BOOK REVIEW: Taoist Yoga & Chi Kung by Eric Yudelove

Taoist Yoga and Chi Kung- For good health,better sex,and longer life.Taoist Yoga and Chi Kung- For good health,better sex,and longer life. by Eric Yudelove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book was originally released under the title: “100 Days to Better Health, Good Sex & Long Life.” It offers a 14 week qi gong practice that proposes to improve health, sex life, and longevity. It’s presented as a step-by-step explanation of the practice aimed at those who intend to carry out the practice—as opposed to those who are looking for a more general explanation or overview.

The book offers a systematic presentation of the 14 week / 100 day practice. It’s divided into two parts. The first is a short explanation of Taoist concepts as they pertain to health building practices, and particular emphasis is given to the concepts of chi (energy / breath), jing (body), and shen (mind.) That emphasis is valuable as each of the chapters (i.e. the description of each week’s practice) is outlined according to these three concepts. So, each week there is a new breath practice, new bodily practices, and a new meditation or visualization practice. That said, these practices build on each other—i.e. starting with very basic activities and either adding to them or shifting to more complex variations.

The sections on breath and mind are fairly straight forward and mostly involve one practice each per week. Those practices become quite complex over the course of the book, but it’s one practice per week. This is in contrast to the middle section that has three or four subsections of activities per week. The middle section on Jing, or body, includes subsections on making sounds, self-massage, “sexual kung fu” (exercises intended to tone the reproductive system and prevent chi “leakage”), and the movement exercises that one might most closely associate with qi gong (chi kung.)

The book has many graphics in the form of line drawings used to clarify anatomy or how one is to visualize the practices. There is a glossary to help explain both Chinese terms and terminology in English that is specific to qi gong. There is also a two page bibliography that includes many works by one of Yudelove’s teachers, Mantak Chia, but also including works by individuals from other lineages and systems.

I have practiced through week eight. One may find the parts of the practice vary in their usefulness, but there doesn’t seem to be any harmful practices and there are many from which one will benefit. I’d recommend the book if one is looking for practices—as opposed to background. The explanations are systematic and the overall practice is well-organized. It’s not the kind of book that is much of a pleasure to read for reading’s sake. Much of the book is lists and bullet points of step-by-step explanation.

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Tradition v. Modernity in Fitness and Movement Arts


TheScienceofYoga_BroadOne of my favorite professors (and I had a lot of them) was in the Religious Studies department of Indiana University in Indianapolis (IUPUI.) Among the lessons he taught us were the various forms of fallacious reasoning applicable to the discipline. He did so in a way that was both erudite and folksy, often in a humorous way.




While I don’t remember the formal names he gave these concepts or their technical definitions, I do remember the more colorful variations. One was the “firstist-is-bestist” fallacy in which it’s assumed that the old ways are inherently superior because bad ideas die out, and young ideas are at least as likely to be crap as not. This is sometimes called “appeal to tradition.” Over a sufficiently long time horizon this assumption may prove true (i.e. the time horizon beyond which Keynes warned we’d all be dead), but we know that wrong ideas can live on for centuries.




Another was the “outhouse” fallacy, which says that because pre-modern man didn’t have indoor plumbing they must have been complete idiots, and we should assume newer is better. This is sometimes called the “appeal to modernity.”  While there is some advantage to having access to the compiled knowledge of history, this doesn’t keep people from coming up with idiotic ideas regularly.




What made me think about these conflicting fallacies is that I’ve been reading a lot about the science of yoga–and other systems of movement–lately. Specifically, I was reading The Science of Yoga by William Broad. During the 20th century, yoga went from not giving a whit about science to trying to show that it wasn’t at all at odds with science–if not that it was grounded in science. (Note: this statement could be applied to many of the old ways—e.g. religions—which sought to prove themselves consistent with scientific evidence out of fear that–in the age of rationality–to be inconsistent with scientific observation would be death to old beliefs.) While the hucksters and con men seeking to bilk people out of money through shows of yoga “magic” have lost power (though some still exist and prey on the gullible regularly), this isn’t to say that science has yet won the day entirely.




Chapter two of Broad’s book discusses the findings of the scientific community on whether yoga has any merit as aerobic exercise. (The consensus is that it doesn’t.) Now, one would think that the whole yoga community would be pleased that academia has for the most part shown that yoga has a range of positive benefits that make it a worthwhile endeavor when practiced safely and conscientiously, but some have been unwilling to accept that yoga isn’t excellent cardio on top of all its unambiguous benefits. The established consensus is being ignored and a single seriously flawed study (small sample size, no control group, and—while peer-reviewed—the author was the journal editor) is cited, that one—of course—suggests that yoga meets all one’s cardio needs.




It’s easy to follow the incentives. For example, if one runs a yoga studio one would like to be able to say that yoga is a panacea for all of a person’s health needs. People are busy and lazy, and if someone else can sell them a silver bullet then they’ll lose business.  If one gives the matter thought, it becomes hard to imagine an exercise panacea. Consider a list of health goals that includes reduced stress, improved balance, greater flexibility, more strength, and enhanced cardiovascular capacity. One should see that some of these goals are at odds with each other. The first three goals—at which yoga excels–require holding a static position for a time while engaging in deep and controlled breathing. The fourth goal, strength enhancement, (which yoga achieves only in a limited way) requires repeated alternation of stressing and relaxing a muscle. And cardio, the fifth goal,–for which yoga is less than helpful–requires rapid and sustained motion so as to cause the heart to be stressed.




Of course, individuals have tried to rectify yoga’s cardio deficit by creating yoga styles that add speed and repetition. If one does five sun salutations per minute for 45 minutes, then—congratulations–you are now getting cardio and strength building. Unfortunately, you are now losing out on the first three goals of stress reduction, balance enhancement, and flexibility improvement. Those three things requiring holding poses while engaging in relaxed and controlled breathing. So the question is whether one is happy having sacrificed the benefits yoga does better than everything else in a desire to have yoga gain benefits that other exercise systems probably still do better.




The old systems of movement and exercise, be it yoga or chi kung, have shown themselves to have merit. However, the mechanisms by which that merit is achieved (or the nature of the merit) are often not what the system’s mythology suggests. There’s no need to fear science, but one should be ready to embrace what is shown true and set aside what is shown to be false.




On the other hand, this modern idea that we can have our cake and eat it too by throwing together disparate systems, which often have conflicting goals and modes of operation, needs to be reevaluated. All of these fads have been created where someone crams together tai chi and yoga or yoga and jazz dance or Zen meditation and parkour and they think they have the ultimate system based on a more complete picture of modernity, and what they’ve got is a muddle.




What we need is the tested merit of tradition without its voodoo, and the compiled knowledge of modernity without its hubris.


Chi: The Power of What Isn’t

Every morning I start my day with chi kung (a.k.a. qi gong), and many days I do tai chi (tai qi.) For those who are unfamiliar, chi is usually defined as “life force” or “life energy.” However, defining chi is neither simple nor will one find a consensus agreement. Some say chi is  “breath,” at which point its existence becomes a much less controversial, but also less explicative, concept. Others would say that chi is much more broadly dispersed than the “living” so “life force” is an understated definition.

Chi Kung are exercises combining breathing, movement, meditation, visualization, and self-massage that are used to keep one healthy. Because yoga also contains these components (e.g. breathing, movement, and meditation; though with very different specifics) some have even been known to call chi kung “Taoist yoga.” The idea behind these exercises is that chi is lost through living (some activities more than others), and can become blocked in the channels through which it is believed to move. Various exercises are used to replenish and ensure healthy circulation of the chi. Tai chi is a series of martial arts forms that are also considered to have the effect of replenishing and / or enhancing chi.

Two questions may leap to mind, especially among those who know me as a skeptic. First, do you believe in chi–despite the lack of evidence that it exists? (When I mention this lack of evidence, I am obviously not defining chi as breath or bodily fluids, in which case the most rabid skeptic would have to acknowledge its existence. However, then an entirely different set of questions is raised about the vast and complicated nature of chi kung exercises needed to circulate oxygen, which travels through blood vessels and not through channels or meridians. In other words, there’s no reason not to abandon a lot of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) / Taoist conceptions of health if one considers a narrow definition of chi.) Second, if you don’t have any reason to believe that chi is a real thing, why bother with the exercises?

First, no, I don’t believe in chi as a substance or physical entity in the way that your average Taoist priest does. I don’t mock or ridicule those who do, and I acknowledge it could always turn out that they were right and I was wrong and that my current state of ignorance combined with an incorrect deference to Occam’s Razor led me astray.

However, I have a pretty high standard for believing a person, place, or thing exists. I need to be able to observe it.  If I can’t perceive it directly, but there is some indirect sign it exists, then that indirect sign needs to be the simplest possible explanation I can imagine given my current state of knowledge. (Yes, I realize that Occam’s Razor isn’t a law, it can always be that an unlikely explanation is the correct explanation. I also know the raft of indirect signs of chi, and, yes, I’m saying I can imagine simpler explanations than an energy source that is immeasurable but powerful enough have bodily effects.) While I don’t believe in chi (or meridians, or the yet undiscovered organ called the “triple heater”) as physical things, I do believe in conceptual chi which is an object of visualization.

Moving on to the second question, I practice these exercises because they make me healthier.

This, of course, raises another question, “How can these exercises be effective if chi is not real?”

Now I have to go Socratic on my hypothetical questioner. The Socratic dialogue goes like this:

S: Have you ever been to a scary movie?

A: Of course, I have. What kind of a troll has never seen a scary movie?

S: I’m Socrates. I’ll ask the damned questions around here, thank you very kindly.

So while you were watching said movies, did you ever get startled? That is, did your pulse ever pound a bit harder; did you ever take a gasping breath; did your hands ever grip the armrest with white knuckles; or did you ever get butterflies in your stomach?

A: Of course, that’s part of the horror movie watching experience.

S: So, then, you were under the impression that the events you were watching were actually happening, and that the killer might come out into the theater after you at any moment?

A: No, of course not. Don’t be absurd!

S: And yet this thing that was not real–that was just symbolic or conceptual–had actual physiological effects?

[At this point Socrates breaks into his superiority dance.]

I think visualizing chi flow has positive benefits both mentally and physically. The mental benefits may be clear. The physical benefits result from putting oneself in the moment and conducting activities (deep breathing and movement) that help one de-stress. This process of de-stressing helps one to be healthier. Does it matter that one does the exercises as they have been handed down from ancient China? Probably not, but I believe that trial and error (even without complete information about anatomy and physiology) yield some impressive results. Of course, there are many other systems (e.g. yoga) that can work equal wonders using an approach that is quite different in its detail. (I also don’t believe in Chakras, but can imagine great benefits from behaving as if they exist.)

MindOverMedicineI just started reading a book by a medical doctor named Lissa Rankin. Rankin’s book, entitled Mind Over Medicine, presents evidence from a large body of scientific literature suggesting the mind often plays a major role in wellness by way of mechanisms that aren’t yet fully understood, but which defy the traditional view of Western medicine.

Rankin was intrigued by the vast number of anecdotal cases of what doctors call “spontaneous remissions.” Spontaneous remissions are when a patient becomes healthy in a way that defies explanation (i.e. they had no treatment, they had insufficient treatment, and they had an illness for with the body’s immune system is normally believed incapable of doing the job on its own.) She wasn’t satisfied with these one-off stories involving placebos, fake surgeries, busted radiology equipment, faith healing, etc, but rather wanted to see what the scientific literature contained by way of scientific double-blind studies on the subject.

She found there was evidence to support mind over matter when it came to illness, and that there was a fledgling explanatory literature. She also learned that while there was a large database of spontaneous remissions, there had not yet been an attempt to determine whether there were common characteristics of those who showed the “placebo effect” (getting well while being in the placebo group of a double-blind study) or other spontaneous remissions.

My point is that there is good reason for skeptics to consider that there may be a lot more to health and well-being than our current paradigm suggests.