Monday, April 9, 2012

Body Mind Sticky Spots: Journal Notes #86

Notes from my January 2011 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.)

* In this class, we reviewed many of the Wujifa exercises:
  • The Yan Gaofei wrist, elbow and arm circles
  • Hip circles
  • Leg circles with foot drag
  • Side-to-side
  • Advanced side-to-side
  • The Chen Xiaowang side to side
  • Head roll down exercise and with breathing

* Question: How does the dan-tian move the kua?
Answer: This is not a useful question. If you can't notice how the kua and dan-tian work, then you need to work on other areas first. If you don't do this, then you will force a wrong movement. You will think you've got it and only ingrain a useless and wrong structure.

Get the back open first to feel the ming-men and THEN get the kua to open and moving freely and THEN the dan-tian movement shows up naturally. Therefore, talking about the dan-tian and ming-men when you are not there yet is misleading and therefore useless. Talk without functional feeling doesn't help people get it. Teaching about these areas before the student is practicing at that level is a way of keeping students lost.

* Most people hold tension just above the pubic bone. (The area that is about three to four fingers above the pubic bone.) Most belly breathers don't breath low enough to release the tension held in this area. Most people only expand their bellies where it's comfortable - where there isn't a lot of tension. You really need to practice releasing the tension where you can't feel it. This is an easy area to see in a mirror. Go look. Belly breath. You'll notice this area is not moving. Relax that area and breath into it too.

* Question: How will I know when my muscles have relaxed, are opening and working functionally?
Answer: You will feel the weight drop into your legs and your back lengthening.

(This answer is in the context of where I was at that point in my training.)

* Zhan zhuang and other Wujifa exercises are solo practices to develop ground path. Point-to-point is a partner practice to further develop ground path. You must be accomplished in zhan zhuang before starting point-to-point or you will do it wrong.

* Question: What if I don't have a training partner? How can I practice "partner work" on my own?
Answer: Find a sapling tree. Grab the branches and push and pull. Trees have life to them and you'll be able to "dance" with it.

* Question: I'm noticing that I feel emotionally flat-line most of the time; no highs or lows. What up with that?
Answer: There are highs and lows but they're being masked. "Shen" is feeling, passion, intention grounded in emotion. If you're not living with "Shen", then you'll use "Yi" (logic) to control your "Qi". If your "Shen" is not in the right place, if you don't have your passion as your driver, then you'll drive with "Yi" and not notice "Shen". If you live by logic and shut down your passion, this keeps you emotionally "flat-line" as you say.

Me: Logically, I want to "let go" of "x" muscle/behavior pattern and feel something because I know that letting go is needed to help me develop fascial connection or "peng" but I'm stuck. It's like there is something stronger than "what I want" that is preventing me from letting go.

Instructor: Question to you then is, "What are you avoiding? What are you not feeling?" Here's an exercise. Every hour check in with your emotions and ask yourself, "What am I feeling now?" You may need to look up the emotion words to expand your verbal feeling vocabulary.

* "Peng" establishes boundaries. Weak "peng" equals weak or non-existant boundaries. Practice stance to develop "peng" and practice establishing boundaries in your everyday life to help build "peng".

* When you focus on the body, then the mind, thinking, internal auditory becomes the stress point; the point you notice as being stressful.

* Question: If I notice 100 things to correct, which one do I start with?
Answer: Start with 1,2,3,4-1,2,3,4. This method grounds a racing mind. Notice ever more subtle details.

* Question: How do I notice a "sticky point"?
Answer: Wherever you get stuck is where you're getting stuck. When you feel that, "F***, I don't want to do that." feeling, this is a good indicator of a sticky point.

However, sometimes focusing on a sticky point too long can re-inforce the sticky point, for example, focusing on it to fix or resolve it.

You can focus on a problem and how to fix the problem or you can focus in a different way. Backing off is not the same as ignoring. Check-in. Notice but don't focus with intention to fix. What you notice as the problem is often not the problem anyway. The real problem can be a few layers down. You don't notice this because you haven't developed you ability to notice and feel at that level yet.

* Question: You've mentioned "Simple Noticing" and "Complex Noticing". What's the difference?
Answer: Think of a shopping list or a check list. Simple noticing is bananas, rice, squash. Simple noticing can be refined as you notice more of the various details of each item. Complex noticing is when you get concerned about something. It's when the thinking mind kicks in with conceptually based judgements and comparisons.

* Question: You say to practice the ordinary until it becomes extra-ordinary. What's the issue with doing something special?
Answer: Ordinary and special are concepts. There really is only what is. People want special and miss the constant beauty of the ordinary. People want to jump ahead to special before they've mastered the ordinary. Wujifa focuses on the ordinary.

Don't step up your training until you are comfortable where you are. Step up to noticing more about what you're doing. Keeping your training simple too long will get you further than making it complicated too soon.

People want to race through the basic, ordinary exercises without realizing that these basic, fundamental, ordinary exercises are the key to developing high level skills.

(As I've said before, I've made more progress working these simple, ordinary exercises than when I was hastily learning one form after another.)

* Your hands have a better developed sense of feel than other parts of your body. As a method, it can help to put your hand on a sticky point to help feel into that area. Inhale and exhale and notice-feel what is relaxing with the exhale. Then, just notice the feeling. Just notice the kinesthetic.

* Regarding getting the feeling of burning in the quads, if the legs don't burn, then you're doing zhan zhuang externally. The usual problem area to look for is the placement and positioning of the pelvis.

* There's a tendency to ask "what if" questions too soon. Stick with simply noticing the kinesthetic. If you can't demonstrate a basic level of feeling, then the "what if" is meaningless monkey-mind play.

* We say, "Once you get the feeling, then get rid of the method." I realized that there is no one, single, unique "THE" Feeling. I was thinking of feeling as a noun, a thing, when I should have been thinking of feeling as an adjective or adverb. So the phrase really means,"Once you get the feeling of ____," for example, the feeling of dropping into the legs, Once you get the feeling of dropping into the legs, then just go to that feeling. Don't keep practicing the method that helped you get "the feeling".
(I struggled so long with this phrase. This revelation was a real breakthrough for me! It really helped me understand my practice in a whole new way. Sure, there is the feeling of fascial stretch and fascial connection and "peng" and ground path and internal strength and... and... and if can't first feel a simple fascial stretch, then I am in no position to feel internal strength. There are many methods and many feelings to develop on the path to: Once you get the feeling of internal strength... )

* In Side-to-Side, you need to be relaxed enough so that you feel the fascial stretch on the empty side and can release the holding and allow the stretched fascia to pull you across. If you don't feel this fascial stretch, then you are still not relaxed enough. Keep practicing.

* Question: What's the best way to practice with a mirror?
Answer: Practice in front of a mirror to provide a visual cue of what the body is doing in response to your adjustments. Feel how those corrections feel. Close your eyes. Feel. Adjust. Check in with the mirror. Does the feeling of your adjustment look the same as how you felt it? Make adjustments. Use the mirror as a temporary help. Don't get addicted to it.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Another Level of Practice: Journal Notes #85
Next article in this series: - Ph.D. Level Gong-Fu: Journal Notes #87

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

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