As mental and physical illnesses, from depression and anxiety to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, reach epidemic proportions among people in the United States, the time is over-ripe for introducing eastern health and healing practices and approaches to western audiences. One of the latest traditions to come into popularity is the ancient Chinese art of Qigong (sometimes written "Chi Gung"). Qigong has applications in three arenas of human activity--martial, medical (TCM or traditional Chinese medicine), and spiritual applications--which draw from a common and rich background of Chinese philosophy. However, foreign terms and foreign strategies can be alienating to new users, and their underpinning philosophical assumptions often collide logically with western truisms, such as "no pain, no gain."
Thus, qigong practice has for decades been restricted to esoteric circles in the west. As popular interest has risen in very recent years, the majority of teachers have tended to dumb-down the Qigong lessons, omitting the complicated philosophical framework and focusing solely on the health-promoting exercises. Publishing authors have tended to keep faith with this simplified approach as well, so that one may readily find a wealth of little guides that illustrate and describe a handful of simple postures and exercises. On the other hand, the well-known A Complete Guide to Chi Gung, by Daniel Reid (Boston: Shambhala Press, 2000), represents the state-of-the-art comprehensive tome that explicates the philosophy behind Qigong practice, but with few illustrations and a wealth of heady detail, it is forbidding to the novice practitioner.
Christina Barea's new book, Qigong Illustrated is thus arriving on bookstore shelves not a moment too soon. Gathering the best of both worlds--philosophy and practice--this beautifully produced book is a credit to its author and its publishing house, Human Kinetics. It explains with remarkable clarity the importance of working with qi or the body's system of energy flows, as a path to health, strength, fitness, and healing. The book explains the ideas behind the practices, but also provides many series of step-by-step illustrations that lead the novice through many of the basic exercises. Many colorful charts map out the qi pathways in the body, and link energy flows to bodily activities and ailment concerns.
Qigong is an ancient art that is making a timely arrival on the western fitness scene. Barea's book is simply the best Qigong guide available on the market today. It is well-illustrated, lucidly explained, and offers a broad enough palette of exercises to promise a continuingly interesting regimen. Whether one learns this art on one's own or with a local teacher, this book will be a welcome addition to any family's health and fitness library, just as the exercises taught in this book will enhance any personal daily regimen. Well done, Barea!
© 2011 Wendy C. Hamblet
Wendy C. Hamblet, North Carolina A&T State University