Is My Aura Showing?

Whole Life Expo, brimming with holistic healing, may be coming your way

A rapt throng watches Bradford Keeney dispense life-force energy

The grab-bag adjective new age doesnt even begin to embrace it. No, this is beyond that, this display arrayed before anyone taking a stroll down the midway at the “Whole Life Expo,” the country’s largest and most successful holistic fair, which packed more than 20,000 souls into an arena in Austin, Texas, last week and is on its way to a city near you.

We’re talking Siberian shamanism, telepathic healing, trance dancing, past-life regression, herbalism, Tantra toning, spirit walking, aura reading, reflexology and aroma therapy. See auras, or, if you still don’t see, get a photograph of your aura with “the world’s first and only patented electromagnetic-field photographic system.” Learn about brain longevity and intuitive soul painting. Experience a magnetic sleep pad. Get an “aero-massage,” in which you balance upside down on the feet of the masseur. Have your tongue, iris and fingernails analyzed for larger body ills. Or drink an Ojibwa tea that cures cancer. Sign up for psychotropic ethnobotany seminars that will take you into the wilds of Mexico searching for and studying hallucinogenic plants. Or, if you’re more the tentative sort, buy books. Among the subjects: UFOS, yoga, Buddhism, dance, meditation, prayer, death and dying, and angels.

In the sea of exhibits, everything is hands-on. There are massage tables everywhere, and people are always handing you a sample of wheatgrass juice or some chartreuse-colored miracle supplement that will do everything short of rotating your tires. Someone named Lissa from Montana explains how a small, stainless-steel medallion known as the BioElectric Shield ($139) can be “the most powerful protection on the planet” against everything from computer screens to microwaves and cell phones.

How does it work? “It’s a precision-cut quartz matrix,” she explains. Ah.

Three booths away, Phyllis Light, a telepathic healer with a resume that includes certification as a rebirther, Gestalt therapist, acupressurist and neurolinguistic programmer, talks about helping a client get a part of him unstuck from where it got lodged 19 lifetimes ago. Ouch.

She mentions casually that she is in touch with “higher beings.”

All this may seem to be on the far edge, but in truth the crowd is heavy with folks wearing boat shoes and J. Crew shirts. The overflow throngs at the Austin expo are emphatically not wearing sarongs, and they don’t have full-body tattoos or multiple piercings. There is barely a dreadlock to be seen; the average age of the expo attendee is 38, and the average wallet is fat. After all, this is the same bunch that has caused sales of natural products to rocket from $4.2 billion in 1990 to $14 billion in 1996, and sales of organic foods to rise from $1 billion in 1990 to $3.5 billion in 1996. So after 15 years of staying put in San Francisco, where it was first organized by a dozen or so holistic merchants, the expo is on the move. It has shows planned for Chicago, Atlanta and Minneapolis. Call it a holistic road show. And get used to it, because expositions like this one seem destined to be a fixture of the end of the century.

In truth, it’s all so new because it’s old: many of the products, cures and philosophies being offered here have their origins in practices of primitive cultures, a theme that recurs again and again in the 156 lectures and workshops over the three days of the expo. The most striking example of this is psychotherapist Bradford Keeney, who lived with and studied the healing practices of the Kalahari Bushmen, the Australian Aborigine and the South American Guarani, among others. In a remarkable seminar that is part revival tent meeting and part tribal ritual, Keeney demonstrates to some 200 attendees how he marshals and uses “life-force energy.” While the rest of the crowd dances to taped tribal drums, many people Keeney touches either pass out or fall to the floor. “We live in an ocean of energy,” he says as he moves through the enraptured crowd. “It’s joy, it’s ecstasy, it’s being fully alive.”

It’s being fully marketed too. In fact, the sheer ingenuity, hype and promotion of this alternative universe is as mainstream America as it gets. Witness Calorad, advertised as a product “with proven results!” that allows one to “lose weight while sleeping!” Or a growth-hormone supplement that “reverses biological aging by 20 years or more!”

Take ’em both, and presumably you get 20 years younger, and slimmer—while catching a nap.

“It’s joy, it’s ecstasy, it’s being fully alive.” —BRADFORD KEENEY