Basic Standing Posture
Updated: Jun 23, 2022
Now that you have taken a little time to cultivate peace, you get to enjoy it through one of qigong's most foundational practices. With standing posture, you can become soft, strong, and supple. Genuinely, you will use this information daily for the rest of your life, so please pay careful attention.
I will dive into the detail of each postural principle in future lessons. Today I will offer an overview of the practice. You will notice that I refer to standing as a collection of relationships rather than a static pose to memorize. It's essential to understand this practice as a living flow of qi, not as a lifeless arrangement of parts. As described in my lesson about learning step by step, we must practice it all at once yet study it a piece at a time.
The principles shared here will be present within all the other techniques in Snake & Turtle. Don't sacrifice them for the sake of faking a movement.
Let me repeat that. There will never be a moment when you abandon these rules during practice. The next phase of your progress will center around learning to embody these postural relationships. Take your time. Go slowly and enjoy the transformation process at the speed of nature.
Let's begin by building a comfortable structure from the ground up. Place your feet symmetrically a little smaller than shoulder width. Straighten your legs, and then allow your knees to unlock as you sit a few centimeters into the stance. The higher and more effortless your posture at this stage, the easier it will be for you to learn to relax. Allow your shoulders to line up vertically above your hips, so you're not leaning backward, forward, or sidewise. Your hands hang naturally by your legs, and the top of your head points toward the sky.
Some of you will have a body shaped dramatically different from mine or with special physiological needs. In that case, you will need to seek the advice of an expert. One of us will help you find a variation for softening and healing with these principles. Everyone can find a method to assist their body to become healthier and more comfortable, even those with very different requirements and capabilities. Please be patient and persistent with your exploration. You can do this!
Allow your gaze to rest comfortably in the distance. Look at the horizon line or a healthy tree if you can. Allow your eyes and mind to soften as though watching clouds drift in the sky. Continue looking toward the distance, and feel your awareness rest behind your navel.
Loosen and relax your whole body, preparing to allow previously stuck areas to become soft and find a new position. Remember that as I describe the proper posture, it's not about holding a particular pose. Rather than a static and dead structure, we are restoring living relationships throughout the body. Let's call this restoration of interconnectivity "qi flow." We will begin at the top of the body.
Emptying your neck and allowing the crown of your head to become buoyant
Pay attention to your neck & throat. It pulls down on your head if you clench anywhere in this area. Tightening your throat pulls down your chin and tilts your head, shortening the spine. The same happens in the back of your neck. Tension shortens it, misaligns your head, and creates stress around your upper spine. There is no place where you can grip your neck that doesn't create problems for the rest of your spine. What then, I can hear you asking, do you do to align your head while you practice? I'm glad that you asked. You release it upward. Give it a try.
Soften your throat and notice how it creates length in the front. There is no need to pull down in the back to create that space.
Now let go of any holding in the back of the neck. Notice how it allows the neck to lengthen and the top of the head to lift. There is no need to pull down the throat to create that space near the occiput.
The same kind of release happens on the sides of the neck. By softening the musculature all the way around, there is a floating that arises in the head. If you can sense that lifting feeling even 1%, then you have a way to guide your practice into the future. If you don't yet feel this lightness of the head through emptying the neck, don't worry. With regular training, your body will remember how to release the musculature pulling down your head and shortening your spine. Every technique within Snake & Turtle qigong includes emptying your neck and allowing the crown of your head to become buoyant. Again, I will be describing all of this in great detail in later lessons, so there is no hurry to improve. When you notice tension, become aware of it without reacting. Then, calmly allow the neck to merge back into the rest of your whole-body relaxation.
Soften your shoulders to let the elbows sink
Let your awareness rest upon your shoulders. Feel the tops soften and add length to your neck. Your shoulder blades release down your back. The fronts of the shoulders effortlessly open, and the rib sides loosen. These adjustments release your arms outward along the length of the limb. Don't try to straighten the arms. Instead, it's as though you allow them to unfurl like banners that have been folded up too long.
As they let go, notice how your arms become longer. It's as though your elbows become heavy and sink toward the ground. Allow this softening to continue through your forearms, palms, and fingers. As this lengthening occurs, observe how the hands and the top of the head are releasing in opposite directions. Most importantly, this lengthening of the tissues and opening of the joints is not due to pushing your limbs but because you are freeing the spaces in between. This movement through don'ting is called "softening long." It will become a crucial aspect of your practice.
Empty the chest to lengthen the back, allowing qi to sink to the dantian.
While maintaining this opening of the neck and shoulders, notice the position of your chest. Is it lifted militarily or pressed down as though you're trying to avoid attention? Notice these two positions' effect on your neck and upper back. As usual, we use the method of letting go to find the correct posture. We will neither cave in nor collapse, hold nor lift, all of which shorten the spine. Instead, we soften the upper spine open by allowing the chest to empty. When this happens, the movement trapped within the upper body sinks into the belly, which will nourish your vitality.
Resting your awareness within this space between your navel and your spine will accumulate qi and significantly speed up your healing process. The area below your navel will eventually become a moveable center for your practice. And for both of those skills to become possible, you must soften your neck & shoulders, allow your elbows to sink, and empty your chest of tension.
Vitally, you must release mental tension as well. Avoid chasing specific outcomes during your practice, even when working on the homework I suggest. Only train while following the principles. Otherwise, your emotional grasping will become an obstruction to your improvement. If these principles feel especially challenging, allow them to be challenging. Take your time without obsessing and losing your opportunity to enjoy the practice. Stay comfortable and smile a little. It's good for your health!
Hang open your lower back, soften your abdomen, and allow the sacrum to sink.
As your chest releases, notice the connection to movement within the lower back. If your chest lifts, it will force your lumbar to arch and become a brick wall of tension over time. It also causes your pelvis to tilt and your tailbone to lift. Releasing your chest will allow your lower back to begin softening. As with all of these postural relationships, the actual changes will take time and consistent effort. Eventually, your back will soften open, your buttocks will stop gripping, and your hips and tailbone will drop under effortlessly. It is a widespread mistake to forcibly tuck your tailbone to make it seem like you have softened your back. This misunderstanding is silly and harmful, like pushing down your shoulders to make them seem relaxed. It only adds tension and contraction to the area you hope to unwind. Instead, let go of the stress in your shoulders, and they will sink naturally. Release the clenching of your lower back and hips, and they fall open easily. They may look similar to a beginner but are entirely different results. We don't ever want to use force to seek our goals. The body has natural wisdom, and we learn how to get out of its way.
A remarkable effect arrives when this change in the back begins to occur. With the buoyant quality of your neck and head lifting your upper spine, and the falling open of your lower spine, there is a lengthening of the whole back. Spaciousness appears between the vertebrae, and your spine's healing reaches a new level. Even your abdomen can relax further. Please practice every day to experience this life-changing transformation!
Low back pain and posture
Sit into your hips to flex the knees and soften the feet.
With your pelvis in a more comfortable position, it becomes easier to flex your hips slightly. Imagine that you have a tall chair behind you and sit lightly on its edge. Notice what happens to your knees as you flex the hip joints. The knees also flex naturally with the movement. This result is different from simply trying to bend your knees on your own. If you start by bending the knees, then your pelvis is forced forward, and you'll be unable to relax your back. Your knees should only bend as much as your hips and ankles can soften.
As you learn to settle your weight down through your legs and into the ground, it will become easier to soften your feet. Become aware of any tendencies to grip your toes, and allow them to release down to the Earth. You will find that this skill will also make it easier for you to stay grounded emotionally.
Foot position and back pain
When you're having trouble letting go of your hip tension, ensure your stance is not too low. Also, avoid standing for too long. At first, you'll be practicing and getting softer and softer. At some point, your progress will slow, and the ease will slowly turn into tension. From there, things will only become tighter and tighter, so it's essential to sit down and rest before that happens. If you want to practice longer, wait until your body recovers, and then return to training. Every day will be different, so learning to listen to your body more than the clock is essential.
Other more advanced postural transformations develop as you practice. There will be a different opening within the lower back, more movement within the hips, a rounding of the lower intersection, and even a new direction of opening around the hips and legs. I will discuss many other developments later when the time is right. I hope you're looking forward to it as much as I am!
Sometimes, we feel unsteady on our feet or sway during practice. It can be helpful to consider that, like the horizon we are gazing upon, we are half Earth and half sky. There is that part of us that sinks when we relax, and there is also a part of us that becomes light. To feel steady, you must allow all the sinking and the floating. This restoration makes us comfortably grounded and stable, filled with lightness and buoyancy. It's a natural state for the body, but our habitual patterns of tension cover it up. We are restoring the connection between the top and bottom, the sky and the Earth.
Let go of any ideas that you're somehow supposed to stand perfectly still. The stillness that we are seeking is a deep letting go. A tree is still, and so is water. When movement comes, gently allow it to pass through you without constraint. Tension is merely a movement trapped in the body, so practicing its release is essential. As more room is created inside the body, those releases become more subtle and less noticeable outside. This form of stillness is the foundation of all effective practice.
A correct posture becomes the vessel within which we nourish the profound aspects of our nature. I cannot overstate the importance of developing a well-balanced frame to cultivate things like a quiet mind and a peaceful heart. As with a garden, the secret is to cultivate the proper environmental conditions that allow the plants to grow healthfully on their own. With time the body becomes like fertile soil to grow the medicine of vitality!
The Next Step:
You'll be working with this lesson for a couple of weeks, learning to apply each postural relationship to the practices that you've already learned. Don't aim for perfection since this process will take years to unfold. Also, don't dwell on your tension. Paying attention to your whole body and its spreading softness is much better.
In the following discussion, I will help you understand why it's vital to initially focus on areas of your body that might not be the center of your discomfort. You are welcome to take that lesson whenever you'd like, but maintain an emphasis upon these new principles until they feel obvious to you. They are integral to your healing journey.
Posture and cystic fibrosis
Your homework is to make this part of your regular practice. Do a bit of standing each and every day, even if only for a short moment.
Also, it's imperative to memorize these five postural relationships. Write them down in your journal, and recite them silently when practicing.
Free the neck and allow the head to become light.
Soften your shoulders and let your elbows sink and your hands soften.
Empty your chest and lengthen your back so the qi sinks to your dantian.
Let go of your lower back and belly, allowing your tailbone to settle toward the ground.
Gently sit through your hips to unlock your knees, softening your feet.
Bit by bit, your body will restore its qi flow and become a fluid, integrated whole. Enjoy the journey and your practice!
Remember that this is only a tiny part of a more extensive system and sequence of teaching videos. Subscribe to my channel to learn more!
Make sure that you begin your practice at the beginning of the sequence
Ready to train? Follow along with traditional practice sessions
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