It’s definitely a 21st century problem.
In the old days, disciples were lucky to learn a handful of Qigong and/or Tai Chi exercises. The question of what to practice never really arose. You simply practiced everything you knew!
In the past, disciples also practiced more. A lazy practitioner would log in at least 365 hours per year, and a dedicated one might practice 1500 hours.
Now fast forward to the 21st century.
Modern students typically learn dozens of exercises. For example, in my studio, I regularly teach nearly 100 different Qigong exercises. (Click here for an article about how many exercises you need to know.)
Modern students also practice less. A typical student will log in 90-200 hours of practice per year.
This modern combination — more exercises plus less practice time — creates a dilemma for many students. What to practice?!?!
Here are some tips to help you with that dilemma.
1. Embrace the Process
First of all, understand that this is a necessary process. If you’re going to become a lifelong practitioner of Qigong and Tai Chi, then you must learn to take ownership of your repertoire of techniques, and your daily practice routine. There’s no escaping this process, so you might as well embrace it!
2. Pick What You Like
Do you enjoy Pushing Mountains? Then do it! If you enjoy it, then it’s good for you!
I tell my students to choose what to practice the way a pregnant woman chooses what to eat. She eats what she wants! And usually there’s a biological need underneath her choices. She chooses beets because they provide her and her baby with a specific nutrient.
It’s the same with Qigong and Tai Chi. When you choose exercises intuitively, you’re providing yourself with some sort of energetic “nutrient”. For example, you might chose an exercise that you like, but it just so happens to be for your back pain. You don’t need to know which exercises are good for back pain. All you need to do is choose techniques that you enjoy!
3. Pick What You Dislike
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. Qigong is large, and contains multitudes! (That’s a Walt Whitman reference for the literature geeks out there.)
Actually, it’s not a contradiction. Sometimes, you should pick an exercise precisely because you dislike it. For some of you, a specific exercise probably popped into your mind as soon as you read that.
For example, some people dislike Three Levels to Earth (a Qigong exercise that involves a low squat) because it is challenging for them. But the reason it is is challenging is because it is exactly what they need!
Don’t always pick exercises that you dislike. Just once in a while. And pay attention to how you feel afterward. You may be pleasantly surprised!
4. Set Goals
If your goal is to be able to touch your toes in 3 months, then you had better choose exercises like Drumming Kidneys, Touching Toes. If your goal is to clear emotional blockages, then you had better include the Five Animal Play. If you want to develop internal strength, then you had better be practicing the Warrior Postures.
Or, if you don’t have goals — well then no wonder you can’t decide what to practice! Folks, there’s a reason why I’m constantly emphasizing the importance of goal setting. It’s important! Get to it!
5. Use Your Intuition
The conscious mind processes about 40 thoughts per second. Meanwhile the subconscious mind processes 40,000 thoughts per second. Wrap your conscious mind around that!
Try to write poetry or compose music using your conscious mind. It doesn’t work very well. This is something that poets and musicians have known for centuries. They rely on their “muse” to help them shift from the conscious to the subconscious mind.
If you tend to be the type of person who is stuck in your head, then it’s good exercise to practice getting out of the conscious mind. The best way to to this is to choose exercises after you enter into a Zen state of mind. In other words, don’t decide what to practice until you’ve already begun to practice.
6. Ask your Sifu
Sometimes, you need a little guidance. That’s what a Sifu is for.
What are the 3 best techniques for healing my knees? What Tai Chi exercises should I be focusing on at my level of development? How often should I be practicing the Small Universe?
These are questions that your Sifu can (hopefully) answer.
7. Be Grateful
If you feel overwhelmed by all the choices, then start with gratitude. Feel grateful that, by some cosmic coincidence, these amazing, life-changing arts traveled through history, across the globe, and fell into your lap.
When a kid walks into a candy store, she doesn’t fret over all the different choices. She gets excited! She’s happy! What an amazing place a candy store is!
Be like the kid in the candy store.
8. Practice More
It’s amazing how much material you can keep in your repertoire if you practice more! How do you think I learned (and remembered) so many exercises? Because I practiced (and still practice) a lot!
This is especially true for those who practice Kung Fu (including Tai Chi Chuan). If you practice more, then it’s easy to keep all of those different forms active in your repertoire.
For those of you who are working toward your 24 Qigong exercises, you can also benefit by practicing more. If you only practice 15 minutes per day, then 24 exercises will feel like a lot. But if you practice 15 minutes 2x per day, then 24 will feel much more doable.
9. When In Doubt, Lift The Sky
If all else fails, just go Lift The Sky. It’s an amazing exercise that covers a lot of ground. It gives you a wonderful spinal stretch, it balances the energy in your 12 Primary Meridians, it calms the Monkey Mind, it reduces stress, it stimulates the immune system, and it relieves pain. Sounds pretty good to me! Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.