Cultivating a nourished heart

a dance with the extraordinary

A book review of Xiu Yang by Mimi Kuo-Deemer

On Saturday 15 June I attended the launch for Mimi Kuo-Deemer’s second book Xiu Yang at Triyoga in Shoreditch. In this book Mimi explores the ancient Chinese concept of self cultivation. By drawing on her own experiences of yoga, qigong and meditation as well as her knowledge of yoga and Daoist philosophy Mimi offers a book that is at once practical as well as inspiring. It is also a great read.

Taking a less linear route

I have been Mimi’s student for almost a decade and I was drawn to Mimi’s teaching for the clarity with which she weaves together complex ideas from different traditions.  I first encountered Mimi’s teaching at a workshop exploring yoga and qigong through the circular and linear. I was hooked. Over the years I have learnt more and more and was delighted to learn that Mimi was putting her own exploration of the Chinese approach to health, happiness and leading a balanced life into a book.  

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you are enough

Xiu Yang is a beautiful and moving book.  It shines with clarity and simplicity and yet it asks its readers to do something profound: to shift their perspective and their attitude towards how they see themselves and their place in the world.  Mimi suggests that rather than try and ‘fix’ something so that we can enjoy more balanced lives; we don’t need to: that balance, wholeness and health are already within us. Rather, we need to learn to cultivate those aspects in our lives that enable this balance to flourish.  The book supports its readers on this journey. This is how Donna Farhi describes it in the foreword: “Tending a garden is not much different from tending one’s home, tending a relationship or tending one’s health… And nowhere are the results of consistent care more obviously demonstrated than through the presence of good health, mental clarity and joyfulness.”

Take charge of your health and happiness

This book invites us to take charge of our health and happiness and make the small, simple changes that will result in a profound shift. The more that I practice yoga, the more I have come to regard the ‘practice’ as the crucial component.  It is within this ‘discipline’ so often regarded as a harsh rather than helpful structure that we can begin to cultivate true contentment. Mimi writes: “Yoga practitioners throughout the centuries have also embraced bhavana as a form of cultivating wholesome character traits. While historically there have been forms of yoga practice that veered towards drastic measures ...there were also those who chose a gentler path. This was the path of bhavana.  As we explore xiu yang, we will also be considering some of these softer approaches from yoga and Buddhism as ways to introduce resources for better living.” At a time when we seem to be filling our lives with noise and hurry, Mimi’s book offers respite and a glimpse into how, should we wish, we can fashion a simpler and more fulfilling life for ourselves.

Make shift happen

In language that is clear and prose that is flowing, Mimi explains how we can shift our attitude towards our place in the world.  I loved this part of the book. Mimi suggests calling on vastness and allowing ourselves to dissolve pettiness and the tightness that we can form in our minds and bodies, so that we are more judicious about the energy and expend. Understanding that we are a part of nature and allowing ourselves to slow down so that we are able to ‘cultivate’ our future offers infinite possibilities.  Mimi writes: “Doing this has reminded me of how easily we can overlook the process of self-cultivation: when we feel genuinely healthy or happy, we can miss the simple, ordinary steps and stages that led to us becoming that way.”

View the ordinary as extraordinary

Mimi invites us to view things differently: soil is mysterious and life-giving and yet, so often we overlook it.  Our tendency to reduce things to their least important state by oversimplifying them or demonstrating the impatience that characterises our instant-gratification society  has left us harried and hurried. Mimi invites us to wake up to ourselves and our world as profound, complex and beautiful and to live our lives in a more harmonious way. Mimi isn’t offering a quick-fix or sticking plaster, yet a gentle way in which we can approach our lives with greater compassion and transform them at a profound level. “In fact, the effort you put into your daily practice will most likely seem mundane and unglamorous. This is where it can be useful to remember that you can view the ordinary as extraordinary.”  

It can be hard to capture the essence of something as intangible as ‘life-force’ yet Mimi draws the most beautiful and practical examples.  Her description of calligraphy made me pause: “To the calligrapher, writing characters is like a dance: when drawing a line across paper, it is not just the hand that determines the stroke; how the artist shifts their body weight also determines the movement of the brush as it meets the page. As characters take shape, they come to life from the calligrapher’s life energy, or qi. Qi has the power to transform a character into natural imagery.” Mimi certainly breathes life into the ordinary so we view it as extraordinary but she takes us with her.  

Small changes and profound shifts

Xiu Yang is a dance with the extraordinary captured in a book that belies its simplicity.  Mimi explains the complex in a way that is beautiful and readily accessible. Infused with practical suggestions, this book will support you in making the small changes which result in profound shifts.