretches of relaxing meditation, patients suffering from depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, hypertension, epilepsy and asthma could alleviate some of their symptoms. And through his book, Dr Rai calls on the greater medical community 'not to be reluctant to adopt a holistic framework incorporating yoga and other alternative systems of medicine'. Like many doctors today, Dr Rai believes certain psychological or social stresses attack an individual depending on his or her genetic constitution, and illnesses set in. Sahaja yoga is practised in more than 60 countries - there are reportedly one million followers in Russia - and is slowly gaining momentum in Hong Kong. Followers say they have used it successfully to counteract health problems. Former school-teacher Edwin Hou, who had suffered from insomnia for years, found he was able to sleep much better after practising the technique for six months, and the back pains for which he had been consulting a chiropractor regularly also started to ebb. Vietnamese designer Kim-My Kremliska explained that she had been on expensive drug therapy for several years for an under-active thyroid gland. 'Then I became completely fed up with it all,' she said. 'I decided to try and heal my problem the natural way, so I threw my medicine in the bin. The first few months were terrible because I still had the symptoms and had put on a lot of weight. 'I was completely exhausted, on my back in bed all the time.' A year later, through Sahaja yoga, Mrs Kremliska had weaned herself off the drugs, and now manages to control the symptoms of her thyroid problem herself. But even the technique's most faithful followers say it cannot be used as an absolute cure-all. 'We are not saying that this is a replacement for medicine,' said Mr Henshaw. 'But it is an adjunct to conventional medicine, a complement to it. 'People especially with psychological problems, such as schizophrenia, who continue their drug therapy and do meditation every day have found that they reduce their dependency on the drugs after a time.' The Sahaja yoga technique was developed in 1970 by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, a Christian Indian whose father was a barrister and a member of India's first parliament. Shri Mataji, as she is known, lived in the ashram of Mahatma Gandhi as a young girl, studied medicine and psychology and married C P Shrivastava, the first Indian to be knighted by the Queen, who served as secretary general for the United Nations International Maritime Organisation for 16 years. Now in her mid-70s, she travels regularly around the world to talk about Sahaja yoga, how it helps to balance the seven main energy centres in the body, the relationship between science and ancient knowledge, and the importance of ascertaining the root cause of a disease to treat it effectively. She is speaking in Hong Kong on Saturday at Sha Tin Town Hall as part of an Asian and Australian tour. All talks, programmes and courses are free. Organisers are expecting a reasonably good turnout as a growing number of people in the territory develop an interest in exploring alternative techniques and begin to realise the importance of well-being. Or, as Dr Rai says in his book: 'Good health has been described . . . by the philosophers and sages as the noblest goal of human life.'