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How to Use The Reticular Activating System to Make Your Qigong Practice Stick

September 26, 2005 11:25 AM

I just attended an excellent one-day seminar on Getting Things Done by the productivity guru David Allen. See for more information on David Allen's programs.

Near the end of the seminar David gave one of the most useful and succinct explanations of how and why we can use the reticular activating system to lock in more effective life habits. The advice is perfect for ensuring you stick with a qigong practice.

According to David, to ensure that we automatically stick with a process or practice, we need to identify so completely with an outcome or experience these behaviors create that you must do them in order to have it.

In the case of qigong, the most general and common outcome is a feeling of gentle, energized well-being, best summed up by the technical term, "Aaaaaahhhh!"

Unfortunately, in our culture, with our general addiction to stress, our habitual feelings tend to oscillate wildly and erratically between the extremes of two other technical terms, "Aaaargh!" and "Yahoooo!"

Now, the interesting thing is that with both David Allen's process and with Qigong, the final outcome is a more balanced life with more extended periods of sustained pleasure. You'd think it would be a no-brainer that we would all automatically choose this option.

But most of us have become conditioned to choosing the wild ride of cascading chemical and hormones triggered by the fight or flight response. We end up accepting fatigue, low-grade anxiety, stress and sudden rushes of excitement followed by slumping let downs as the norm.

As David puts it, we don't see how to get and stay in a state of bliss, we barely believe it is attainable and don't feel compelled enough to make it happen.

What makes us jump out of bed when we hear our child whimper next door, but sleep through the harsher interruptions of heavy traffic? It's the reticular activating system, the part of our brain geared to brute survival that constantly prompts us to take notice of what is relevant to our safety, security and well being. The RAS prompts us to take notice of what is relevant.

What the RAS considers relevant, we focus on. What we focus on, we identify with and reinforce.

So, we establish an inner thermostat that seeks to regulate our nervous system to maintain a comfort zone. To move us back from agitated, excited and nervous to calm.

Most of us have set our internal stress point surprisingly high. We have come to accept that that is just how it is.

The trick therefore is to consciously reset our inner settings so we no longer accept high stress living as the norm.

What's the best way to create sufficient identification with the new outcome? By reprogramming our neurology through repetitive involvement with a new pattern.

Repetitive programming tools that can help us include outcome focusing, visualization, affirmations, following coaches and mentors who model the new outcome, physical engagement and acting as-if.

I frequently tell new qigong students to practice as much as possible for the first three months after learning a qigong form. An hour or more a day, every day. And to attend group classes as frequently as possible. If necessary to also read qigong books and watch qigong DVDs.

The consistent, repetitive experience of qigong practice will start to build a steady state of gentle, energized calm that we realize we are able to control. We no longer have to be victims of stress and pain.

We will develop an early warning system that will immediately alert us when we are going off-kilter, we won't like it and we are confident that we now have an effective toolkit of posture, breathing, attention and movement techniques to restore us to our preferred state of energized well-being.

Another very powerful way to affect a change in the strength of our identification with a process is through an extended immersion, like a retreat or a multi-day workshop.

If you are interested in jump-starting your ability to feel and create extended states of well-being in your life I strongly urge you to attend the upcoming three-day Unlock! seminar that I am teaching with Pavel and Steve Maxwell.

It's like getting an instant PhD in mobility, flexibility and free flowing movement.

Besides having a dramatic impact on your physical capabilities, it may catalyze a new vision for you of what you can genuinely achieve to live a life that is consistently pleasurable and high-performing. Hope to see you there!

Note: this newsletter is also being simultaneously published as my latest qigong blog entry. To read any or all of my previous 29 blog entries visit:

See all of John Du Cane's qigong resources.