I confess to being an exercise junkie. I have tons of books and DVDs by the various divas of movement lining my shelves like icons to exercise programs past. I have stretchbands and dumbbells and ankle weights in the corner. I have three different bicycles. Up until a couple of years ago, I even had a Bowflex moldering in my basement. Iíd like to say that this addiction came about because Iím dedicated to maintaining my health, but that would be stretching it. Actually Iím a type A personality with an acute sense of the ticking clock. After I get the gist of one authorís techniques, Iím filled with a yearning to explore the ideas of another. Having said that, Tai Chi is one of my favorite activities -- partly because I donít need a jog bra for it. So, when I saw Benton and Denbaumís book entitled Chi Fitness, it seemed like the perfect fit.
Part philosophy, part self-help, part exercise manual, Chi Fitness starts off by explaining the concept of chi as "the life force energy that makes you a living being." Okay, I can dig that. Then the authors go into a whole chapter on "Feeling and Seeing your Chi." This is where I start giggling. Feeling my chi isnít a problem. I mean, I am alive and from all accounts pretty energetic. But whenever I hear long explanations about how I might visualize auras, I flash back to physics lab and that funky electric ball that makes your hair stand on end when you touch it. Perhaps Iím too immature to see my chi.
The authors provide a process for managing your chi, whether you can see it or not, which boils down to four steps:
Now this seemed pretty heavy for a simple exercise book. I began to have visions of Dan Millmanís The Way of the Peaceful Warrior series. Sure enough, as I read further, the discussion turned to the exchange of energy -- both positive and negative. Well, itís good to know that this energy issue has been well and truly covered for us by the various philosophy jocks around the world.
- Feel your chi.
- Realize that you are blocking your energy or giving away your power.
- Use a basic power practice.
- Utilize the four questions for healing and self-talk to explore why you behave in certain situations the way you do.
I did get anxious when the subject turned to the topic of chakras. The authors define a chakra as "circular, spinning energy centers about the size of an orange located in the core of the body, from the tailbone through the crown of the head." Hmm. This is pretty esoteric for me. Iíve always had trouble truly understanding the Chinese ideas of meridians or energy points within the body. However, the authors did a pretty good job of explaining these complex topics. They give me just enough information to begin practicing but not enough to confuse or truly enlighten.
The idea is that you emotionally and physically block the flow of chi throughout your body when negative things happen in your life. The authors combine exercise, meditation, spiritual peace and knowledge to get your chi moving again. There you go -- all's right with the world again. Simple as pie.
Combining physical and mental exercises has long been the power of Tai Chi for me and, indeed, Chi Fitness explores these techniques with explanations and drawings that are reasonably easy to follow. Like all good teachers, the authors tell us what they are going to tell us, they tell us and then they tell us what they told us. Thatís a good thing for those of us dealing with stuck chi.
To help navigate if one chooses to use the book as a reference, the authors provide a simple table of contents at the beginning and a thorough index at the end. If you are trying to perform the recommended exercises, itís a good thing that the book is well-bound with heavy paper. Youíll find yourself bending over the corners of the pages, laying the book face down on the carpet and generally doing all the things the nuns at Immaculate Conception school told you NEVER to do to your books. After few sessions of "Conscious Movement," my copy is showing signs of wear and tear.
This is probably a good book for someone who is interested in Chinese philosophy but doesnít yet have a grasp on the howís and wherefores. For minds not yet steeped in chi lore, it is both informative and intriguing. On the other hand, Chi Fitness is a tome that takes itself just a tad too seriously. Either that or I didnít take it seriously enough. Egads! Iím giving away my power. Excuse me while I go reclaim my chi.