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  • Writer's pictureJohn Blue

Movement Through Letting Go

In the last few lessons, we experimented with tension to understand how we grip our bodies and minds. We described that letting go is not a doing but a don'ting. With this new understanding, you can learn to soften open your body more easily. Accomplishing that, you've just unlocked a new possibility for your practice! We will learn to generate activity through release instead of forcing movement and clenching the body. 

I grew up in Southern California and spent some of my youth on the beach. Every local kid learned to ride the waves without expensive gear in a sport called body surfing. It's totally fun, and I recommend trying it if you enjoy jumping into the ocean.  Body surfing is relatively easy to learn. Float in the water near the shore, where the waves begin to break. By joining with the speed of the swell and by allowing the water to shape your body, the wave will carry you forward. The trick is to continually fall into the empty space in front of you without losing the support of the flow from behind. We call this the "Sweet Spot." Guiding the powerful expression of the wave through your body and into the open space. As long as you don't try to resist the flow and fight the ocean, you can ride that white-water all the way to the shore. Remember this image because practicing qigong can be very similar to surfing in the California sun.

Let's try an experiment: Lift your shoulders to your ears and hold them for a moment. Now imagine pushing yourself out of a Hollywood swimming pool, pressing your shoulders down using your side muscles. That's one way to move your shoulders back down. Let's do it again. Lift your shoulders toward your ears and hold them there for a moment. This time, simply release the tension holding them up and allow your arms to fall back down. How are these two movements different? They both moved your shoulders down, but in very different ways and with very different outcomes. 

Next, pull your chin down and toward your chest using the muscles in your throat. Hold it there momentarily, noticing the tension and constriction. Now, release your head into a neutral position. This time, relax the back of your neck and allow your head to drop due to gravity, softening, and opening without compressing your throat. How do these two head movements feel different? Can you sense how they shape your neck and throat differently?

It's tricky, but I want to help you feel the difference between movements of your body that occur through a softening and lengthening rather than through tension & contraction. Using gravity to push your body around is an easy way to begin exploring these feelings of movement through release. 

This time, let's try moving your hips that way. Tighten the left side of your hip and abdomen to press your pelvis out to the right, squeezing in that position momentarily. Return to neutral, now softening your hips and waist on your right side, allowing your pelvis to slip comfortably through that open space you made. Notice which one feels better. You used two methods to move your hips, but the position and experience are different for each. 

Now, we will try a slightly more tricky method, so first, let me create an image for you. Imagine a little wooden doll with tiny hinges for joints. It has rubber bands wrapping lengthwise all over its little body. They are all equally tight, so the doll's rubber bands aren't pulling in any direction. To make the puppet lean to the side, I could pull down on the rubber bands along its left side, tightening them and bending the little doll to the left. Alternatively, I could use two hands to reach the ride side and lengthen the rubber bands, tilting it to the left. Obviously, this isn't exactly a description of how our body works, but it is a helpful analogy. Our bodies are wrapped in bands of balanced tension and filled with fluid pressure. Understanding this allows us to induce new healing movements for our qigong practice. We will continue to level up and expand our possibilities for expression. 

As humans, we tend to move the way we think we should move. A simple shift in our thoughts can radically change how we interact with our bodies. That's why having images like rubber bands, oceans, or snakes and turtles can be a helpful way to uncover our hidden potential. 

Now, let's put that analogy into action. Look to your right by turning your head toward your shoulder, contracting the tissues on the right side of your neck. Hold that position for a moment, noticing the experience of gripping and shortening. Memorize how far you can turn. You are shortening the rubber bands along this side and your movement is running into those tight muscles. Return to a neutral position. This time, we will loosen the rubber bands rather than tighten them. Look to your right by slowly softening the tension along the left side of your neck, jaw, and shoulder, allowing that space to open. It may take a few attempts to get the hang of this kind of movement. Yet, most people are surprised to realize they can turn further through relaxation than during the previous try. Last time, the rotation was obstructed by the tension on your right, attempting to force the movement. We got in our own way. Instead, by softening and lengthening the rubber band along one side, we allowed the rotation to happen all on its own without blockage. I think it feels wonderfully comfortable.

Also, because we created space in the area as we relaxed, we uncovered the possibility of an entirely different fluid movement through the body. When I used to walk on the beach, I loved to drag my heel through the sand to create channels. The seawater would obediently follow my foot as it constantly filled the space I was making. I didn't move the water. I moved the sand. This is the same principle we are using in our practice. In this case, we are making space in our neck, and it is the qi that rushes into that opening. Feel the difference for yourself. Which type of movement squeezes and compresses your circulation, and which encourages and disinhibits the free flow? Which is better for your health?

As I've mentioned in other lessons, we want to learn to move through a joint, not to a joint. Yet, to move through something, there must be space for it to pass. With this new style of release and relaxation, you will open the body and begin to allow movement that travels from one end to the other without obstruction. Just be aware that places in your body that have been stuck for years will sometimes complain as they begin to open. Be gentle and take your time with this healing process. Write down the spots that seem the most troublesome in the comment section. I read all of the comments and enjoy answering your questions. The community and I can offer suggestions to help you through the most challenging training moments.

Clearly, this can be a bit difficult when you first make the attempt. Refrain from being too much of a purist about this approach. For now, mix a little bit of doing in with your non-doing. A bit of force in with your relaxation. It's all okay. If you can't feel an area letting go, using your muscles to loosen the joints is fine. As you improve, you will slowly increase the quality of your qigong and rely more and more upon this new expansive style of movement. With time, you will no longer try to move a specific body area by pushing and pulling upon it. Instead, you will create the conditions for it to be moved. Interestingly, this skill will completely change how you experience yourself in relationship with the world around you. Learning to move through the empty spaces becomes a powerful exploration!

Ask yourself: what would it mean to be able to move in every direction, through an entire qigong form, using this kind of release? This stillness within movement. How much softer and more open will you feel when every single action is generated by a deep letting go of your mind and tissues? With practice, you will feel like you're body surfing on a wave. Constantly releasing and falling through the open space, buoyant and moved along as though by a huge wave, but this time, the ocean is within you. 

What's Next?

The new phase of your training begins now! You've done excellent foundational training with this series and developed essential skills. However, before you move forward with training specific sections of your body, please review this lesson to discover your most significant challenges. Many people find that they are not actually able to feel their bodies clearly enough to relax them. To help you cultivate that ability, I will include a series of classes teaching my favorite method for training the body-mind connection. I will often share practices outside of the Snake & Turtle series that will help you cultivate skills more directly. They should be great fun!

All future techniques will be grown from your ability to generate movement by letting go and making space. As you just experienced, moving your hips to the right is not simply moving your hips to the right. The "how" is even more important than the "what." Qigong practice is more than just a sophisticated calisthenics exercise. The entire method is different, and the transformation it will create within you is exciting. Correct training will lead to good results. Incorrect training, if you are lucky, will do very little. Use this method of release to generate a body and mind that is open, spacious, and free! 

Later, when you learn to make space throughout your torso, your breath will also become part of the practice. In the meantime, please don't force your breath artificially or try to breathe in any particular way. Simply release anything and everything that is stopping the breath from moving freely. As with your joint movements, don't push or pull on the breath. Instead, create the conditions within which the breath moves comfortably on its own. Let me repeat that. Don't worry about breathing in any particular way. Also, don't hold your breath. As you practice, the movements of the form will shape the breath. If you try to breathe, you'll only get in your own way again, as with turning your neck. Also, if you start too early with breathing techniques, it's like trying to surf on a wave too soon. You find yourself fighting against the movement of the ocean, and it ends up tumbling you like a washing machine. Timing is everything as you transform your body and mind. Follow the steps, and do the proper practice at the right time. 


Continue learning what it feels like to generate movement through release. As you experienced, it's easiest to start learning about this from the ends of your arms and legs and the top of your spine. Use larger movements, like those found in the Snake & Turtle qigong set, to begin helping stuck areas in your torso open more easily. Let your limbs lengthen and open wide. If you've ever tried to disentangle an extension cord that has magically tied itself into knots, then you know what I mean. Can you imagine trying to untangle the cord while it's still in a box? It would be impossible. Pulling on the knot usually just makes things worse. You must stretch it out long and unravel it from the ends to eventually loosen the middle.  

Finally, find a little extra time to practice this week with your training partner whenever you can. Work toward developing a longer daily session. For training support, head over to my Patreon page, where I have hundreds of practice sessions available for you to follow. 

Remember, you can also enjoy daily classes with Master Zhicheng:


Many friends ask me, "When is the best time to practice qigong?" And while it may be more satisfying to hear something like, "Train each day at daybreak," it's unrealistic for most people. Instead, the wise answer is, "The best time to practice is the time you'll actually practice." Don't overthink it. Just train every day and improve.

And 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

Thank you for visiting my site! Feel free to connect: 

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Endless gratitude to my supporters on Patreon for making this possible!  

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