By: Stephen T. Chang
The Book of Internal Exercises
by Stephen T. Chang
with Richard C. Miller
(Strawberry Hill Press, 1978, 138 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
There are several books on the market that teach various sorts of internal exercises. Some are better than others, and this is one of the better ones. Unlike The Chinese Way to a Long and Healthy Life, which demonstrates a number of chi kung exercises but contains little explanatory text aside from basic instruction, Stephen T. Chang’s The Book of Internal Exercises is replete with information on chi and the meridian system and how they are affected by life and by particular exercises.
Author Chang was trained in Western medicine as well as in traditional Chinese medicine, and he is the author of a number of other books. Co-author Miller is an acknowledged master of Hatha Yoga, so both know what they are talking about when it comes to internal exercises. In fact, a number of the exercises in this book come from yoga rather than chi kung, per se. The three major chi kungs in the book are the Deer, the Crane, and the Turtle, each of which is thoroughly explicated in several forms. Next come a variety of yoga-like postures that work to strengthen or heal various parts of the body, including the eyes, nose, and sinuses in addition to the major organs.
A chapter on Taoist meditation and breathing comes next, which includes several stretching exercises that I used to be able to do when I was younger but that hurt me just to look at now. The book ends with a thorough chapter on circulating chi through the Microcosmic and Macrocosmic Orbits, here called the Small and Large Heavenly Cycles. If I have a quibble with anything in this book it is the authors’ contention that circulating the chi through the Microcosmic and Macrocosmic Orbits should not be undertaken until the meridian system is free of blockages.
My problem here is that the chi always flows through the system, even if the flow is blocked and sluggish—otherwise, we’d be dead. Mindfully circulating the chi through the Orbits might require releasing some of the blockages first in addition to softening the body and loosening the joints, but in my experience, this is a progressive and cooperative endeavor. The more you unblock, soften, and loosen, the greater the flow and the greater the awareness of the flow. Becoming aware of the flow and mindfully, though gently, propelling the chi through the meridians further enables one to perform the unblocking, softening, and loosening. It’s not that you create the system and then fill it up, but more that you open to the system and the awareness of the flow even as you increase the power of the flow and learn to manipulate it.
But this is a minor criticism of an otherwise excellent and informative book. Even if you do not undertake all the exercises contained in it, or undertake them in small increments, the book is well worth reading. It is well illustrated and, even better, still available. This is a valuable addition to any Tai Chi library and would serve the yoga community equally well.