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From The Asian Reporter, V15, #28 (July 12, 2005), page 11.
An attunement with tranquility
By Ellae Elinwood
Tuttle Publishing, 2004
Paperback, 192 pages, $12.95
By Josephine Bridges
Qigong Basics is a work of brevity and depth. Written with authority, warmth, and good humor by a resident of Ashland, Oregon, itís not only about how to learn qigong (pronounced "key gong," according to this volume), itís also about how learning qigong feels and what to do with those feelings. It is abundantly clear from her writing that author Ellae Elinwood respects the beginners for whom she has written Qigong Basics.
This book is divided into five sections. Each section contains from three to five chapters, and each chapter is rich in sidebars, some of which are printed on a grey background, some of which are set off by borders and a line drawing of a figure in a qigong stance. While itís not a difficult book to read cover-to-cover, it lends itself especially well to ongoing perusal.
The introductory section presents the history and philosophy of qigong and a brief overview of forms of qigong. Thereís a tidbit here about one man who "practiced the crane dance, a form of qigong, in an attempt to arrive at immortality. He did die, nonetheless, but his followers reported that it was an unusual death. He flew away on the back of a crane."
"Getting Started" offers information on choosing a form and teacher, finding a class, and what to expect in your very first class session. There are many forms of qigong, but they are divided into three basic variations: martial, spiritual, and medical. "Any form of qigong will reveal the value of qigong practice." The chapter "Choosing a Teacher" is only four pages long, but it includes a splendid list of qualities of a good teacher as well as invaluable cautionary notes such as this: "If a qigong teacher asks you to do, accomplish, or take on a discipline that feels clearly wrong, question the teacherís authority." The chapter on finding a class contains an example of the authorís kindhearted sense of humor: "Letís face it ó there are some environments with which we would not want to harmonize." The chapter describing "Your First Session" is filled with the details of what to expect, including the possibility that a teacher wonít allow bathroom breaks. "If yours is one of these, my advice is to move on ó no one wants to have a tyrant for a teacher."
The third section, "Learning the Basics," covers "The Art of the Qigong Stance" (standing, seated, or prone), "Developing Stability," "Breath Practice," "Qigong Meditation," and "Awakening Your Mental Powers." This section is rich in snippets of wisdom, for example: "Even when youíre feeling your most stressed and frenetic, you carry in your deepest nature an attunement with tranquility."
"Qigong Sequences" introduces, through a wealth of black-and-white photographs and clear written description, three forms of qigong: "Shaolin Si Qigong," "Eight Pieces of Brocade," and "Tíai Chi Chíuan Chi Kung." The combination of showing and telling serves well to impart complex and subtle information.
The final section, "Deepening Your Practice," is a source not only of information, but also of wisdom. Differentiating between the goal-oriented verb "practice" and the noun "practice" which means "a custom, a usage, a discipline, a vocation," the author points out, "You take time for your qigong practice. You donít take time to practice your qigong." Thereís a suggested routine for the first six weeks and lists of what you need ("Love of feeling good") and donít need ("Understanding of qi") in your qigong practice. The next chapter covers "bite-sized pieces of qigong that are easily applicable to lifeís challenges" and includes imagining you have a tail, "a swishy tail, a heavy alligator tail, a peacock tail, a sleek leopard tail." Both mathematics and grilled cheese sandwiches figure into "Expanding Your Knowledge of Qi." The last chapter, "Teaching Qigong to Others," presents an alternative to systematized qigong, which should be taught by "trained and qualified practitioners." This alternative, known as instinctive qigong, can be taught by anyone with "enthusiasm and newfound skills."
A series of questions and answers, resources, and a glossary complete Qigong Basics. "The greatest gift qigong can give you," writes Ellae Elinwood, "is a complete awareness of yourself."