Errors in Technique
Updated: May 11, 2022
In the last lesson, we examined habits that can flip a gentle healing practice into a destructive pattern of mistakes. Tension, force, obsession, distraction, exhaustion, overwork, and inconsistency are all systemic tendencies that will likely show up in all areas of our lives. By avoiding them during qigong, we generally get better at replacing those habits.
Similarly, more specific actions can cause harm each time you practice and are more easily avoided.
Watch the full video: https://youtu.be/GCUZur1q8qQ
For example, don’t practice outside when it’s too cold or too hot. This disrupts the natural circulation that we are attempting to nourish and incorporate. It’s especially important, for our purposes, to keep your lower back, legs, and feet warm. Just this year, I had a friend who corrected chronic lower back and knee pain by learning to wear warm clothing. Sometimes it really is that simple! Cold & heat that damages the body can have adverse long-term effects. I include any weather extremes on this list, including practicing in the wind, the rain, smog, very bright light, and anything else that causes your body to try to defend itself from the elements. We want to soften and be open to the environment, not the opposite.
Avoid bending the knees too much in an attempt to sink deeper. There is a difference between lowering the frame and settling through the body. Later, I will present an entire lesson on this subject. For the moment, keep your knees only slightly unlocked. Just enough to learn how to soften the thighs, hips, and lower back. With greater skill, you may sink lower into stances while maintaining this deep softness and throughness. Maintain the knees in proper alignment, always pointing in the direction of the toes. Don’t let them roll inward or outward during practice. This is a very common mistake that will cause you to regret being sloppy. Please be cautious with your postural relationships and preserve a sense of connection between the hips and the feet. If anything hurts unusually, stop and talk to a doctor. Within this system, pain equals no gain. Please be gentle.
Don’t press into movements attempting to create a stretch. The feeling of stretch-response occurs when tissues protect themselves from pulling too far. The body responds to feeling unsafe by constricting to defend joint integrity. We want to prevent that tightening response and never practice in a way that triggers one. Only move with softness and connection from the head to the feet. I will provide future lessons about gaining flexibility without damaging the joints.
If you have a delicate menstrual cycle, practice very gently during that time to avoid interrupting the natural flow.
Avoid training in environments that are very loud or uncomfortable.
Be careful practicing when you are hungry, full, sleepy, or feeling intensely emotional. Again, we are cultivating and normalizing a state of balance and ease within our body-mind. Training while resisting urges to eat, sleep, or rage might only develop bad habits. Instead, choose the appropriate response to each imbalance. For example, if you feel very emotional, go for a quiet walk before beginning qigong. In each moment, there is always an opportunity to heal!
What can you do right now to benefit your health, even in a small way? Pause and do it!
Before training, let go of stress, ambition, obsession, and old thoughts and feelings. This clearing is very much like washing the pan before cooking delicious food. “Turtle Standing in the Rain” is just such an opportunity to release before training.
Likewise, don’t wear clothing that hampers circulation or movement. Take off jewelry or eyeglasses if you don’t need them. Empty your bladder, turn off your phone, and free yourself of anything obstructing good practice.
What is one small thing you can get rid of right now that will make it easier to heal? Do it and come back! That’s how simple this can become!
When you find yourself getting sick, avoid doing much strenuous practice or gathering qigong. It’s ok to induce mild circulation and relaxation, but avoid exhausting a system trying to heal. As usual, we prefer the gentle approach to growth to avoid creating as many problems as we resolve.
As you’ve heard me mention, sleep and rest are vital for your health. If you have difficulty falling asleep, avoid practicing stimulating practices just before bed. However, it’s safe to use methods that sink, settle, and calm.
Avoid worrying about your breath during training. Later I will provide an entire video about breathwork. For now, simply make sure that you’re not controlling or holding your breath. Gripping like this can create chaos in a body-mind that is learning to let go. Eventually, it integrates and harmonizes with the practice, but probably not in the way you assume. Don’t make the mistake of obstructing your progress by generating lousy breathing habits. Just let go.
Correspondingly, for beginners, I highly recommend avoiding practices like the “Small Heavenly Circle,” also called the micro-cosmic orbit. There is a famous warning, “You must not emptily turn the Dharma Wheel.” It refers to people using forceful intent to move stuck areas instead of allowing free-flow to return safely and naturally. It is like firing a gun with an object stuck in the barrel. Something happens, but not what you want to have happen. In general, avoid using strong intent or forceful concentration, and learn how to progress in better ways. Eventually, like with the breath, the way your mind and body interact will shift. If you train methods before you are ready, only injury can result. Don’t concentrate, obsess, or try to force changes. Simply stop holding on to what hinders you.
When I was first learning qigong methods, I followed the recommendations of some of my martial art instructors and the procedures in popular books. Having spent my life ill and exhausted, I was excited to learn techniques that would make me feel energized and positive. They worked, but again, not how I thought they would. By learning to push my energy around constantly, I could manufacture all kinds of sensations. Feeling exhausted? No problem, just do this, and you’ll get a rush of energy. Feeling sad? Don’t worry. Just do this, and those bad feelings are locked away. Can you see the problem? Like a person who lives on energy drinks to stay awake, no qi technique will replace actual rest. Equally, no amount of emotional-energetic manipulation will help you process your feelings. I made the mistake of leaning on these approaches for years until my body-mind began to crash. They are not sustainable healing methods and should be abandoned for something better. We are very fortunate to have Zhicheng Shifu and Shoko Sensi keep us away from quick fixes and magic pills. Avoid anything that doesn’t lead you toward nourishment, relaxation, and profound stillness.
Traditionally, one way to distinguish some kinds of Buddhist practice from certain types of Daoist training is how we work in groups. My Buddhist instructors always wanted me to be following strict schedules and group routines. My Daoist master may hold some classes that way (TaoistStudiesInstitute.org) but prefers us to become guided by our individual experience. We learn to follow what is uniquely appropriate from moment to moment.
For instance, it’s OK to use mirrors for postural feedback, but avoid using them too often. Begin feeling for the correct alignment relationships on the inside instead of trying to look good on the outside. Don’t copy the people on the screen. Create the movement yourself.
Similarly, you may follow the number of repetitions I demonstrate for each technique. However, it’s better to begin sensing the changes that each exercise creates. Once that shift occurs, such as the unwinding of a particular joint, you may continue to the next movement. Becoming more sensitive to your experiences allows you to guide your practice from the inside. Your healing will progress much more quickly with this knowledge. Also, developing sensitivity is a way to simultaneously cultivate the mind and the body, which leads to better results. When are the veggies done cooking? When the cookbook says they’re finished? No. They’re done when they’re done, and that’s a significant difference!
The Next step:
We’ve covered some of the most common pitfalls for qigong practitioners and how to train safely and effectively. By now, you should have developed a consistent daily practice and have grown comfortable with the Snake & Turtle form. Your practice journal should have many notations, and your training buddy has supported your progress. If you have patiently followed my advice, you are already further along in your practice than you might suspect. Well done!
I can now introduce more complicated ideas without confusing or distracting you. Thank you for coming along this journey with us!
Check the notes you’ve taken in your journal to ensure that you have not skipped any lessons along the way. Make sure that you have a basic level of understanding for each of the exercises in the form. If you skip forward too quickly through the sequence, you risk developing a superficial intellectualized understanding of qigong. Because I am not standing next to you, you have to be your own patient guide through the practice. Learning over the internet is already difficult, so avoid sabotaging your progress with impatience!
Go slowly. Be careful. I know you can do it!
Healing is within your grasp. Happy training!
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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