Updated: May 11, 2022
Now that you've learned the basics of the form & have experience practicing, it's essential to understand the experience you want to generate. Many people are only familiar with styles of exercise that stress and exhaust the body. They think that if it doesn't cause significant discomfort, it must not be helping. Qigong will cure this misconception. For some of you, this discussion will challenge deeply held beliefs about pain and gain. Please keep an open mind to the possibility that there is healing hidden within a gentle approach.
The video of this discussion: https://youtu.be/uZ_mwgVyJKI
Let’s try an exercise:
Imagine that you have a year-long vacation arranged. During this time, your life & responsibilities magically paused, and you will have no worries whatsoever. You spend each day resting deeply, eating nourishing food, and moving lightly through a peaceful landscape. Imagine the level of softness in your body as you relax your muscles, how rested you would feel, and how vibrant it makes your body. Your mind would feel clear and alert, and your heart would be at peace. This state of vitality and ease is part of our nature, and its recovery is one goal of Snake & Turtle. How very different from the background fatigue, constant achiness, and emotional discomfort that so many of us endure.
Master Zhicheng offers a beautiful way to recognize genuine vitality:
"A spring in the step, a fire in the belly, and a sparkle in the eye."
He has been working for years with medical researchers, providing clinical evidence that qigong can significantly enrich our lives. Understanding the method of nourishing life (yang sheng, 养生) is of utmost importance on our healing journey.
Like many people pursuing healing, I spent much of my life following the wrong advice from dubious experts trying to sell me something. Sound familiar? I believed that if I only performed the secret exercises, ate the magical foods, and meditated upon the best thoughts, I would eventually feel peaceful and overcome my chronic illnesses.
What did I learn? That I cannot exhaust myself into rejuvenation, obsess myself into stillness, or trick my body into becoming nourished. Despite the salespeople's promises, the world simply does not work that way.
The years of the pandemic have been painful and revealing. My community was ground-zero for the virus within the United States. It's also true that it has been profoundly healing for many of us, creating opportunities to rest and pursue beneficial hobbies. We were surprised we felt better taking a break from our culture of overwork and ambition.
For example, I found my taijiquan practice blossoming in ways I didn't expect. For a decade, I tried to develop specific skills without success. The solution turned out to be an opportunity to sleep more than I previously allowed. The abilities arrived on their own. I finally understood my teacher's constant reminders that everything is connected. A well-nourished body-mind is a well-nourished practice. I simply needed to provide the proper conditions for the seed of my potential to grow.
Imagine that you find a tiny baby bird on the side of the road. Wanting to support its growth, you decide to share all of your favorite things. Perhaps you take it to a dance club or a music concert. Maybe you feed it your favorite dessert and watch a movie together.
How long does this little birdie survive?
This little creature demands certain conditions to thrive, which change as it grows. You would be required to develop sensitivity about its daily needs and well-being, which is just as important in our own lives. It's essential to heal and cultivate vitality by learning to listen to your body, understand your experience, and enact the appropriate response.
Within my clinic, the most commonly misunderstood imbalance has been fatigue. Many of my patients come in complaining that they want more energy. Often, the first step is to help them understand that their experience is actually known as exhaustion.
How is this different?
When we focus on craving more energy, our emphasis settles on pushing our bodies harder. We tend to use substances that keep us from feeling tired. These often include external stimulants like caffeine, exercise, and music, and internal stimulants like anger, stress, and moments of panic. These become our daily fuel, and we usually need them from the moment we rise in the morning. Ask yourself, what kind of life does this endless anxious incitement create? What kind of world is developed by people in that state of mind?
Alternatively, if we can understand the feelings as a kind of fatigue, then healing becomes possible. Now we can talk about using rest to restore our energy levels. Nearly 100% of the people I've treated for fatigue have been profoundly sleep-deprived & overstimulated. I have found this imbalance everywhere, from mansions in Hollywood to mountain farms in Central America. Healing it often demands an adjustment in lifestyle and a reevaluation of our goals. Yet, it always makes a change for the better. How would you live your life if you felt rested, at peace, and relaxed throughout the day? How would a world cultivated by those people look?
Now, let's apply this skill of healing to other imbalances.
People who want to be more flexible begin pushing and pulling on their joints to force them to open. Instead, what if we release the muscular tension around the joint that is often the cause of the stiffness? We become flexible because we are no longer in our own way.
Friends who suffer from balance issues often try to fix them by holding funny postures. However, the feelings of instability may come from a lack of grounding and a misunderstanding about movement. We discover that we become stable and sturdy by healing this initial disharmony.
Students who find that their minds & hearts are chaotic may try to compress themselves into a state of focus. They practice gripping their thoughts and feelings tighter and tighter to force a kind of order. It is infinitely better to soften and heal the aspects that are agitated in the first place. We uncover a quiet and peaceful bedrock in our nature that has been there all along.
Take careful note of the difference between exhausting and nourishing methods with you. The former will offer short-term benefits but slowly cause your body-mind to degrade. The latter will ask you to patiently change your existing ways yet allow growth and flourishing over time. Future lessons will examine these principles in greater detail. For now, try to make choices that err on the side of rest, softness, stillness, slowness, peace, gentleness, comfort, and generally doing less. Whatever aspect of our lives we pay attention to tends to become the quality that grows. I'll repeat that again. We have access to those parts of life where our attention rests, and those elements have more access to us. Choose wisely.
The Next Step:
Continue cultivating your daily practice, feeling softer and more revitalized after every session. Be kind to yourself and your training buddy. Make a little extra space in your life for stillness and deep rest. Eat delicious healthy food and take yourself a bit less seriously. None of that requires training with a master, and it's all remarkably effective for healing the body.
After exploring these healing concepts for a little while, you may move forward to learn about mistakes that will sabotage your practice.
Ask yourself: what would your life look like after a year if you were only 1% healthier and more relaxed each day? Write the possibilities down in your training journal. If you feel generous, share them in the comment section so that others may be motivated by your success and vision!
Bit by bit, the water cuts the rock. There's no hurry. 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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