Pros: Wonderful exercises; clear directions and photos
Cons: Culture-bashing; builds up dangerous expectations
Rating: 2 out of 5
First published 12/22/2000
The front of the book defines qigong as:
Simple exercises to generate internal energy, restore health, and promote a sense of well-being.
For a more in-depth discussion on the topic, see my review of The Way of Qigong.
The Philosophy Behind Qigong
Qigong is an ancient Eastern philosophy with a lot of history behind it. Part one of this book, the first 50 pages or so, is “Background and Ideas.” In certain ways I like this section. It is a pretty good summary of the straight background, with little or no Westernization of the ideas. If this is what you’re looking for, this could be a good book to read.
It also has some other useful things. For example, you’ll find very detailed and clear diagrams of the major acupuncture points, as well as a very clear diagram of the microcosmic orbit – one of the major channels along which qi (life force, energy, etc.) is supposed to flow. You’ll find some great information on the associations of yin and yang and the five elements in chart form.
Perhaps best of all, you’ll find a chart of “Qigong for Self-Healing” in which various ailments are listed along with the names and page numbers of the exercises in the book which are supposed to help heal those ailments. This chart includes arthritis, asthma, backache, bad circulation, coordination, convalescence, depression, fatigue, headache, insomnia, kidney problems, neck problems, nervous disorders, stomach ache, and M.E. (or myalgic encephalomyelitis, a.k.a. post-viral syndrome).
However, there are also a few problems with this section, as I see it.
Why This Book Irritates Me
Mr. Tse indulges in some fairly rampant (if mildly worded) West-bashing. Apparently all of our ideas and ways of looking at life are bad. I’m certainly not one to claim that we’ve gotten everything (or even a majority of things) right, but if Mr. Tse wanted Westerners to appreciate qigong through his book (and the impression I get is that this is so), then perhaps he should have avoided the crass generalizations regarding our culture.
For instance, we’re told that while Chinese medicine understands the connectedness of the body and thus the fact that, say, polluted air will affect our entire body and not just the lungs, Western medicine doesn’t see the connections. Apparently we understand the damage pollution does to our lungs, but nothing beyond that. I’m sorry, but this isn’t the case at all. Just to use a small example, it’s well-known to Western medicine that breathing second-hand smoke can affect your heart.
The Really Bad Bits
Mr. Tse says that pain during qigong indicates a qi blockage, and that this means you need to practice more. Frankly I think this particular instruction is potentially dangerous. As Kenneth Cohen notes in “The Way of Qigong,” pain is a warning sign. If you hurt, something is probably wrong.
Mr. Tse also says that “there are no physical health problems for which it is inadvisable to practise Qigong.” I think I understand what he was trying to say, which is that there’s always some posture that you can safely practice, while working around whatever problems you have. However, given that he follows this up with no real specifics as to which postures are contraindicated by which health problems, he leaves us with the impression that no qigong movements are capable of adversely affecting health problems. Again, a potentially dangerous impression. Cohen does a much better job of laying out potential health complications.
Mr. Tse warns us at the end of the book not to expect too much too fast with qigong, as he should rightly do. Qigong is meant to be a long, slow, lifetime-learning process. However, he undercuts that completely in the first half of the book by building up our expectations of qigong to a fever pitch. If we learn qigong we will never suffer from work-related stress. We will never be overly emotional:
You will not become bad-tempered, angry, over-excited or depressed.
We’re told that some children who’ve studied qigong can read what is written on paper by putting that paper to their ear. One man could see people’s skeletons through their bodies, burn paper, move objects with his mind, and more. To quote from “The Way of Qigong,”
Throughout Chinese history, many qigong practitioners have made claims to supernatural abilities… These con artists detract from qigong’s credibility and create an impression that qigong is a means to superhuman power rather than a time-honored facet of Chinese medicine.
By going on at length about the amazing things qigong can do without any disclaimers, Mr. Tse provokes in us exactly the expectations that at the end of the book he tells us we shouldn’t have. Too little, too late.