We've spent the last few lessons learning to understand postural relationships. In the following lectures, I will detail each of the qualities I explored and how to cultivate them through training. Over time you will learn more about your specific healing needs and the most deprived areas in your body. Many people, for example, practice Snake & Turtle Qigong to heal their lower back pain. Because of this, the order of cultivation may seem surprising. Let's explore why we don't focus on the back right away.
Over the years, I have spent a great deal of time growing food, planting forests, and even living on a farm. I feel that gardening has a lot to teach us about health and a proper relationship with the world.
Imagine that you're going to plant a small tree. Do you simply set it on the ground and hope that it survives? Of course not. First, you must dig a hole and make space for the plant. By moving some of the soil out of the way, it will have enough room to spread its roots.
Similarly, we must create space for the lower back to heal by removing spinal compression, muscular contraction, and structural misalignment. If we try to adjust the lumbar before freeing the torso, there would be no room for new movement or healing. First, it's essential to stop the rest of the body from impairing the function of the spine. Only then can we treat it more directly.
What would happen if you planted the top of the tree in the ground, leaving the root ball in the air? It's vital to have parts that evolved to stabilize in the ground and parts that reach toward the sky in the correct places. Otherwise, it becomes curved, damaged, and literally bent out of shape. Sound familiar? Because we don't allow gravity to sink through our bodies into the Earth, our spines brace and bow under the pressure. It's vital to restore the vertical relationship between the sky and Earth as soon as possible. With proper upright structure, we learn to release tension that fights gravity and make significant strides toward health.
Suppose you tie a rock to the peak of the tree or wrap it in wire like a bonsai? How would it grow? This rounding is similar to what happens when the weight of our head drags us down. It becomes impossible to free the length of the spine, and we brace laterally with tension. No matter what we try to accomplish, as long as the head is weighing down our body, it is nearly impossible to relax. This is why we begin by releasing the head and neck toward the sky.
In my forest clinic, I helped a local farmer with intense back pain. He asked for acupuncture and was surprised when I started treating his hips, knees, and feet. Always polite, he quietly asked me if I had forgotten where his problem was located. I explained that, while his lumbar was the focus of the treatment, the pain was partially caused by a rigid and inflexible lower body. He walked around on legs like balancing on stilts. While I could help him be pain-free for a couple of days, it would only return until he stopped damaging his back with poor movement and posture. In all honesty, I know many unscrupulous doctors who make their living by providing only short-term pain relief. It's always my goal to induce lasting change and teach clients how to heal. I explained that as long as his legs were rigid, it would be impossible for his back to relax.
I find it helpful when teaching a new skill to use an object and an activity from their daily lives. For him, we used a shovel. I asked him to press his shovel into the soil with his foot. He immediately tried to dig with a straight leg by throwing his chest downward. It genuinely looked painful, and I can only imagine how uncomfortable it would feel after a day of work. Keeping his hips and legs locked, his spine could only compress as his weight pressed down. The same thing was happening with every step throughout the day. This compaction occurs when any of us try moving one stuck area into another. Twice as much stuckness. Of course he was in pain!
Instead, imagine him leading the shovel action with the foot by slowly extending the leg and hip. This adjustment opens space in the lower body and allows the kinetic energy to travel outward instead of in. This is why leading with the ends as we train is essential. We must find out how to create more space around our center to heal the back!
I asked him to try to pull the shovel out of the soil without taking his weight off of it first. Of course, it was impossible. As Master Zhicheng says, "You can't get there from there." Sometimes you need to learn how to release the weight and return to a neutral posture before starting a new movement. Otherwise, you simply run into your own stagnation and make it worse. We have to start fresh each time, first releasing accumulated tension and allowing the body to open. Only then can movement go through the body, rather than simply slamming into it.
I spent months helping him learn to move correctly. Of course, we also practiced warming up, lifting and bending appropriately, moving more slowly, using better shoes, proper diet and sleep cycles, using heat and liniment, etc. These are all methods that I will discuss in greater detail in other videos. After a few months, he was pain-free and far healthier than when he began. Over the years, he brought his whole family to the clinic for treatment. So much fun!
You'll need to follow these same principles in sequence during your qigong journey. Before softening your lower back, you must first free it from all of the outermost restrictions. Soften the neck to release the head's weight upwards, unbowing your tree. Soften-long outward across your shoulders, outward to your fingertips, to remove some of the bonsai wire wrapped around your structure. Let the chest and shoulders go, relax the lower back and belly, and allow the tailbone to hang. As that weight drops through your soft legs to the ground, your core finally has the space to decompress. A new level of healing begins at that moment. You will have planted your roots deeply into the Earth, and will be free to grow and reach into the sky.
The Next Step:
We will spend lots of time exploring these postural relationships in detail in the lessons ahead. First, spend a while emphasizing freeing the neck. Let me say that differently. Continue your practice normally, with a gentle awareness of the cultivation of softness in that area. Avoid becoming obsessive or hyperfocused. Always keep your mind quiet and your heart peaceful. The following lessons will include descriptions of a seated posture and a new style of meditation. You've learned so much!
Record yourself doing the Snake & Turtle form and the basic standing posture from all angles. If possible, have your practice partner point out mistakes that you might be making as you practice. Again, pay special attention to notice your neck and shoulders' relative position and freedom. Do you find yourself looking down as you practice? Do you tighten your jaw or make faces? You'll be amazed at how much insight you will gain from observing your form. It's also an excellent opportunity to practice being gentle and accepting of yourself. After all, gentleness manifests as wisdom, and acceptance is the beginning of peace.
Share your progress with the community in the comment section, and journal about what you notice in the video. Practice extending kindness to others posting since it's often easier than being immediately kind to ourselves. We can get better at being loving, too!
One day at a time, we grow and heal.
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
Ready to train? Follow along with traditional practice sessions
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