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Way of Qigong, The

by: Kenneth S. Cohen

New York NY: Ballantine Books 1997, $27.50, Paperback
ISBN: 0-345-39529-8

Reviewed by: Stephanie Greig
Winter Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(4) page(s): 17 and 18

This book provides a comprehensive and valuable reference for the ancient Chinese healing exercise of qigong ('working with the energy of life'). Kenneth S. Cohen thoroughly covers the various aspects of this fascinating art simultaneously as scholar, scientist, and practitioner.

In the chapter: 'The Dao of Diet,' there is an introduction to the role of food in traditional Chinese medicine. The process of digestion is called xiao hua meaning 'dispersal and transformation' in which the healthy food of qi is transmuted into the five elements. (As you may suspect, the magic number five makes a strong showing in Chinese dietary theory.) See more about fives in the article in this issue titled: More About Chinese Symbols: Cultural Fives.

Food has five natures: cool, cold, netral, warm, and hot. For instance, you can treat cold conditions (such as diarrhea and anemia), counteract the harsh effects of winter, and correct a cold constitution by eating warm foods such as yams, pork, and poultry. A table of foods and their natures appears in each chapter.

Along with the five natures, the five flavors of food serve medicinal purposes. Each flavor--sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent--has its corresponding element and internal organ. Sweet, for example, is related to earth and benefits the stomach and spleen. The five flavors should ideally be consumed in balance with one another.

Interestingly, food can cause qi to move in certain directions in the body, sometimes based upon the part of the food eaten. Roots, for instance, can cause qi to sink, while leaves and flowers make it rise. For those wanting to study the specific actions of foods in detail, Cohen points the reader to the many dietary resources listed in the bibliography.

The qigong diet recommends cooked foods over raw, as the stomach has to expend less energy processing food already partially broken down by cooking. Also important is the cooking method; steaming and sauteeing are preferred while frying is strongly discouraged as fried food contributes excess heat, dampness, and phlegm in the system. Stir-frying, however, is considered healthy; because of the mixture of water and oil used, stir-fried foods are largely cooked by steaming.

'Avoid the Five Cereals or Grains,' the ancient qigong texts warn, with ominous allusions to disease caused by feeding the three 'worms' that live in the three Dan Tiens. Cohen does not interpret this strictly but rather as a caution against excessive carbohydrate intake, particularly in countries like China where so many diets are dominated by rice. Elsewhere in the chapter, he recommends eating jook--particularly when recovering from illness; and he makes reference to Bob Flaw's book on the subject, reviewed in this issue.

The ideal diet should include plenty of water, a solvent and lubricant, considered the 'oldest medicine on the planet.' Tea also figures prominently; Cohen devotes a whole chapter to it. As medicine, tea has an impressive resume: it "harmonizes the qi; generated fluids, stops thirst, clears heat, eliminates toxins, dispels dampness, promotes urination, aids digestion, stops diarrhea, clears heat fire, and raises the spirit." Need any further persuation? In this chapter one can find names of reliable tea importers and guidelines for what to look for in buying tea, as well as a rundown of the most famous Chinese teas such as Pu Erh, Long Jing, and Ti Kuan Yin. It is an excellent resource for the tea novice.

Most importantly, for optimum healh, enjoy your food! Cohen says, "To many Americans, 'health food' conjures up images of thin, weasily-looking people listlessly consuming tasteless platters of tofu, sprouts, tempeh burgers, lots of brown rice, and little else." Sadly, this is often a true picture of the fare (and clientele) at so-called health food restaurants. In qigong, taste and aroma are essential parts of healthy food. Though it makes much sense, it is always good news to hear that the pleasure of eating delicious food, well prepared, helps you to most fully accept its life-energy.

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