Eternal Spring by Michael W. Acton.
Softcover. 233pp. Singing Dragon, London, UK. ISBN: 978-1-84819-003-0
Reviewed by Sal Casano , Ph.D.
Michael Acton has written a very insightful and inspiring book. He distills his 30 plus years of qigong and taijiquan experiences into a flowing informative narrative. This book is very appropriate for all levels of qigong and taijiquan practitioners no matter the style. In addition, the information presented will benefit all involved in energy work since the principles and practices presented are fundamental in nature. He states in his preface, “ The practice of Qigong and Taijiquan is also self empowering, since it not only brings physical health and mental well being, but engenders the courage to accept and understand our condition and the ebb and flow of our lives and to take responsibility for our own nature and actions.”(p.9)
The book contains 14 chapters with the first one discussing qigong and taijiquan as two fundamental energy practices. In chapters 2-10 principles and concepts for effective qigong practice are discussed. Chapters 11 and 12 deal with taijiquan as a moving qigong discussing training modalities and concepts. The book comes full circle in the last two chapters in emphasizing meditation practices which enhance the qigong and taiji experience.
Utilizing Daoist teachings and concepts the author shows how the practice of qigong and taiji increase one’s ability to live in accordance with a nature filled environment, eating natural foods and practicing harmonious techniques to connect the mind, body and spirit. I was intrigued by the title of the book which at first thought made me feel it was about immortality. “Eternal Spring” infers that through the prudent practice of qigong, life is nourished, health is maintained, the ageing process is slowed, and wisdom is achieved, physical and mental freedoms abound. In our modern world, people are living longer due to the advances of modern medicine; however, this longevity brings a life filled with cognitive deficiency, decrepitude, mental deterioration, along with a myriad of diseases and chronic conditions caused by poor lifestyle choices and increased stress factors.
The author makes the point that we need qigong to nourish life through self cultivation which will conserve, replenish and rejuvenate the ability to maintain your health, mobility, functionality and mental capacity into old age. A graceful aging process with dignity being the goal. Qigong starts with outside movement and inside stillness progressing to outside stillness and inside movement. Both qigong and taijiquan practices help balance the “3 Treasures (San Bao) which are Essence (Jing), Vital Breath (Qi) and Spirit (Shen). Jing can be thought of as sexual, or generative energy and is associated with fluids (physiologically e.g. neurotransmitters, hormones, blood) whereas Qi refers to breath/oxygen, body functionality and physical integrity, and finally Shen referring to the emotions, intuition, intelligence, consciousness and spirit. The balance of the “3 Treasures” are goals for our modern wellness programs and holistic health modalities. Through a discussion of Daoist theory, and Traditional Chinese medicine( e.g. Yin-Yang theory, 5 element theory , et.al) the author discusses the ever-changing flux we have on all san bao levels and the importance of finding harmonious balance. As examples of this flux, we are subject to the “5 Emotions “(i.e. Joy, anger, sadness, anxiety and fear )as well as the “6 External Pernicious Influences”( i.e. wind, cold, fire, heat and dampness ) which threaten our quest for balance and harmony.
Using concepts taught by his teacher, Grandmaster Ma Yuen Liang a foundation for meaningful qigong and taiji practice are defined. One must persevere, be precise, be slow as well as buoyant and stillness. Additional principles include using mind not force, posture control, awareness, proper breathing, mental intention and awareness. The book contains an excellent presentation of the importance of proper standing and body alignment which is fundamental to all qigong and taiji practices. Many of the nuts and bolts needed for these practices are contained in the book and explained in great depth. In Chapters 11 and 12 , the author continues to bring the relationship between qigong and taiji practices together. The beautiful part of these sections is that they address the arts themselves and not the various styles and nuances of each style. Whether it be qigong or taiji the importance of some fundamental practices are paramount in achieving harmony and balance in our lives.
Meditation whether it be standing, sitting or lying down is an important contributor in cultivating your internal energy. The author prefers sitting meditation and describes the classic “Small Heavenly Circuit” or “Microcosmic Orbit” sitting meditative practice. “ Meditation is a “healing rest” and a “means to stop the leakage and dissipation of our life Energy” (p.129). In addition, meditation allows for looking inwards and cultivating higher states of consciousness. One of the best practices for cultivating energy and rooting is “Pole Standing” (Zhan Zhuang) which is very important to taiji practice. The practice of Wu Zhang( 5 Element Qigong) is important in targeting the spine and the visceral organ energy systems( lungs, heart, liver, spleen and kidneys) which enhances health and well being. The author discusses the importance of solo practice of taijiquan form, the energies of the 8 Gates and 5 Doors (Basic 13 postures in taijiquan), as well as the rationale and importance of “Pushing Hands” practice. In addition, the training in one of the tai chi weapons such as straight sword is discussed . Weapons forms help produce power, grace, balance and greater qi flow.
The book concludes with an informative description of a very simple qigong form practice. Photographs of the author in various poses helps relate to the narrative. Breathing technique is emphasized in doing the qigong. In closing, sitting meditation is reviewed and encouraged. In China, Qigong and Taijiquan are practiced to nourish life Energy (Yang Sheng) and for self cultivation. Their goal is to increase the potential for a healthier, happier life. “If we can learn, and practice these arts, we give ourselves a chance to stay healthy ….for as long as possible. It is the chance of Eternal Spring.” (p.216)
In summary, this book is loaded with ingredients to help nourish your life, your health, your mind, and your emotions. You truly experience the author’s journey in practicing these arts. As the cover states, “Taijiquan, Qigong, and the Cultivation of Health, Happiness and Longevity- Eternal Spring” This book delivers on all accounts.
[Salvatore Casano R.N., PhD – a registered nurse with a PhD in Holistic Health, and is an ATCQZ certified Tai Chi and Qigong instructor. His Tai Chi and Qigong journey began over 20 years ago while working as a chemistry instructor, when he felt the need for a more holistic approach to health care. Participating in many programs and projects relating to health, Dr. Casano educates the community on living a healthier lifestyle to avoid obesity and diabetes, and as a way to reduce stress. Over the years, he has learned from many masters including Bill Philips, Marc Issacs, Richard Chu, as well as two ATCQA advisors, Dr. Roger Jahnke, and Bill Douglas. Dr. Casano, along with his wife Veronica, often sojourn together on his healing path, as they use their skills in helping others connect the mind, body, and spirit. They have four adult children, seven grandchildren, and a cat, “Tiger.”]