Visionary #49: Mimi Kuo-Deemer

Mimi Kuo-Deemer’s earliest introduction to movement practices was at ballet class during childhood, which laid the foundations for a lifetime of intention for balance and precision. Mimi is an Oxfordshire based yoga and Qigong teacher who was born in Arizona and spent 14 years in China. Mimi now shares her practices across London, UK and beyond and has written two books- Qigong and the Tai Chi Axis: Nourishing Practices for Body, Mind and Spirit and Xiu Yang: Self-Cultivation for a Happier, Healthier and Balanced Life.

Qigong is a powerful yet subtle practice which includes a combined mixture of energy, breathe, self massage, sound, mindful movement and posture. The feeling of looking inwards and developing self transformation and directing your energy can be an incredible tool in day to day life. The beginnings of it date back centuries in Chinese medicine, philosophy and martial arts. Here Mimi expands on this ancient and sacred practice she has cultivated, as well as sharing more of her projects and vision for the year ahead.

Where is home for you?

I’ve lived in so many cities and on three continents in the last 47 years: Endicott, New York; Tucson, Arizona; Palo Alto, California; Beijing, Shanghai, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then finally – starting in 2009 – London. Two years ago, my husband and I moved the countryside in Oxfordshire.  We have a great view from our house, where we can see fields, forests and rolling hills. Of all the places I’ve lived, this finally feels like home!   

What does mindfulness mean to you?

It means feeling free and unfettered. think of mindfulness as an ancient technology handed down by the Buddha to help release my heart and mind from the bonds of unnecessary confusion, pain and suffering.  In practice, it is a tool to become present and aware. It is grounded in self-compassion, and a skill that enables us to remind us of our natural, wholeness of being. In fact, the original meaning was to remember, which I like. What we are remembering is that through compassion and presence, we can feel joy, ease and freedom in any moment.

When and how did you first become interested in qigong?

In 2003. Matthew Cohen, a LA-based martial artist, dancer, yogi and qigong teacher first introduced me to qigong. This was first in Los Angeles and then in Beijing, where he came to teach a fusion of yoga and qigong at the school I co-founded, Yoga Yard.

What led you to start sharing your story and create awareness around the practice?

Two things – one, I knew how much these practices had benefited my personal health and well-being, and felt compelled to encourage people to discover ways they can self-heal.  Two, I love clear communication. Before I started teaching, I worked as a photographer and reporter in China. I think of teaching as the art of telling stories.

What excites you the most about sharing your practice?

Making learning fun, and more horizontal rather than vertical. This means learning is a shared process that encourages curiosity and engagement through enquiry.  I believe this model for learning creates community and positive connections with others. I love when people meet other like-minded people.  I’ve seen how this heals through laughter, depth and honest connection.  I’ve seen many strong communities form from immersions, retreats and trainings I teach, but also people meet each other in classes. So many students have made lifelong friendships through these programmes. This makes me happy.

How can we get started with qigong?

If you can’t make it to classes (Triyoga in London now offers qigong across all five of their studios), there are a lot of online resources available that are free to use and fairly easy to follow. I have a number of YouTube videos that many people have found a good start!

Tell us more about your charity Glow Fund

This is 99% my husband’s organisation and vision, though I help in the background with fundraising, awareness and support on the mission. Every few years, we bring a team of orthopaedic surgeons from Stanford Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital to China, where they spend a week operating on children with severe orthopaedic conditions. Mostly these are scoliosis cases that cannot be treated by Chinese hospitals and doctors either because the cases are too severe, or the families are unable to afford or access proper care. In the past we have had many children who are orphans or from very low income homes. We have also given many children from Tibetan regions of China operations.

Do you incorporate any other holistic practices into your self care routine?

I have acupuncture regularly. I also try and receive body work once a month, either shiatsu, Thai Massage, herbal compresses, or tui na (Chinese meridian massage). I also garden and take walks in the countryside, which always reconnect me to the processes of the natural world more closely.

What is your vision and focus for the year ahead?

On a personal level, it is to take more time to devote to my personal training and learning, focus on some more writing, and develop a new qigong training programme.  Underlying all of this is a dedication to embracing what nurtures rather than depletes, and doing my best to share this with others when I teach.  

Xiu Yang: Self-cultivation for a Healthier, Happier and Balanced Life is out now (Orion Spring)