No pain, no ... (what's the word?)

The way I view and practice exercise has been influenced the most by my high school gym teacher.  She was a powerful firecracker in the body of a tiny, black, middle-aged woman who loved to blow her whistle and shout things like “Squeeze those Gluteals!” and “There are no powdered cream puffs here!”  Her name was (and still is) Lois Lane.  And her favorite phrase was “No pain, no gain!”

I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before.  But in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya “I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

This week, I had a painful lesson in re-learning (again) what that phrase is meant to mean, and why what it literally means is wrong.

The phrase “no pain, no gain” is usually used to encourage someone to make great effort towards a physical feat.  For example, I’m working on strengthening my abdominal muscles.  So several times a week, I hold a plank position.  About 10 seconds in, my body starts shaking and sweat begins dripping into my eyes, down my nose, and oddly enough from my elbows.  It’s not exactly what I would call pleasant, but I think to myself “no pain, no gain” (and sometimes “Squeeze those gluteals,” because somehow that helps!), and I persevere until my timer goes off seemingly LONG after 10 seconds (but probably not that long after 10 seconds).

It’s important to note that at no point am I actually in pain during this exercise.  I’m just uncomfortable as I try to extend the amount of time I’m using my abdominal muscles with effort.  I mean, I don’t know anyone who would call planking “pleasant.”

On the flip side, I’m also trying to improve my arm strength.  So several times a week, I lift weights up over my head under the guidance of a personal fitness trainer.  This week, he increased the amount of weight I was to lift, and almost immediately I noticed my right shoulder was in pain—sharp, wince-worthy, muscle clenching, fiery pain.  Unfortunately, I thought to myself “no pain, no gain,” and continued. 

Now, two days later, my arm is so sore it’s keeping me awake at night, my right hand is going numb regularly as I try to use it normally, I have less range of motion and almost no strength.  And my personal fitness trainer is upset with me for continuing to practice with pain.  I don’t blame him — I’m upset with myself too.  

And so I find myself facing several truths:

  • The right words matter.  The phrase should be “Appropriate effort (that may feel uncomfortable, but not painful) is required for gain.” 
  • Natural consequences.  If there’s pain, there will be no gain.  In fact, likely you’ll see deterioration. 
  • Everyone has their own way.  Perhaps the people around you can lift weights over their heads with no trouble at all.  Perhaps the people around you can lift more weight than you can.  Perhaps you once could lift this much weight over your head.  It doesn’t matter.  If your body says it hurts — it’s not your way. 

I’m not writing this for sympathy — I don’t deserve it, because I know better.  I’m writing this because I HOPE it will help YOU! 

Too many times in qigong sessions, I see people watching other people and trying to do more, better, or even same as everyone else.  But qigong only works if it works for you!  That means, you have to listen to what your body is saying — not what those around you are doing.  


One way Immortal Tree Qigong is different from other qigong sessions (at least ones I’ve attended) is that we spend more time on each movement.  My training, practice, and experience lead me to believe that the more you do a movement, the more you can relax into it and let your qi flow as your body needs it.  This also gives you an opportunity to listen to what your body needs to adjust from the basic movement I show.  

For example, I’m a twister.  When I do movements, I tend to twist side to side a bit.  This is just the way my body likes to move.  Perhaps your body doesn’t like that.  Perhaps your body likes to roll the spine in every movement, or emphasize alternating between standing taller and a qi squat, or moving with as much stillness as possible.  These are all correct IF—AND ONLY IF—they help you relax into the movement easier, more, faster, better.

So this week, as we continue our Autumn Metal Element Qigong series — which happens to focus on arm movements because the Metal Element meridians (for Lungs and Large Intestine) are in the arms — I’m also going to show you some variations…because I need a big variation this week so that I can honor my shoulder as it heals. 

Do you need additional variations?  PLEASE TELL ME!  I know 10,000 ways to adjust movements.    

And in the meantime, I’ll be encouraging your efforts with a new phrase, “NO PAIN, EVER!”

PS, If you’re wondering about all the words in all CAPITALS in this email, it’s my tribute to Mrs. Lois Lane, who had so much qi it came out in her voice, which sounded 10 times louder than you could have ever imagined emanating from her tiny body.