Posted by Paul Cavel on 21 June 2017
In my last post, I offered exercises for opening your musculoskeletal frame in a coordinated fashion to create space in your body. As you begin to feel a sense of space, you want to transition your focus from your muscles to your nerves, which means backing off quite a bit from all extensions and stretches. How far? Well, that is a very individual matter. You’ll have to play with your range of motion, looking to stay within a comfortable stretch in your soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia) so as not to activate any resistance in your nerves. However, the range of motion that is comfortable for soft tissues is usually far greater than that of the nervous system.
Qi Gong Exercise
Step 1: Find the Sweet Spot
To find the sweet spot for your nerves, spend 10 minutes or so lying down on a comfortable surface while practising focused belly breathing. Allow yourself to become as relaxed as possible.
Step 2: Focus on Your Eyes and Nerves
Once you’ve achieved a very easy, relaxed state, slowly and gently stand up and practise the first move of a qi gong set (such as the first move of Dragon and Tiger Qi Gong or Cloud Hands) or Beginning Form, the first move of tai chi forms. Choose a movement you know every well, so you don’t have to think about choreography. I don’t recommend practising bagua as it can fire up bodily systems.
As you repeat the form movement, focus on one or two points—both, if possible:
- Releasing your eyes – let all tension, all images stream out of your eyes.
- Directly release your nerves.
The eyes and nerves are inextricably linked, so the eyes can serve as a doorway to the nerves—either exciting or helping to calm nerve signals. (Soon, I’ll post a practice with more details for releasing the eyes but, for now, just have the sense of softening your eyes and letting go.)
Repeat the qi gong or tai chi move several times, maintaining as much internal content as you can without allowing your nerves to become excited. You don’t want to fire up your nervous system at any part of the movement. If your eyes start to harden or your nerves or muscles start to contract in any way, you know you have gone past your two-thirds comfortable range.
You’ve got to stay within your two-thirds effort to let your body know you want it to relax.
Once you feel you’ve practised enough repetitions and that you have the idea—without hitting any kind of internal resistance in body, mind or energy—take a break.
Step 3: Go BIG!
Practise the same qi gong or tai chi move several more times. However, this time return to your normal, larger range of motion and degree of intent.
Notice what happens to your nervous system.
- Does it harden or tighten to some degree?
- Do your eyes become fixated or intense?
- Do you find your breathing is intermittent or erratic?
Whatever the differences are, just make note of them. In the future, you can use these indicators to determine the appropriate range of motion for practice that targets your tissues versus your nerves.
Step 4: Let Go of Building Tension
Finally, return to either a sitting or lying down position to release any tension you may feel in body/flesh, mind or qi from exceeding your two-thirds of effort. It’s usually not a case of whether it happens, but rather when it happens.
Once released, practise your qi gong or tai chi movement while staying well within your nervous system’s comfortable range. Try to maintain as much internal content in your form as possible.
I’d recommend devoting at least a whole month to playing and finding your two-thirds line, then training your ego to stay behind it. Instead of only using only one movement, you also want to practise your entire qi gong or tai chi form. However, for the first few days, just use one movement to make sure you can actually get a sense of your two-thirds limit and so as not to overexcite your nerves. Eventually, you want to apply this methodology to all of the internal arts you train. It’s a great way to release lodged tension in your body, layer by layer, increase the capacity of your nervous system and train your body to let go of—rather than hold onto—harmful stress and tension.
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In upcoming posts…
I’ll offer more specific exercises for going even deeper inside to release bound tension and use the space you have created in your body in following posts. Take it nice and easy, and have fun!