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If you are looking to get started in Qigong, I not-so-humbly recommend you start with our own free lessons in Chi Development (click here). These lessons will give you a good introduction to chi development through Qigong, with both Qigong exercises and Tai Chi movements being a part of our chi work.
But no matter where you decide to start as a Qigong beginner, here's the most important piece of advice I can give you. As a matter of fact, it is so important that it has become a "training rule" in our courses.
This training rule is important for you to get just about every benefit you can get from Qigong. But it's especially important when it comes to benefits like flexibility, balance, and range of motion.
One of my first "online" students in the early 2000's was Clifton Jackson. Though Clifton start with my Level 1 "beginner's program", he was not a beginner. He was an experienced Tai Chi student who decided to try our program to see if we could help him improve his practice and see greater results.
After he started my online program, he wrote me this email:
From: Clifton Jackson
To: Al Simon
Subject: Big Wins!!!
Hello, This is Clifton Jackson, I bought your ChiFusion course. I'm having some Great success with Level 1 right now. I have completed the 'Wuji stance, Rise Heels, Hold the Sky, Look backwards and the first part of Touch Heaven and Earth.' My Tai Chi form has improved greatly...No one has to tell me this, I can 'Feel' it!!!!
My overall movement is Wider, I'm more Open, I'm much smoother, more flexible, I have better balance, I'm in more control of my body and I'm having Great FUN!!!
Yeah, I'm getting some results, just like you promised!!!!
"I'm much more flexible" - we hear that from Qigong students in our program all the time, both those who are Qigong beginners as well as more experienced students.
So why does our Qigong program produce results in flexibility - even for experienced students like Clifton? And how can you get those results, whether you are a "complete beginner" or an experienced student who practices a different style of Qigong?
When it comes to getting the most benefits from your practice, it's not so much about "what" you practice but "how" you practice.
And I'm about to give you one of the biggest "Qigong beginner" secrets to improve how you practice.
Nearly every high quality Chi master and senior instructor that I've encountered over the last 20 or 30 years teaches some variation of this one important practice rule.
Without this critical practice secret, Qigong can actually make beginning students less flexible than before they started! To make matters worse, many run-of-the-mill instructors often fail to include this practice rule in their courses, books, and videos.
I first encountered a variation of this practice rule while I was learning Junan Taiso , a Japanese form of yoga-like body conditioning, back in the mid-1980's. However, this rule comes not from Japan or China, but from Western sports medicine.
Sports physiologists have identified a "protection mechanism" that actually works against your attempts to improve flexibility - whether you practice Western stretching, yoga, Qigong, Tai Chi, or any other form of exercise.
This protection mechanism is called the "stretch reflex." The stretch reflex works this way. Let's say you are doing some form of stretching. You begin a stretch that lengthens a muscle in your body. (It doesn't matter which muscle, because the protection mechanism works the same for all of the major muscles.)
At first the muscle lengthens and extends nicely as you stretch. However, as you start to approach 80% to 100% of the total amount your muscle can stretch, your body, and specifically your nervous system, begins to sense that you may be approaching its limits, and may possibly be in danger of passing the limits by overstretching.
In order to protect you from injury, the nerves in your body send a signal to the muscle not only to stop stretching, but to contract and tighten the muscle rather quickly. With this "stretch reflex" signal, your body is attempting to prevent you from injuring yourself as you continue to stretch the muscle.
Of course, if you continue to stretch, you will injure yourself, but the injury will be less severe than if the muscle had not contracted. What this means is that if you consistently stretch a muscle to 80% to 100% of its range every time you practice, you are teaching your body to shorten and contract your muscles when you practice. Over time, if you consistently stretch to 100%, you will become less flexible than if you hadn't stretched at all - just the opposite of what you want! In addition, you may gradually cause permanent, irreversible damage to the muscle by consistently stretching it to its limit.
Sports medicine has identified that the optimal range of stretch for any given muscle is approximately 60-80% of its full range. So if you consistently stretch at this 60-80% level, you will increase your flexibility over time.
While this "optimal range" concept originally applied to just muscular stretching, many Qigong masters have applied this rule to all aspects of Qigong with excellent results. As far as I know, B. K. Frantzis, in his book Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, was the first to document the importance of what he called "the 70% rule" and its application to all aspects of practice.
In our courses, we describe this important practice rule this way:
The 70% Rule for Qigong and Chi Development
ESTIMATE YOUR GREATEST ABILITY to perform any given exercise, then practice at only 70% of that maximum level.
For example, if we ask you to bend over and reach towards your toes, and you know that you can only reach as far as your ankles, well, your ankles would be your 100%. So you should only reach down to your knees or shins.
Apply this 70% rule to everything: how far you stretch; how many repetitions you do; how long you practice in a given session. Any type of straining represents 100% or more, wasting energy and causing injury. And if you are injured or hurt, go only 40% or less. Practicing at the 40% or less level will give your injury the time and energy to heal without aggravating it.
The 70% Rule applied to the Spinal Stretch from our Program
Through our work with various Tai Chi and Qigong masters, and in working with our students during the last 20 years, we also found an important corollary to this 70% rule. It is what we call the Balancing 70% Rule of Qigong practice.
In our beginner's program, we first describe this rule while learning the Qigong exercise Looking Backward. Looking Backward is a simple Qigong pattern that is great for the head, neck, and tops of the shoulders. Many of these areas become frozen or stiff after long hours of sitting, especially at a computer. The simple neck turn of Looking Backward can help loosen and relax the muscles, tendons, and vertebrae in the neck and shoulders.
The Balancing 70% Rule - An Example from Looking Backward
Please keep in mind the 70% rule when you practice. Use this rule for the amount of time that you practice and how far you turn your neck from side to side. Also remember to keep to 40% or less if you are injured or compromised in any way, especially with a neck injury, throat problems, head injuries, tinnitus, or thyroid conditions.
If one side of your neck is more stiff than the other, keep within the limits of the stiffer side on both sides. For example, let's say your 70% limits (or your 40% or less limits if injured) are that you can turn 60 degrees from the center to the left, but only 30 degrees to the right. Then you should turn only 30 degrees to both sides.
This will allow both sides to eventually balance and get stronger. If you ignore this balancing rule, the strong side will get stronger, but the weak side will continue to get weaker. In Tai Chi and Qigong, however, we try to work on our weaknesses with the goal of balancing both sides.
We consider the Balancing 70% Rule so important that we introduce it within the first two lessons of our beginner's Qigong and Tai Chi program. Without this important rule, you will be hampered in the benefits you receive from your practice, and you'll waste a lot of time performing Qigong inefficiently. Without this one simple rule, your Qigong will gradually decrease your flexibility and range of motion over time. And who would want that from their practice?
So if you are a beginner (or an experienced student) who wants to rev up the benefits from Qigong, as well as to virtually ensure that you get the "body opening" benefits from your practice, just follow the Balancing 70% Rule. Just like many of the details in our course, these principles can be applied to your Qigong practice, no matter what style you are learning.
You have my best wishes for health, well-being, and Chi Development,