Monthly Archives: April 2015

Embodiment: A Different Take on Qigong’s Turf

Aligned book coverMy latest “wow!” book sat in my “To Read” pile for at least five years. Twice I started to read it but quit after a few pages.

But now my copy of Will Johnson’s “Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness” is stuffed with sticky notes marking exercises I want to try and points I want to remember, and I’m about to give it a second read.

I am blown away by the fact that he seems to be writing about what I consider to be the turf of qigong without ever using the “q” word, and I can see that I will learn a lot from his quite different approach.

Johnson is a practitioner of Buddhist mindfulness meditation. But where some meditators regard the body as a hindrance and a source of little more than knee pain during prolonged sitting practice, Johnson believes not only that any practice of mindfulness must include full awareness of the body, but also that full awareness of the body is a powerful tool in leading you towards that goal of goals which he calls pure awareness.

He has coined the term “embodied mindfulness” for what he teaches and, indeed, is director of the Institute for Embodiment Training, which I would guess is headquartered on Vancouver Island, where his website says he lives.

So let’s look at the three leading words of his book’s title: “aligned,” “relaxed” and “resilient.” Continue reading

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“Iron & Silk”: A Darned Good Read

iron & silkHow is it that after more than 12 years of practicing taiji and qigong and being, therefore, interested in most things Chinese, I’ve only just read Mark Salzman’s “Iron & Silk”?

It is a marvelous book, both illuminating and a darned good read, about his experiences while teaching English at a medical college in Hunan Province from 1982 to 1984.

Of course, Salzman was not your everyday English teacher. He’d started studying kung fu at age 13 and gone on to majoring in Chinese literature at Yale, whence he graduated fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese. Oh, and one more thing about Salzman—he doesn’t travel light: He took his cello with him to China.

Because of his martial arts background, and because he was clearly an engaging, game sort of fellow, friends and colleagues and people he met on the street introduced him via the “I know someone who might know someone who might be willing to teach you” route to some excellent teachers of Chinese martial arts. The styles he studied ranged from such internal-energy-focused, “soft” styles as baguazhang to one style so “hard” that it involved turning one’s fist into a club by beating it against an iron plate to develop tough calluses.

Because of my own interest in martial arts, I found the tales of his martial arts training fascinating—but his stories about other sorts of experiences were just as compelling.

When I tell friends about “Iron & Silk,” the story I relate is about Teacher Wu, a woman who was 70 and a member of the medical college’s English Department staff when Salzman met her. Continue reading

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