Monday, July 25, 2011

Appreciation and Thankfulness: Journal Notes #49

Notes from my August 2007 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* Question: How do I develop "peng"?
Answer: Relax. If you try to express peng too early, then you will not be doing it internally but rather, externally. As you relax more, peng will naturally develop as the body opens.

* Question: It still takes me a while to get "set up" to sink and push up. How am I doing?
Answer: Hitting ground and peng in stance must become second nature, not something you work into. Get this as second nature first, then you can start the 24-7 practice.

* Question: Lots of people talk about opening the Bubbling Well point. I've never felt this. How can I get this feeling?
Answer: Stand, pull up toes and balls of feet. Balance on heels. Then relax down and feel. This opens the K-1 Bubbling Well using the relax principle.

* Question: What's the difference between relaxing and relaxing in formal zhan zhuang practice?
Answer: Formal stance practice engages the whole body. If you're sitting either at work, in a car, or watching TV and you're noticing tension and relaxing, you're probably only focusing on here and there, and not on the whole body and how the whole body responds to relaxing one area.

* Question: What's wrong with "Qi" and "Energy work"?
Answer: People get hung up on "Qi" and "Energy work". Focus on practicing body alignment and connection. People want the 440 volt copper lines when they don't even have the power to pass voltage through a wet cotton thread.

* Question: You've mentioned "24-7 practice". What is this?
Answer: 24-7 means practicing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, not just the 2-3 hours a day practice. It is not about relaxing a localized spot or area. Rather, 24-7 focuses on further developing the connections and moving through everyday life with connectedness. But you need to get the feeling first.
(I remember this discussion. Even though I may periodically throughout the day "check-in" with my structure or be mindful of practicing sink and push-up while standing at the kitchen sink etc., this is not the same as 24-7 practice.)

* Question: I went to an "integrated medicine" doctor and his analysis showed that I'm Yang energy depleted; Kidneys and Heart are weak. How to build Yang energy?
Answer: Stance is the king of Qi gongs. Relaxing and opening the back benefits the kidneys. Relaxing and opening and dropping the chest benefits the heart. Other exercises: Eight Pieces of Brocade. Swing arms side to side to slap kidneys. Squats (opens back).

* Question: How do I develop connecting with the other person in push hands?
Answer: You must connect within yourself first. Then simply extend the same feeling.
(In my first few years of push hands, I thought I was connecting with the other person because I could sense and feel where the push was coming from and yield to or disappear from where the incoming push was going. And I got to where I could do this very well, very quickly with another player on my level.

As I played with more advanced players, I could still sense where the push was coming from but I could not longer yield to or escape the push. Similarly, I somehow "lost" the ability to push these more advanced players, not because they yielded but because they were simply grounding my push. They had better internal connectedness than I had.)

* Question: How do you know how your practice is going?
Answer: Hang out with, go see, compare your skill to...

* Question: How can 1,2,3,4 be a practice of depth?
Answer: 1,2,3,4 is the method. However, the method has many layers and levels. For example, feet parallel for a beginner means how the feet look to the beginner. A next level might also consider how the weight is distributed on the feet. Is the weight distributed parallel? A next level might also consider how the "energy" is moving through the foot. Are the feet parallel energetically?
(Regarding "feet parallel", I've now experienced each of these layers. I've seen how my feet can be physically aligned on parallel lines but somehow "internally" they can be un-parallel and adjusted to be truly parallel. Quite amazing!)

* Question: You always say "Let go", "Relax". I don't feel like I'm doing this very well. How do I "Let go"?
Answer: Your legs are weak. You need to develop more leg strength.
(And how do you develop leg strength? By letting go and relaxing as best you can and feeling the burn in your quadracep muscles. I've learned that "letting go" is not a one time event but rather a slow, evolving process of changing the entire body.

A little relax leads to a little drop which leads to a little increased leg strength which allows a little more relax which allows a little more drop which leads to a little more increased leg strength, which allows...)
* Focus on growing the apple tree and you'll get apples. (Don't focus on how to make an apple.)
  • Alignment = tree
  • Connection = sap
  • Peng = apple
(An interesting side note. One of my school brothers is learning some nice stuff. When he focuses on punching, he doesn't notice where he's breaking the feeling of connection. When he takes focus off of punching and notices and feels the connection, then the power of his punch increases. It's quite amazing to witness! When he shifts focus to the tree and sap, then he gets a better apple.)

* Saying, "Isn't that interesting" is the internal practice of keeping focused.
(I think this note came from a discussion about what to do during stance when the "monkey mind" starts reminding me of this and that. Recognize the thought with a dismissive "Isn't that interesting." and refocus on the body.)

* Question: What should I practice? There are so many exercises. There's so much to learn.
Answer: Follow through on original intention. Stick to one simple principle. Don't bounce around like the pinball ball.

* (Read the below group of notes about thankfulness and appreciation as notes from one discussion.)

* Question: When I do stance I can feel like a forcing down. Is that relax or force?
Answer: Appreciate. Allow. Trust the process. Nurture. Trust instead of forcing the process.
* Two different frames of the same experience:
  • I get this nice stretch on this side but can't get the same on this other side. Hmm... I wonder how I can get this same feeling on this other side...
  • Argh! I can't get this feeling! This is so frustrating!
* Thankfulness. Focus on the relaxation you do have and not on the tension spots or frustration at what you don't have.

* Be thankful when nothing happens. Something doesn't have to happen.

* An appreciative tone of voice creates a feeling of nurturing and trust.

* The more you appreciate them, the more they will appreciate for you. (In reference to noticing and appreciating tensions and pains in the body.) Never ignore and don't feed the "it hurts".
(A big part of my mechanistic problem-solving, trouble-shooting lifestyle was finding the problem and then fixing it. If I couldn't find it or fix it, I'd get frustrated. I certainly never appreciated nor was thankful for problems nor approached problems as learning opportunities! This find-n-fix approach didn't work well for me when I applied it in my zhan zhuang practice. The above notes are a portion of a longer-term project to change my approach. I think this is one example of what people say that practicing zhan zhuang can change your life.)

* Many teachers make the mistake of teaching where they are at when they should teach where the student is at. Beginners need very practical advice. An advanced answer is not wrong but it will be misinterpreted by the beginner. Sometimes it's better to tell a "lie" that is true to the level of understanding of the student. Then, when the student can grasp the more advanced answer, then tell the truth.

(From my experience, beginners reading books written by masters about their master-level experience just messes up the beginner. While a master can read and understand a book by another master, the beginner doesn't even know what s/he is reading nor is aware that the novice level of understanding will completely distort and misinterpret the master-level practice.)

For example, the practice of small circulation may be a master level exercise but I don't think this is a functional exercise for the beginner who doesn't even have a rudimentary level of relax and open and feeling of kinesthetic connectedness.)

* After you feel the fascial connection, then you can start bending the rules/methods which have grounded you to this point.
(I think this is an example of lies and truth. In truth, you don't have to maintain your structure (as in the Wujifa 1,2,3,4 ; 1,2,3,4) to maintain connection and peng. I've seen my instructor contort his body into some pretty messed up positions and he still maintains connection and cannot be pushed. However, telling this truth to a beginner will not help his/her development. So it's better to "lie", to say what is true at the level of understanding of the student because this will best serve the student where s/he is at that time.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: No Shortcuts: Journal Notes #48
Next article in this series: You Can't Force Relax: Journal Notes #50

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.

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