Master Mak - one of Qigong's foremost gurusJoan Foo Mahony
Writer, Sailor, Qi Gong Exponent

Joan Mahony nee Foo Siew Bee (class of 1974) recently released a book entitled "Indispensable Qi Gong for People on the Go!". The book is a handy guide which demystifies the many movements of qi gong so that it can be used in everyday situations by the busy individual. Now living in Kuala Lumpur, Joan is "retired" from the law and is indulging in her great passion - writing. Joan reflects on her law school days and tells how qi gong changed her life.

How did you get into qi gong, and what prompted you to write on it?

Joan: I have been practicing qi gong since 1992 with my master and teacher in Hong Kong, Mak Chung Man. He is a man of extraordinary talents whose compassion and commitment to this ancient art have helped me regain my health and strength and inspired me to write this book. The path towards my study of qi gong and why I wrote the book is simply this: about 10 years ago, I was told by doctors in America that due to a hormonal  irregularity, my brain was telling my blood that I had no calcium (when in fact I did). As a result, no matter how much calcium I ingested, the blood continued to steal calcium from my bones. By 1992, I had already lost 40% of my bone mass and with the rapid deterioration, I was told that I would be in a wheelchair soon and that my lifestyle would be limited tremendously.

This was terrible news for me. I sailed, I skied, I jogged. I danced and I worked like a maniac. I was not prepared to live the life of an invalid and at that time, I was not even 50 years old! I have always believed in the ways of the East. So, I bade farewell to the western skeptics and flew to China and Hong Kong where I found my master and practiced qi gong diligently with him every day. 'Qi" is the internal energy within all of us and if we know how to harness it, store it and redistribute it, we will "unblock" all the stagnant qi that causes illness. I did all this not only the traditional way but learnt (with my busy lifestyle) to adapt it to the busy person's schedule. I went back to America and took another bone density test and surprise surprise, I had stopped the bone loss. Best of all, I had reversed the bone loss and my hormonal system was now back to "normal".

I wrote my book to tell my story and as a debt of gratitude to my "si-fu"(Master) who showed me the way. My master was one of the first persons to demystify qi gong. He said it was not a big deal and that everyone can and should do it. I had to spread this liberating message. I had to tell people out there that they did not need to find an hour each day to do this. I felt I had a duty to show how qi gong can benefit the stressed-out and busy person on the go with as little effort as possible.

The Indispensable Qi Gong does not aspire to be an exhaustive tome on this wonderful discipline. It does not deal with the origins of qi gong, nor does it attempt to explain the scientific theories surrounding it and how or why qi gong is a catalyst in the healing process. What it is, however, is an essential guide for
novice and veteran practitioners alike.

Tell us more about your career path since you graduated from the University of Singapore.

Joan: My career path has taken me around the globe and more! After graduating, I stayed on to submit my LLM thesis on Securities Law and obtained my LLM from NUS as well. I then returned to Kuala Lumpur and was admitted to the Malaysian bar. I never had the opportunity to practice in Malaysia because shortly after that, I moved to Japan with my first husband, a German who was sent to Tokyo to head up the pesticide division of Bayer AG in Japan.

Japan was a wonderful experience. I was probably the first NUS law graduate to work in a Japanese law firm! My first job there was in UNAFEI which was a United Nations organization funded by the Japanese government doing research on criminal justice systems. It was an eye-opener for me especially since criminal law was definitely not my forte and I learnt a lot about the criminal justice system in Japan and was one of the few rare women at that time to even see the inside of a Japanese prison! There were very few women lawyers in Japan at that time (let alone a Malaysian or Singapore lawyer!).

I left Japan for Hong Kong in 1984 for personal reasons (I had by then divorced my first husband ) as well as professional ones (I believed that China which was then opening up was the next big frontier and where better to be than in Hong Kong!) There, I remained in the area I loved - corporate financing. I helped syndicate the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone and deepwater port. In 1989, I moved to New York with my husband, Terence Mahony where Terry was then working for Paine Webber. In New York, I had the wonderful experience of being one of the founding shareholders and directors of the first Women's Asset Management Fund headed by Michaela Walsh of Women's World Banking and managed entirely by well known women fund managers!

We returned to Hong Kong in 1993, and five years later, after more than 24 years of the daily grind, I decided to do something else with my life instead of the law! I turned to writing and publishing and in the midst of all this, returned home to Malaysia in 2000. In my new incarnation, I have written the book on qi gong and am writing another. I have also purchased a publishing company which will soon be launching some exciting new books on the scene.

Give us busy souls a few simple qi gong tips which we can practice every day.

Joan: Well, at the computer, for instance, stand up from your seat and clear a space. Then, imagine you're sitting on a chair with your feet shoulder width
apart and knees bent. With hand lightly on hips and upper body straight, rotate the body from the waist clockwise in a deep circular motion. Repeat seven times and then again anti-clockwise seven times. This relaxes your neck and shoulder muscles and aids blood circulation. During meetings, sit upright with feet shoulder-width apart on the ground. Rest your arms on chair handles or place your hands on the table, fingers spread, palms downwards. This increases mental awareness and prevents fatigue - in fact, the Chinese emperors of old sat on their thrones in this position to make them more alert to their surroundings and subjects. To lose weight, one of the stances you can assume is to stand with feet apart on slight tiptoe, keeping legs straight. Lean forward slightly from the hip, with arms raised above the head at an angle, keeping them straight and fingers spread. Hold the position for as long as possible, rest and repeat. There, a few simple tips!

Apart from qi gong, what keeps you busy nowadays?

Joan: I sit on the boards of some private companies and most importantly, involve myself in a number of charitable organizations such as the Wushu Federation of Malaysia, to which I am Honorary Adviser. That's an honour I am very proud of, having been a qi gong exponent for more than 10 years now. Among my other interests, the one I reckon to be the most enjoyable is the Raja Muda International Sailing Regatta. In fact, during this year's Regatta, I sailed my own all-ladies team for the first time in the Regatta's 13 year history. Our ladies came from Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the UK, and we had a 44-foot sailing boat.

Born and raised a Catholic, I am now a staunch Buddhist and in 1995, I was privileged to be invited on a memorable pilgrimage to India for 3 weeks following the footsteps of the Buddha with my Tibetan guru, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. And Richard Gere was also on the same pilgrimage! I also collect modern art and together with my husband, we have a significant collection ranging from Wu Guang Zhong to Bryan Brown and Ibrahim Hussain. Together with some friends, we have opened the first Pilates Studio in KL with all the equipment and trained instructors etc. It is wonderful to own your own studio because this
means I get to do Pilates everyday!

Do you miss legal practice?

Joan: It is now 5 years since I "retired". Do I miss practice? Definitely not. However, being a lawyer during the first part of my life has made me what I am today and I would not have changed it for the world. It was the law which taught me the joy of writing, discipline, rationalization and yes, even compassion. I travelled the world while practicing and enjoyed every moment of it. Now, I am in my mid-fifties and it's time to do something less hectic and frenetic with my life.

What are your fondest memories of law school days at the Bukit Timah
campus?

Joan: I have so many wonderful memories - I consider myself very fortunate to have gone to the (then) University of Singapore. I have so many friends from those days and my friendship with them never flagged or wavered. I am still in contact with a lot of my SU friends. I was at the Dunearn Road Hostel and I remember dashing madly across Bukit Timah Road (defying the onslaught of cars)
to get to the lecture halls - late as usual. I remember going to the sarabat stalls every night after swotting, the vociferous AGMs at Dunearn Road Hostel, the moot court preparations (I was in the first Philip Jessup team) and all the camaraderie and fun in class!

Joan on a pilgrimage to India


Joan with her sexy all-ladies sailing team

Qi Gong on the go

 

Indispensable QI GONG For People On The Go!
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