Note: this is a guest post by Heidi Magnus, a long-time student of Flowing Zen Qigong, and a qigong teacher in her own right.
Internal power is a captivating and compelling force. But what is it, really?
In movies, we’ve seen the hero who cultivates internal power before running up buildings and flying through the air. This fictional scenario is obviously romanticized, but we’ve all heard about the man who lifts a car off his nephew or the woman who fights off a polar bear with her bare hands. People with zero training can exhibit incredible, if momentary, power.
What’s happening here? Is it adrenaline? Is it accessing a power bigger than ourselves? Is it the single-minded focus? Is it the force of 30 trillion cells recruited for a single purpose? Is it releasing mental, physical, and emotional barriers and aligning for action? Maybe it’s a combination of all that?
Many people dream of building internal power that they can summon at will. But before we strive to gather more internal power, let’s take stock of what we already have on hand.
Each of us already has a certain level of internal power that comes from our training, yet it is not fixed. Our internal strength in any given moment is the result of our genes, our life experiences, and our training. We influence our internal power through our habits of movement, thinking, and spiritual connection.
We build internal fortitude through any practice that brings us back to our center – qigong, yoga, prayer, journaling, and quality nourishment of all kinds.
In Qigong, some of the most potent methods of building significant internal power are Sinew Metamorphosis and Zhan Zhuang (the Warrior Stances).
And yet, we often squander this kind of power. We may not believe that we are capable of wielding power. We may have watched with horror the damage we’ve caused by using our power unskillfully. Although we crave more power, we don’t trust what we possess. Contemplating our own power can be frightening.
Giving Away Power
We also give our power away. We give up before we start. We adopt a helpless victim mentality.
We drain our energy by focusing on minutiae that just don’t matter. We scatter our energy by looking for the next great exercise, teacher, or philosophy rather than focusing on a few and taking the time to observe the results of our practice.
We give power to our teachers. Looking to a teacher for direction is great, but sometimes we forget that wisdom and confidence come from doing our own work through practice, experimentation, and observation. Often we trust our teachers more than we trust ourselves.
When we give our power to our teachers, some will happily take it. Other teachers simply lob it back to us with the gentle reminder that our inner wisdom and experience matters – especially when it comes to our own health and personal practice.
Trauma and Power
What else influences our internal power? Tension, trauma, and injuries all block the free flow of energy.
We can’t explore the full potential of our internal power without addressing these. But, we need a subtler technique for releasing these blockages than the blunt force approach that is often used.
It may not be helpful, for example, to perform deep tissue massage on our psoas in order to release it. In fact, actively targeting our armored places may cause them to lock down further. These deep tissues can hold a lot of tension and trauma, the trick is to release them without re-triggering ourselves.
By practicing qigong, we can gently reclaim our power while also building new internal power. I have 3 theories that intertwine:
- During our qigong sessions, we are “flossing” through deep and elusive regions of the body that refuse to be targeted directly. By mobilizing the nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments, interstitial channels, fascia, etc. that thread through these deep regions, we free up blockages from the inside out. Removing these blockages opens up access to internal & external reservoirs of energy.
- Qigong helps us unlearn the learned helplessness that comes from our injuries, pain, and trauma. If we pay attention, we see that movement matters and we can make a difference when we choose to move. Gentle movements invite us to explore a wider range of motion. We rediscover our balance and alignment. Qigong reminds our body of its internal power in a visceral way. We shrug off our helplessness and embrace our power.
- A muscle that is only used for tension or clenching loses its internal power. We can access untapped potential by using our muscles for something other than holding tension. We honor our body by putting unused (or misused) muscles back to honest work, and allowing it to move freely, spontaneously, intentionally, and purposefully. We learn nuance by taking our tissues through a full range of tension, flexion, and relaxation.
I have felt the very physical, often dramatic release of stuck, trapped, and compressed tissues through nerve flossing and myofascial therapy. This release (and the resulting increase in blood circulation, lymph flow, range of motion, etc.) resets tissues that have been commandeered for tension, gripping, and armoring, and reminds them of their true functionality.
I believe this gliding, flossing, and release happens deeply throughout the body when we practice qigong. For those generally opposed to flossing, the good news is that you don’t have to floss all your teeth – just the ones you want to keep.
Similarly, you don’t have to floss all your traumas and stuck places, just the ones you want to release. Qigong’s unique method of release feels both gentle and safe when we practice with awareness and self-compassion. With practice, we gain courage and a nuanced understanding of our internal states.
With Sinew Metamorphosis and the Warrior Stances, we mindfully gather this energy and cultivate it within us – so it’s there when we need it.
Huge stores of internal energy, earth energy, and cosmic energy become accessible through our energy gates when we take back our power and remove our blockages to energy flow.
Internal power can be cultivated by anyone. However, many people squander or give away their power and may need to address tension, trauma, and injuries that block the free flow of energy. Practicing qigong can be a gentle way to release blockages, unlearn learned helplessness, and rediscover internal power. By taking back our power and removing blockages to energy flow, we can access huge stores of internal energy, earth energy, and cosmic energy, and cultivate it within us, so it’s there when we need it.
Heidi Magnus has practiced and taught qigong for many years. She has been a student of Flowing Zen since 2020. Heidi’s first career was as an environmental scientist and she still enjoys applying the scientific method and observation skills to all aspects of life. Heidi is fascinated by finding connections between ancient wisdom and current research in neuroscience, psychology, physiology, and well-being.