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Of Mountains and Plateaus

Alpine mountain with flowers and blue sky
Each plateau in our training precedes another increase in skill.

When I was still in acupuncture school, I worked at a local health food store that sold supplements. Every afternoon, just after Dr. Oz was over, the phone would start ringing with people asking if we carried whatever silver bullet he happened to be touting on that particular episode. I still remember some guy walking into the store and asking, “so what’s the newest thing for weight loss?” I must have been particularly tired of that question on that day. I flashed a big smile and said, “did you hear? Diet and exercise!” Even in my acupuncture practice, I get people who think one treatment is going to shift 20 years of illness and/or bad habits. Come to think of it, I thought the same thing the first time I had acupuncture. Turns out the silver bullet was time, consistent qigong practice, deep personal work, and the desire to heal. Effective, but not the most glamourous material for the Dr. Oz show.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how some of the most dramatic healing of physical pain can take place pretty quickly. Sometimes, tackling emotional pain and negative attitudes takes longer. In qigong, and in kungfu practice too, students often see dramatic results in a relatively short period of time. After a little while, these results often plateau out for a while, leaving them to think, ‘is this it?’ The plateau can be a place where students become either complacent or discouraged with their practice. Thinking they’ve gotten as far as they’re going to get with it, their regular practice starts to drop off. Gradually old habits start to creep back in until they’re either back where they started or pretty close. Being able to gauge your progress regularly helps keep you motivated when you hit these plateaus. Because you have a really clear idea of where you started from, you continue to be encouraged even when your progress levels out for a bit.

In my years of training, I’ve hit enough plateaus to know that rather than get discouraged, it’s just time to keep showing up for practice and trust what comes. Training qigong, kungfu, or any skill that takes time to develop, is a marathon, not a sprint. There are great moments in those first few miles. There are miles afterwards that seem to go on forever where everything hurts. Then you get another wind and feel invincible. As we advance while training energy and spirit, we need those plateaus as resting spots to prepare us for the great leaps forward to come. You don’t lift weights every day if you want to build muscle, you have rest and recover days. This is how you get strong. Honoring the plateaus as those resting spots before more change and progress helps mind, body, and spirit get strong.

If you’ve been training for a while and feel like you’re in a rut, first evaluate your practice. Make sure all of the basics are correct. Make sure you’re upright and relaxed, that you’re really entering a qigong state of mind, and your form is correct. If something needs correcting, fix it. But if that’s all good, keep carrying on, keep showing up. Keep smiling from the heart. Before you know it, you’ll be looking back again, joyful and amazed at how far you’ve come.

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