Varieties of Qigong
In the last lesson, I discussed a few possible ways to understand Qi, a metaphor to describe emotionality, and even exposed myself as a tea addict. Today, I'll explore a spectrum of qigong methods and the importance of choosing appropriately.
As a child, I was very unhealthy and anxious. After skipping high school to begin college, I hid behind an identity of "gifted" to feel secure. I only chose classes that wouldn't expose my fears to the adults. Of course, this meant that I didn't learn anything new. It's only vulnerability that allows growth to occur. Luckily, a kindly music professor shook me out of my comfort zone. By helping me understand my need for bold expression, I developed a love for jazz improvisation. Suddenly, I was motivated to challenge myself and improve as a musician, but I didn't know where to start. At that moment, he demonstrated the first genuine diagnostic and prescription skills I'd ever experienced. By listening to a student's performance, he would point out the weaknesses of specific skills. Then, crucially, he would tell them exactly how to improve. Like a mind-reader performing magic, he would even name our favorite musicians. How could he understand us so completely?
Three decades later, I have found that I can perform the same skills in the clinic. By watching them move, it's easy to see where they have pain or weakness and how to correct the imbalance. When I walk into a qigong conference, it's possible to notice different flavors of skill. Some people obviously have trained long hours in standing posture. Others have done Bagua Zhang or a particular style of Taijiquan. Each system makes a distinct change that's important to understand. If every internal practice accomplishes something different, how can you know which is right for you?
This confusion is why a qualified doctor and expert is essential! If you have unique health requirements, you must seek personal attention. No recorded program can discuss all aspects of healing. However, I will endeavor to provide careful lessons and a strategic plan to help you improve in a balanced, safe, and thorough manner. Remember that any qigong method should be as comfortable as possible and suited to your individual capabilities. Please be gentle with yourself, and remember that it's okay to display your weaknesses as often as your strengths.
As with music, there are thousands of distinctive qigong styles, each accentuating an elemental quality. The Snake & Turtle sequence emphasizes the nourishment and circulation of the back. It is an exceptionally well-balanced daily practice that leaves you feeling invigorated & soft. Some systems might emphasize specific medical therapies, such as digestive or emotional imbalances. Others may train athletic skills for fighting or running, ethical cultivation for integrity or communication, or mental states for memorization or meditation. If you have a specialized interest, there is a method for you. The world of qigong is endlessly fun and fascinating!
Once you find a system that enhances your life, take time to learn that technique. Three months of sincere practice is a minimum for investigating a new method. Like a beginner constantly switching musical instruments, hopping from one routine to the next will keep you from developing proper skills. Take enough time to learn what it has to teach, and invest in patient cultivation, following appropriate methods.
It's also vital to recognize that certain practice styles are safer than others. In general, seek techniques that leave you feeling peaceful rather than charged up. Trust instruction to do less rather than more, to explore softness rather than force, methods that quiet the mind instead of pushing the intent, and systems emphasizing the cultivation of energy centers within the lower half of the body rather than those in the upper half. And please, avoid teachers that make outlandish, unproven claims or who create a cultish atmosphere. There is an epidemic of fake & outright harmful practices. Please do your best to keep your wits about you!
Only investigate techniques embedded within a system of training. There should be clear instructions for you to follow as you improve. While it's true that you must attend to your body-mind as a whole, you need practical homework for daily practice. Once you know precisely which skills to develop, take the time to practice that aspect carefully. A single loving repetition is preferable to 10 disinterested circles. That being said, a single easygoing repetition is better than none!
Seek out systems that work to develop correct understanding. Learning to play the instrument comes before learning to play the composition. If I teach you a shoulder movement but not how to use your shoulder correctly, it only reinforces bad habits. Possibly even injury. If you learn a method of meditation that requires a tranquil mind, but you haven't yet cultivated stillness, you'll only generate problems. This side-effect is why I take such care to teach the system step by step. I aim to help each skill build upon the last & enable the next. Skipping ahead impatiently only delays your growth.
You may ask if it's even worthwhile to develop fancy qigong skills. Isn't it enough to merely copy the movements of a form?
Yes and no. It's perfectly acceptable to enjoy a simple movement practice. You can appreciate the fresh air, the warm sunlight, and peaceful exercise with friends. Even without much skill, this is a beautiful routine and will support your health if done regularly. After all, moving water never grows stagnant, and a hinge opened daily will never rust.
Nonetheless, there is plentiful depth and rewards within these internal methods. A teacher must show you the proper path if you want to explore them. Memorizing a posture is not enough. You must develop the relationships within the pose. Mimicking a movement is not enough. You will learn a whole new type of movement. You can do better than mere relaxation. Seek suppleness and interconnection—wholeness and harmonization of the body-mind. As within jazz, there is potential for natural and authentic expression. It will change your life, as it did mine.
The Next Step:
Many of the people practicing Snake & Turtle suffer from chronic back pain. I will discuss many of the most common causes and treatments in a series of lectures and interviews with experts. Please locate them on my webpage, and subscribe to see each new addition at:
For everyone else, the next lesson covers understanding the nature of step-by-step cultivation.
Many people have difficulty generating motivation to maintain a consistent practice. Often, when asked, they aren't clear about why they began. Such disconnection from our feelings always leads to a sense of demotivation.
Why are you choosing to practice qigong? Health? Flexibility? Culture? Balance? Tranquility? Fun? If you want to heal your back, ask yourself why. Is it that you no longer wish to be in pain? That's a great reason, but probably not the end of the process. Do you want to move more freely? Why? By asking these questions, you can begin to connect to your own system of values and a deep well of motivation.
What would living pain-free mean for you? What opportunities would be uncovered? Examine your feelings carefully. If you can tap into those rich sentiments, your practice will become filled with significance and purpose. This well of emotion gets you out of bed and eager to train.
One day, in Costa Rica, I was riding the bus to my clinic. I lived on a small farm in the mountains, and it took an hour to reach the nearest town. An older man sat next to me, and we struck up a conversation. He suffered terribly from chronic pain and hadn't found relief from pills or surgery. The medication reduced his pain but turned him into a zombie. He told me that he felt hopeless and unmotivated to continue seeking healing. Then I asked him more questions. What was it about being pain-free that excited him? It wasn't simply the lessening of discomfort but the ability to move around freely again. Why did he want freedom of movement? His grandchildren were growing up fast, and he was missing out on his chance to play with them. He wanted them to remember his love after he was gone. His eyes lit up when talking about his grandkids, and his whole physical presentation shifted. Suddenly, he was eager to keep healing.
Can you hear the shift in his incentive? When we feel driven and pressured by escaping pain, it's easy to become exhausted and demotivated. However, the journey is energizing and exciting when your authentic values guide you. These are two very different experiences, and it only requires a realignment toward nourishing our lives.
Write your values in your journal and share them with the community in the comment section.
We can help each other focus on what's truly of importance. 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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