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  • Writer's pictureJohn Blue

Don't Chase Tension!

During practice, many of us endlessly chase tension around our bodies. We relax a shoulder, and then a hip, and then your hand. This cycle of hunting for something to fix will never end. There is a better way.

Hi friends!

Have you ever had the chance to look at a single-celled organism under a microscope? It's absolutely amazing! They eat, excrete, reproduce, socialize, hunt, and even defend themselves. When they encounter something they want, they use resources to extend toward it. Feeling threatened, they may hunker down, constricting their surface to keep things out. Or perhaps they pull away, shrinking from contact, just like us. It's mind-boggling to realize how far back in our evolution these reflexes extend. At this very moment, every cell in your body is eating, interacting, and defending itself to maintain balance. When you're feeling stressed, each of your cells may react to that experience. That's 37 trillion habits of contraction in your body. Thinking of it that way, it becomes easy to understand why we find ourselves tense, reactive, and unable to think clearly during times of distress. It takes a system like qigong to retrain the body and mind to respond with opening, clearing, and listening. These methods have been shared for millennia by masters, and I'm delighted to pass them on to you, too.

Now, let's zoom out from single cells to collections of tissues. Even at this level, a lot has stayed the same. Muscles are silly. Whenever they have a problem, they only know how to contract. It takes regular practice, yet we can retrain this primitive reflex to do something more helpful. We can learn to respond to stress with relaxation rather than stagnation.

The first time I realized the method was working for me, I was in Costa Rica. A friend was driving recklessly and nearly collided with a bus. As we screeched to a stop, instead of clenching and freezing like usual, I noticed my reaction was to soften and become very alert. It was a revelation! The practice didn't merely help me become calmer and more relaxed. It had conditioned my system to respond rather than react. Clearly, opening to a difficult moment rather than closing is a far more practical state to enter, especially as someone called upon to administer first aid in a rural setting. As Master Zhicheng says, "With patient, persistent practice of the proper method over time," we adjust how we function during demanding moments. We cultivate a physical constitution that becomes more stable and resilient under pressure, a mind that becomes more clear and flexible when challenged, and emotions that become settled and calm under stress. Whatever your initial reasons for learning qigong, these are the most functional skills you can develop and will enhance every aspect of your life.

In the last lesson, we talked about how clenching can form into lifelong bad habits. I asked you to pay attention to your tension patterns and to get to know them. With that self-knowledge, you can begin transforming those habits. It becomes possible because of the quiet awareness and ease we practiced earlier in the series. We combine this familiarity with the ability to be clear and calm, and a new skill results. You've developed the ability to pay attention and let things go. Great job!

Once you begin to notice your bad habits, the first thing to do is to "don't." Do not react. Just let things be as they are. The pattern will reveal itself when you rest in unhurried openness and clarity. Don't try to impose your ideas or control the experience. Instead, become still by settling and disinhibiting your body and mind. The capacity to release into stillness is the foundation for all progress within these arts. It's why we have spent so much time practicing each of these basic components. Without them, you'd only engender a further cycle of tension.

Next comes the magic of the technique. Because you are open to the experience of understanding your imbalance, the way to release the pattern will begin to reveal itself. Let me say that again. You will find the solution within the problem itself. When we allow life to flow unobstructed, the situation resolves itself. The only skill required is to remain attentive yet unattached. Allow nature and the qigong techniques to transform your body-mind without physical pressure or mental-emotional control. Get out of your own way!

You can see why we practiced letting go of the grip upon our minds in previous lessons. With that relaxing of your intentions, there will be enough mental space for new clarity or wisdom to arise. Never skip steps in your training! It only makes you progress more slowly and develop bad habits along the way.

One of the most powerful ways to develop the appropriate state of mind is to be playful during qigong. Playfulness includes attention that doesn't take itself seriously. It's both structured and spontaneous. Open to new possibilities yet grounded in the present moment. One of my favorite ways to practice this is through the exercise "Turtle Plays in the Water." It helps you feel how your body disentangles itself through gentle movements that seem to happen all on their own. Take some extra time with the technique today. Stay comfortable and learn to listen, having fun with the ocean of qi in and around you. It's a super effective way to cultivate the ability to let go.

One of my favorite questions to ask new friends is, "What do you do for fun?" Too often, people pause and cannot even think of an answer. When did you last make space to have fun and be playful? Let us know in the comment section about your favorite ways to be playful as an adult.

As you discover that the body-mind can decompress once you remove obstructions, pay attention to the habit of trying to make things happen. Avoid insisting that things go at your speed, forcing your will upon the experience. At this stage, the most meaningful part of your practice will be continuously letting go of the tension appearing in your mind, not only the movement stuck in your tissues. We always try to "soften harder" around specific spots and only worsen the habit of controlling and gripping the experience. Even if we release the localized muscle, we have only strengthened the overall pattern of adding force into the body-mind. Many long-time practitioners have this terrible habit. We endlessly chase areas of stagnation around the body, relaxing one spot, only to have our internal micromanager create more problems elsewhere. This cycle will never end. We have to find a better way.

First of all, focus on something other than the problem. What we pay attention to tends to grow. Suppose, each time you practice, you only notice how tense and uncomfortable you are. In that case, you are far more likely to become tight and awkward and to stop training altogether. Instead, feel the areas nearby that are already open and allow them to expand, releasing their comfort and softness through the rest of the body. You are far more likely to relax if you notice how comfortable you already are.

Second, think of tension as having a root and a branch. The external discomfort is often simply the easily noticeable outgrowth of a deeper issue. You must learn to find the underlying cause of the obstruction. Is it a postural issue? If you're seated in a way that makes it impossible to relax, you're not doing yourself any favors. Are you gripping your mind? If you hold tension in your thoughts or emotions, that will inevitably find its way into your body. Use the practice to generate peace and calm within as well as without. They create a beneficial feedback loop. Relaxing the body quiets the mind, relaxing the body further. We aim to become whole, inside and outside, nourishing our lives through harmonizing yin & yang. Becoming soft and supple, one training session at a time. You can do it!

What's Next?

Softness and stillness are two parts of the same thing. When you achieve one part of softness, you achieve one part of stillness. Notice this relationship as you practice. When we soften the body, it becomes easier to quiet the mind. And a calm mind makes it much simpler to relax your body. For the next training period, focus on letting go of the memories and old habits that cause your body and mind to protect themselves like a single-celled lifeform. You don't need them anymore. We can call those problems "past tense."

When you let go of the postural holding patterns, please don't allow them to express themselves as collapsing, sagging, or becoming lifeless. This is the wrong direction. Instead, allow this freedom from obstruction to release the energy downstream, like removing a dam from a river. We don't force the water to move. We only create the conditions that set it free to flow. The flow happens all on its own. This freedom expresses itself as expansive energy, gentle and strong, cohesive and stable. This experience of soft & supple fullness, lively and agile, filled with quiet awareness and profound peace, is called "song" in Chinese.

Remember this term. It's a hugely important concept in our practice, and you'll hear me reference it again and again in future lessons.

Continue exploring this lesson until you can consistently release a small amount of the tension in your body and mind. You don't need to become perfectly song. Yet, you should become very familiar with this capacity for quietly letting go of blockages in your body and mind. The following practices will require this skill to be effective. Take your time and enjoy this phase of learning.


When you go to bed, spend time softening your hands each night before you fall asleep. Set a reminder on a device until it becomes a new habit. Then, upon waking, soften your hands again. Over time, you will experience the wonder of having practiced all night in your sleep. You will wake up with your hands and arms feeling wonderfully open and full. They will also experience less tension and fatigue during the day because of the nighttime practice. The body-mind is like a sponge that soaks up softness and vitality with each session. Letting go and letting go as the transformation sinks into your bones.

Journal about the experiences so you can look back at them in the future. Please share them with friends who will want to know how you became healthy. Also, take the time to write down thoughts of acceptance about yourself and gratitude toward your life. Like softness, kindness also accumulates over time. Studies show the profound impacts of these simple practices. Sometimes, the tension we struggle with results from trauma and emotional fatigue. Apply self-love like a salve, and your healing will progress even more quickly. Again, if you need to seek professional help for deep trauma, I fully support your journey toward wellness. I like to tell my patients that healing is healing and medicine is medicine. Find what works for you. Releasing blockages allows you to make space for change, settling into freedom and stillness. If you pay attention and listen, the obstacle itself will teach you the way through.

Enjoy 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

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