Opening or Letting Go:
How Do You Know?

Pulsing Techniques to Open the Body

Pulsing Techniques to Open the Body

Throughout the years, I’ve been asked this question in various forms, and I’ve come to realise that many students who ask it have often reached quite a profound level of practice. Of course, as with any Tao arts training, the answer lies in developing your skill with ever-more refined nei gong techniques, self-reflection and ongoing meditation practice.

To Control or Not to Control,
That Is the Question

The short answer to the question is that opening entails exerting some level of control while letting go does not. To consider the quality of difference yet deeper, we can look to the nei gong from which opening and letting go derive and how each are applied in practice.

Opening through Energy Exercises

Engaging any nei gong method initially requires a struggle session—whether it’s in developing skill using a particular technique, a body part or integrating that knowledge into the system as one whole. Once some degree of faculty is established, then you can reduce your effort. This is the point when you can focus on relaxation and release your nerves, thereby unlocking the mechanisms to gain greater control.

For example, in the beginning, lengthening the soft tissues is normally only achieved through much effort and persistence. You must feel and observe what is happening. Once you are satisfied that something is happening, then you can put in less effort for the same result…and relax. Relaxation is precisely what allows deeper access to and finer control of the body. In time and if you can relax progressively more through ongoing energy arts practice, it becomes possible to gain deeper and deeper access to your body’s soft tissues.

Of course, even in early stages of training, strict adherence to the Rule of Thirds, which dictates not to exert more than two-thirds of our maximum effort to keep the mind, body and/or qi energy from becoming too rigid and subsequently shutting down. When the nervous system detects any signs of stress or tension, it will bind and certainly not release. On the other hand, if you don’t break through the struggle session, nothing will accrue except external movement. The sweet spot lies in reducing, reducing and reducing your effort until you begin to gain access to and control over a particular nei gong energy exercise.

In this sense, lengthening of the soft tissues is a form of opening, but only insofar as it is opening the outer casing of the body and muscular frame. To fully understand the difference between opening and letting go, we must go a little deeper into the body.

Losing All Sense of Effort

Once the soft tissues are lengthened to some degree, then you can tune into the opening-and-closing rhythm of the joints, cavities and beyond. With the soft tissues released, the task of amplifying the pulse becomes much more possible and, again, requires less effort. Pulsation still requires intention and effort, but with a very gentle approach. You need a framework to affect it, but it does not manifest from an intense focus or use of any force or strain in any way. Letting go does not necessitate this framework and, in fact, must supersede it.

As you continue training, clearing out deeper layers of tension and softening off the hard edges in your nervous system more and more, you will naturally apply less physical effort to perform any nei gong exercises on which you choose to develop. In time and with sustained practice, your intention can penetrate your flesh to the point that you don’t need any muscular activity at all—for example, you simply apply your mind’s intent to engage the pulse or lengthen the soft tissues.

Nei gong science dictates that:

  • The mind moves qi energy;
  • Qi energy moves the fluids; and
  • The fluids activate the soft tissues.

So if you can grab qi with your mind, then you can direct the body with your intention alone.

Developing the skill to affect this chain of command nearly breaches the realms of letting go. Even though there is a containment field in which you are operating (i.e. the form, modified by the Rule of Thirds and the internal nei gong content that imbues that form with power), the quality of the opening has lost any sense of effort.

Letting Go Is a State of Mind

Therefore, from one perspective, letting go is a more advanced method of opening. Although pure letting go is a state of mind, which is normally developed through meditation and later applied to higher-level energy arts training (as well as any aspect of life). When you achieve this state of being—where the mind can truly let go—your energy and body will open to its natural state and expand as there will be nothing in your system drawing in or causing a contraction. This is why the prime directive of any pure Taoist discipline is open: open the body, open the qi and open the mind.

I’d be interested in continuing this discussion on opening and letting go with you. Please leave a comment below with your experiences, if you’d like to participate.

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9 thoughts on “Opening or Letting Go:
How Do You Know?

  1. Hello ,

    I understand what Paul means… Sometimes when I want to grab something with my hand , it’s like my arm is moved by some kind of magnetic force so that I don’t need to use my muscles that much. When practising qi gong the ratio QI-fluid/muscle varies depending on movements , state of mind , how relax I am…but generally speaking I have to use between 70 % and 90% of physical strength…anyway it is there and disappears…difficult to maintain the connection continuouly..

    Good practice to you all

    Xavier

    • That will come with ongoing practice, Xavier, so just keep at it. Also, developing the four primary skills of meditation would be very useful for maintaining a continuous stream of concentration–not only in qi gong, but anything you do. We’ll be playing with these aspects of practice a lot in South France, so it’ll be interesting to know what changes you notice, if any, after a week’s immersion!

  2. Would love to learn more. I was once told that power comes from the space between the joints. Somehow the pulsing, relaxing plays into this.

    • To some degree, yes, but pulsing the joints is only a first step–eventually you can develop the skill to pulse the cavities, entire muscular-skeletal frame and energy anatomy, and these stages are where real power is derived. However, you must shed the bulk of the tension that resides in your physical body before you can develop qi power. Otherwise, it’s like trying to run water through a kinked hose. Qi gong, with its soft, gentle and repetitive motions, releases physical and qi blockages exceptionally well by unwinding the soft tissues, increasing fluid production (blood, interstital, synovial, etc.) and lulling the mind into a state of let go. I’ve posted a few articles on the subject of the pulse (opening and closing techniques) and how it yields incredible power, e.g. see http://www.circlewalking.com/2031/learn-tai-chi-exercises/.

  3. Thank you for that helpful article!
    Through the last retreat in Crete and your corrections I noticed a shift in my personal practice.
    The circle of effort to stretch open and using relaxed intent to get more internal made my movements relaxed and took me eventually to deep chi blockages in my forearms and chest.
    When I contact those energetic tensions with my mind the effort to stay there in a relaxed way and to release that chi by using opening and closing is pretty exhausting.
    Is that “new” effort caused by tension in the nervous system being not capable to deal with the experience or is it the blockage itself that needs effort to get released?
    Using effort makes me feel something is happening, while trying to let go into the opening and closing and staying connected to the blockage makes me feel stunned.
    Does that interplay between effort to open and relaxed intend to release the tension in the soft tissues apply in the same way to chi blockages revealed by those practices?

    • I’m glad you’re getting some positive results from your training, Sebastian. It seems you’ve made the next jump in your capability and capacity.

      You say when you contact these deeper energetic blockages with your mind that it’s difficult to remain focused in a relaxed way, and to release the qi through opening and closing is exhausting. Two things here: 1) The mind doesn’t want to deal with the negative content of the body and looks for any excuse to dissociate from the process. 2) You’ve been conditioned to focus and concentrate through strength of will rather than relaxation. So until you develop the ability to become present to the blockage through relaxation, you will always need to use effort. The exhaustion is indeed bound energy being released from the nerves, so no effort is needed to release the blockage–quite the opposite. The softer you go, the more you will release; this is the direction of letting go.

      It feels like something is happening because you’re feeling strength (as in the technical term, that is one of the four experiences of a blockage). The feeling of being stunned seems to me to be the emotional content in the blockage, which could be the underlying cause of why that blockage is in your body in the first place. However, it could also be much deeper, such as psychic or karmic in nature. With practice all can reveal itself to you.

      Finally, your final question is a sticky wicket: there are many possibilities in the realms of qi. Let’s discuss this on retreat in South France next week because we must be totally clear when discussing the finer qualities at this level of the game. I’d rather err on the side of caution than give you a quick answer here.

      Hopefully this is helpful in the meantime!

  4. Hi paul Ty here, i would like to ask when doing kwa squats do you, before rising squeeze your anus tightly. I find doing this is a better squat,it engages the leg muscles more,

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