Mimi Kuo-Deemer, whose brilliant guide Xiu Yang is published today by Orion Spring, is the first non-fiction author to appear in our author interview series.

Mimi is an internationally recognised teacher of yoga, qigong and mindfulness meditation. Her YouTube channel has over 3.8 million views, with her 8 Brocades Qigong Practice reaching more than 2.2 million. She is a graduate of Stanford University and SOAS, where she received a distinction in her MA in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation. She is the co-founder of Beijing’s first and leading yoga studio, and helps run the Glow Fund charitable trust, a charity that helps disadvantaged Chinese and ethnically Tibetan children receive life-changing orthopaedic operations. She lives in Oxfordshire.

Xiu Yang: Self-cultivation for a healthier, happier and more balanced life is Mimi’s second book and helps its readers to achieve inner balance for outer radiance.

Mimi’s first book, Qigong and the Tai Chi Axis: Nourishing practices for the mind, body and spirit was published in December last year.

What inspired you to write?

Mostly, I see writing as an extension of my role in teaching, which is primarily to support people’s ability to meet and explore their mental, emotional, and physical landscapes as well as inspire them to consider new ways to live a happier and more sustainable life. When I teach yoga, qigong or meditation, I like to weave in philosophy, metaphor, and anecdotal stories. For me, these have always helped translate simple movements and practices into more meaningful experiences and insights. Doing this is not always easy; ancient philosophy can feel irrelevant and inconsequential to many people’s lives today – especially if presented in lofty, esoteric language. When I teach, I aim to make ancient ideas and philosophies accessible, relevant and meaningful to people’s everyday lives. With writing, I see the potential to do more of the same.

Where do you write?

I write sitting on a few meditation cushions at a low desk in my home office. The cushions also sit on top of a Tibetan meditation rug made by Tibet’s Wangden weavers. The Wangden rugs are meditation rugs used by Tibetan lamas, who prefer the rugs thick, soft yarn as a base. I also love them as they are so comfortable! What I also have found is that writing in a position similar to one I use to do formal meditation – spine upright and legs crossed – helps me feel more embodied, alert and focused as I work. My desk is also in the same room I sometimes use to meditate and practice yoga and qigong.

What is your writing process?

My first yoga teacher, Erich Schiffmann, championed meditation as the best way to get in touch with the source of creativity. Over the years, I’ve discovered that he is right, and I have found that my writing process very similar to my formal meditation practice. For starters, I confront many of the same difficulties in writing as I do in meditation: how to focus my attention, soften against what I resist, relax around tightness, and learn to make room for the free flow of my thoughts, ideas and experiences.

When I meditate, I follow a basic structure: I start with an awareness of what’s present in my overall experience, then focus in on something like my body or breath to help me parse through the gazillion thoughts typically buzzing around in my head. When my thoughts slow down, I begin to see them more clearly. This process of focusing my mind to slow down my thoughts gives me the freedom and space to respond to the content of my mind. In time, I start filtering the useful from the un-useful, and the relevant from the random thoughts and sensations that arise. I practice softening around the dramas in my head, and cultivate creative responses to situations rather than always give in to or be triggered by whatever conditioned or stuck patterns of reactivity might try and sneak in.

I follow a similar structure and process with writing: I choose my topic, brainstorm on it, write down all my ideas, and then begin to sift through them. From there, I create a detailed outline, and then build a realistic weekly writing calendar around that outline. Like the simple resource of coming back to presence of my breath and body in meditation, my outline and structure give me the framework to respond freely and creatively to the themes I want to articulate. When I start feeling triggered and encounter resistance or blocks to what I am writing, I step back and give my writing some space. This is exactly what I do in meditation.

How did you discover Xiu Yang?

Growing up as the daughter of Chinese immigrants to America, I had occasionally heard the term xiu yang used by my parents. Mostly, they used the term in a negative sense to describe an unethical, rude or crude person. Donald Trump, for example, was someone my mom described as ‘Tai mei you xiu yang!’, which means ‘totally lacking in cultivation!’. Later, while doing my masters programme at SOAS, I discovered that xiu yang was not only descriptive but also a process; it what all Chinese spiritual seekers throughout centuries used to grow and sustain their best in themselves mentally, physically and ethically. I was instantly drawn to the concept as I felt it reflected much of what I have always believed underscores my reasons for practising and teaching yoga, qigong and meditation.

How did you research XIU YANG?

Much the same way I research and prepare for topics I teach on workshops, immersions and retreats: by taking notes on primary and secondary articles and texts, and then framing and rewriting key concepts in my own language.  For Xiu Yang, I started by looking at an ancient, early Daoist text called the Neiye (Inward Training). This 4th Century BCE text is not well-known, but is arguably the earliest mystical text in China. It is beautiful, poetic text that illustrates the earliest sources and basis for self-cultivation in the Chinese tradition. I’ve included quite a few quotes from this text in Xiu Yang.  I chose to read secondary texts about the history and importance of self-cultivation throughout Chinese history, and then looked through the bibliographies of these books and articles to further my research. After a few months of steady research, I started pulling together ideas on how these ancient principles translate to my own practice and experiences and created an outline. I also have a trove of journals and notes about my teaching and personal experiences of practice. I used these to create anecdotes and stories that I thought might make concepts more relevant to people’s immediate lives.

How do you relax after a day of writing?

By taking a long walk with my husband, Aaron. We live in a small village in Oxfordshire, and there are footpaths leading in many directions right outside our doorstep. Seeing open, green space after a day at my computer always helped clear my head. These walks also turned out to be my time to download whatever was still processing in my head. My husband and I often joked that each walk started with me asking, ‘So, honey, what do you think about….’.  Not only would Aaron oblige me, but he always listened fully and thought deeply about my questions. As we’d walk and talk, he would help me clarify my ideas as well as make them less preachy and more insightful and relevant. By the time we’d get home, I would feel clearer and more relaxed. I’d then end my day with cooking and eating a nice meal, playing the piano and diving into a good book.