Directed by James Wvinner, who has also made several yoga DVDs with Shiva Rea, this Qi Gong: Fire & Water DVD is shot in the Alabama Hills in California, where many Westerns have been filmed. Wvinner has a distinctive style, with constantly slowly moving cameras (presumably using a crane) and the screen image fading frequently from one angle to another. Matthew Cohen and an unnamed companion guide the viewer through two 40 minute practices, one for Fire, the other for Water. There are a few extras, such as a short introduction and short demonstrations of freeform practices. According to the cover, the Fire practice "heats and strengthens the body, activates and expands sent senses, relieves depression, stimulates the immune system, and detoxifies the body." The Water practice "cools the body and calms the nervous system, develops grace and greater range of motion, promotes deep relaxation and releases tension, stress, anxiety, and fear." I can't corroborate any of those claims. Cohen makes many other health related claims through the DVD, and presumably this is based both on his knowledge of Chinese medicine, Qi Gong, and his thirty years of practicing and teaching martial arts. I'm in no position to evaluate the truth of any of these. I should mention I am somewhat skeptical about some of the more extravagant ideas (from my point of view) about the flow of energy through the body and the earth. However, it's clear that Western science hasn't discovered everything there is to know, and it is good to keep an open mind.
Cohen gives instructions in voice over. Both practices are quite gentle, the Water one more so. It is fairly easy to follow what he is saying, and the camerawork also shows him and his companion from various angles so it is easy to see what they are doing. The Fire practice was shot when there was a slight breeze and you can see Cohen's shirt blowing in the wind. He and his companion are both wearing white. The Water practice was shot when the sun was low on the horizon, so the shadows are long. Cohen and his companion stand on a rock, looking dramatic, and a light is flickering onto them -- which looks as if someone is deliberately trying to simulate a shimmering light on them, which is odd since there is no obvious light source apart from the sun. They are wearing non-matching clothes. In both practices, the background music is mellow, with a strong new-age eastern feel. Both practices are strongly meditative and involve holding positions for a minute or so, moving hands around and moving the body.
I found the practices pleasant to perform, and I felt a little more relaxed afterwards. Personally, I prefer my exercises and wellness activities to be a little less metaphysical, but it was worth trying out.
Link: Matthew Cohen website.
© 2008 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.