Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Muscular Coordination and Fascial Body Movement

I am beginning to see the difference between body movement driven by muscular coordination and body movement that also incorporates a system of fascial connection or what might be called fascial body movement.

Internal strength as I now understand it, is expressed through fascial body movement and not through muscular coordination alone. Developing fascial body movement follows a very different path from developing muscular coordination.

Developing muscular coordination involves developing the gross and fine muscular motor skills and eye-hand coordination for a particular activity. This is the system we use, for example, to learn how to walk, write, play ping-pong, and practice some martial arts forms.

Developing the feeling of fascial body movement involves feeling fascial stretch, noticing where there are gaps in the feeling of fascial stretch, and then eliminating these gaps by linking the areas where you feel stretch to develop full body fascial connection.

In the Wujifa system, internal strength is developed following the path of fascial body movement. Wujifa focuses on developing the feeling of fascial stretch through simple, functional exercises. The core Wujifa exercise is Wujifa Zhan Zhuang with its unique structural alignment points of 1,2,3,4 - 1,2,3,4.

Here is an example of fascial body movement as demonstrated by my instructor. If you don't see any difference between this and the more familiar muscular coordination movement, that's OK. If you don't know fascial stretch, and if you haven't had someone show you many, many times, then distinguishing the two can be difficult or confusing.

Wujifa Basics: Connection Stretching and Refinement

In my early years when I was learning and practicing Tai-chi forms and push-hands, I thought that refining my muscular coordination skills would lead to internal strength. After ten years on this path, I discovered that I was no closer to demonstrating internal strength than when I started.

Over the last ten years of learning and practicing Wujifa, I am now beginning to see a difference in how various internal martial arts practitioners move. I notice that only a small percentage of people practicing the internal martial arts actually move with fascial connectedness or fascial body movement. Very interesting....

Even though conceptual understanding is no substitute for actual practice, being able to conceptualize the distinction between Muscular Coordination and Fascial Body Movement has helped me understand why my earlier practicing Tai-chi forms and push hands did not lead to developing internal strength. I hope you find this distinction useful as well.

* * * *

To learn more about developing fascial body movement, check out the following Wujifa articles:
Happy practicing everyone!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Principle Driven Training: Journal Notes #84

Notes from my November 2010 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.)

* What is a principle?
Answer: A principle is true in a number of situations. Principles are objective. A dictionary definition reads as: A base generalization that can be accepted as true. A fundamental essence. Read Steven Covey's: Principle Centered Leadership.

(If this seems to be a strange question, consider I grew up and have largely lived my life with Commandments, rules, laws, Code of Conduct, customs, etiquette, etc. The concept of living life or practicing a physical art according to principle was alien to me.)

* Question: What is principle driven training? How do I know if my training is driven by principle?
Answer: Principles can be tested by running through various paradigms. Principles are true in all paradigms. You must discover principle for myself. If you were told, you still wouldn't get it. You wouldn't be able to demonstrate it.

* Question: I sense that I've mechanically substituted feeling in place of data - treating individual kinesthetic feelings as a pieces of data. How can I distinguish real feeling from data and keep feeling as feeling?
Answer: Say this phrase"I'm sensing that I... "

Me: I'm sensing that I.

Instructor: Your intonation, the way you said it, was very matter-of-fact, mechanical and without feeling. Can you juice it up and (for you) put a lot more sensuality into it? More like Aaahhheeeeemmmmm ssssehhhhnnnnsssssseeeennnnngg...

Me: Aaahhheeeeemmmmm ssssehhhhnnnnsssssseeeennnnngg thhhaaaaaat Aaahhheeeee

Instructor: Better. I can hear the feeling. Don't substitute feeling for data. Just feel!

* Question: Do you have any ideas on how I can continue connecting?
Answer: Asking questions opens opportunities.

The more ways we connect, the more ways we open to the breadth and depth of feeling. The more we feel, the more we notice. The more we notice and feel, the more we connect.

Notice and feel in another person. In relationship, you can learn about yourself... if you're noticing.

* Question: Last time we talked about productive distractions. In the spectrum of never get distracted to frequently distracted, how much is enough?
Answer: Sometimes if you get stuck on focusing, you can use distraction to reset the feeling. Sometimes a distraction is a method to avoid focusing on a (painful) feeling. Notice when you want to or are distracted from feeling or noticing feeling. This will tell you a lot about your distraction.

Knowing the place you don't want to go and blocking going there creates armor. It's OK to notice and choose to not go there at that moment because this leaves open the opportunity to choose to go there in the future.

(The distinction regarding "choosing" is when you see a problem, whether you deny that what you see is a problem OR you choose to not deal with it right now and commit to dealing with it later in another setting.

For example, in a Wujifa class, my instructor told me to raise my arm and keep my shoulder relaxed. I immediately fired back, "But my arm doesn't work that way!" This would be an example of not wanting to look at a problem and blocking myself from looking at it.

A few weeks later
in another Wujifa class, my instructor told me to raise my arm and keep my shoulder relaxed. This time I asked, "How can I do that? I don't know any other way to raise my arm. How can I reduce the amount of muscle I'm using to raise my arm? He then showed me a method to do that. I still couldn't do it on my own in that class but I committed to working on it at home.)

* We had a discussion about noticing how you notice. I'm learning that I'm not aware of the meta processes (principles?) driving my thought processes. I don't observe or notice my own thought processes. I don't select, analyze or modify my processes. I need to figure out these meta-aspects.
(Noticing how you notice. Honestly, I'm not really working on this. I'm afraid that if I really notice how I notice and then change how I notice, I would truly notice differently and therein, I think, is the game changer not only for stance but for daily life. How I live my life shows up in stance. How I practice standing shows up in daily life. Resistance. Armor.)

* Knowing is not derived from data. Knowing is being able to demonstrate.
(For me, data was the basis of knowledge and knowledge was gleaned primarily from books, texts, manuals and a lesser amount through show-and-tell; this is how you change a flat tire... It really took a long time to change my thinking that the true knowledge I have of internal martial arts practice is my own personal experience.

I still find myself wanting to use data to fill in the gaps of my experience. I thank my Wujifa instructor for calling me out when I do this; helps me recognize the difference.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Compartmentalization Compromises Connection: Journal Notes #83
Next article in this series: - Another Level of Practice: Journal Notes #85

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

Monday, March 19, 2012

Compartmentalization Compromises Connection: Journal Notes #83

Notes from my October 2010 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: Why do you give us different methods to practice?
Answer: Training methods must be tailored to accommodate the individual. For example, Mr. D. needs to learn specifics because he's naturally so global. You, Mike, need to learn global because you're so specific.

(And as I've mentioned previously in this blog, my notes in this journal mostly apply to my case. My instructor may give suggestions to my school brother standing next to me that contradict what he just told me but which are exactly the "medicine" my school brother needs. In Wujifa class we are warned to practice our own "medicine" and not someone else' "medicine".)

* Question: If I need to learn global, then why do I still work on specifics?
Answer: A method is a compartmentalization intended to focus on an specific area to facilitate growing connection in that area.

But keep in mind that, compartmentalization compromises connection so you don't want to get stuck there.

* Question: So if I ask questions about specifics, am I going down the wrong road?
Answer: Your tendency is to look for problems to fix and in doing so, you add tension and energy to the problem. So instead of asking "How do I relax this tension here?" which to you is a problem, you should focus on how much you simply enjoy relaxing. Ahhhh... and breathe this ahhhh.... feeling into the problem area. The problem may not go away immediately but changing your focus will help.

* Question: How do I ask feeling-based questions that aren't focused on my problem areas?
Answer: Ask yourself this, How can you come up with a general question that will allow space for something to show up which will contribute to focus?

If the question is too specific, then you will miss a lot of information that could help you with what you're focusing on.

You notice tension in area "A" but actually tension in area "B" is contributing to "A" and if you noticed "B" and let go of the tension in "B" then "A" would naturally relax. But you're so focused on "A" that you're not noticing "B".

So let's try this. Stand up and do the Side-To-Side practice and really focus on how your right kua is operating. Now, continue doing side-to-side... and... Hey! Pay attention to this distraction! Now, notice your right kua. The distraction actually allowed a flow, a relaxation to appear in the movement of your kua. Your focus was creating a stiffness, a closed-ness.

(Indeed! Sometimes over-thinking a feeling and trying too hard to do it right actually impedes progress.)

* Question: So how can I distract myself during my own practice?
Answer: A quick and easy distraction might be doing a silly dance or wiggling your butt.Get your mind off what you're focusing on. Feel the shift. Notice how this de-focusing creates a space. Then notice what shows up in that space as you go back into stance with that space.

If you get too focused, you may get stuck. Find a functional balance and don't be mechanical about it.

For example, say you are piloting a boat navigating a tricky channel. If the boat develops a leak and you get fixated on the leak, you may run aground. Alternatively, you could use a bilge pump (a brief distraction) to keep you afloat while you navigate the boat to safe harbor (your purpose).

People try so hard to stay on track that they get off track.

(This idea of distracting yourself may seem counter intuitive to a practice where you're suppose to focus and not let your mind wander. And to me, this is the distinction: A wandering mind is not a productive distraction. If I deliberately induce a distraction for the purpose of de-focusing to create a space, to loosen my grip, to relax a little, then this can be productive.)

* No one gets it by focusing on the Dan-Tian.

(When I first began Tai-chi, I engaged in a wide variety of practices to keep my attention focused on my Dan-Tian. I thought that "holding to the center" was the key to "getting it". However, I learned later that getting stuck focusing on only one part is a form of "compartmentalization". I focused so much on "A" that I missed "B" through "Z". Compartmentalization Compromises Connection!)

* Question: So would I be OK to work on something more global like distinguishing tight from not tight?
Answer: Think of something different than the opposite. Use that "global feeling" as your bio-feedback device. Go for the WOW! factor!

* Open your heart. Reduce hunch with shoulders rolled forward. Tension in upper chest locks down or closes the heart.

(Working on reducing hunching is an ongoing practice for many Wujifa practitioners. Some of us have more hunch than others. There are also various ways to hunch and degrees of hunching. From what I've seen, regardless of the hunch's how or why, there is also a correlated tightening or closing of the upper chest/heart area. Working on correcting a hunch, rolling the shoulders back also works on opening the heart area.)

* Allow yourself to play in the wobbly areas.
(For a guy like me who wants to do it right, and where wobbling and uncertainty are not necessarily good things, it was difficult to understand how I could learn and develop by feeling awkward.

What I understand now is that the "wobbly" shows up when I'm departing from a rigid pattern and progressing into a new area that has not yet become part of my patterned movement.)

* In class we practiced an advanced form of Side-to-Side, namely, a "Front-to-Back" exercise.

To help keep the hips level, a pole was placed between my legs and I had to maintain contact with the pole and the inside of my leg.

My problem is that I focus on muscling the kua open and close. This exercise helps me open to more subtle feeling and helps me stabilize the hips.

This also gave me a reference point and I discovered that I have too much play in my hip. Too much up and down. Too much arch and tuck. Too much muscle.

I need to relax my hips. Use the intention of the knees pushing in or out. What do you notice in the kua?

(This simple method exposed my mistaken notion that I was moving in a relaxed manner when in fact I wasn't. This is a good example of the answer at the top of this page: "A method is a compartmentalization intended to focus on an specific area to facilitate growing connection in that area.")

* A continuation of the above notes and diagrams...

Maintain level hips. Do not tilt.

Keep the pole in contact with the left inside leg as you shift forward and backward.

* This next drawing shows how I set up some stuff at home to practice the Front-to-Back exercise.

(Just when I thought I was doing it better, I made some short videos of myself. Where I "thought" my hips were staying level, the camera showed me that they were not. This was a really neat way for me to see how much tension is below my awareness! How do I relax when I'm not even aware of what I need to relax?

Working in front of a mirror is also helpful however, I've found that I lose a "naturalness" when focusing on doing it right for the mirror. Doing the exercise without the immediate feedback of the mirror, but captured on video, provides maybe a more honest feedback. Different ways to train... )

* Head hanging exercise. Feel fascial connection as the "tuck" pulls the head up.

("Tuck" here actually means "drop" because the typical understanding of "tuck" uses contraction to create tuck and the goal is to relax and feel fascial connection.

This exercise has appeared elsewhere in these journal notes too. This is a good exercise and it can take a long time to get to the level of relax needed to be able to feel the fascia pulling the head up as the lower back drops.)

* Question: How does the Phi ratio apply to Wujifa zhan zhuang practice?
Answer: A little change at the center creates large change at the outside. A little change on the outside creates even less change at the center.

(Practicing forms and techniques will probably not lead to the same level of internal connectedness as training for connectedness which will result in more connected forms and techniques.)

* Question: I can trust and verify data. I don't know about trusting my feeling.
Answer: Grounded-ness is trust. Trust your kinesthetics.

* A person's armoring may allow little leaks in the armor to prevent catastrophic failure (the dam breaking). The leak, or spillway, allows some discharge of the pent up energy and allows the dam to remain.
(From my experience in Wujifa class, referring to relaxing tense muscles, sometimes relaxing a muscle or group of muscles = releasing some pent up emotional feeling. Sometimes the body allows a muscle to relax a little in a controlled way to allow the emotional energy to "bleed off" without relaxing or letting go completely which may result in feeling the fullness of the emotional feeling.)

* Question: In very general terms, how would you categorize the range of students you have taught?
  • Students who come from other schools and are certain.
  • Students who don't know what's out there and are open.
(As for me, I fell into the "certain" category. After investing years in classes and practice, I was not willing to abandon my previous training. I was certain all my former training was valuable and this new Wujifa training had to fit into that schema somehow.

It took me a long time to learn that I was "comparing apples and oranges" as the saying goes. Training in the internal martial arts is not the same as internal training.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Feeling Letting Go: Journal Notes #82
Next article in this series: - Principle Driven Training: Journal Notes #84

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

Feeling Letting Go: Journal Notes #82

Notes from my September 2010 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: What's the purpose of relaxing?
Answer: Relaxing allows the structure to be alive. Relaxing allows balance to show up.

* Question: What do you mean by relax is not limp?
Answer: Limp is a result of being too full of energy like anger or sadness. Limp is a result of feeling the pressure to express yourself but you don't want to be disagreeable or confrontational and so you hide and become limp, flaccid, dead. Limp is a strategy to avoid conflict. Let go of tension and don't go limp. Relax. Be alive.

* Question: So then can "peng" be the opposite of limp? In my compartmentalized thinking, I think of "peng" as only a physical quality. Is there a psychological aspect of "peng"?
Answer: "Peng" is also an attitude. You exude the same level of intent from your eyes as exude from your structure.

* Question: What's the difference between "peng" and bracing?
Answer: Bracing is one dimensional strength. A lot of people use brace and mistakenly call this "peng" or "internal strength".

* Question: So if bracing is one-dimensional, then how does the first Wujifa triangle represent "peng" or "internal strength"?
Answer: In terms of materials science:
  • Relax = Tensile strength.
  • Structure = Compressive strength.
  • Balance = Ductility strength.

* Question: How can I express more of my personality/humanity and get out of "data" mode; stop hiding behind the data?
Answer: Get into a more playful place. Play "Peek-a-Boo" with yourself in the mirror. Relax and let go also means to loosen up, to be more playful and not so serious. Allow more of you to show up.

* I had another amazing breakthrough experience in Wujifa stance class today! After an hour of stance, my legs got to shaking. On instruction, I moved my feet into a short bow and arrow stance. From the initial shaking/bouncing in both legs, I slowly alternated from this "double-weighted" position until I was bouncing from one leg to the other, shifting in a completely relaxed and connected manner. I now understand how this kind of relaxed movement is different from what I'd been mechanically producing and calling "relax". It's not a feeling like any I thought it might be. Something else! No words for it! Amazing!

* In the process of relaxing and letting go when doing the Bio-stool exercise, I get to a point where I'm seized by a fear that my back will break and yet, I intellectually know that that won't happen and that the exercise is beneficial and so I try to continue. However, I get stuck in-between Fear/Holding and Yielding/Surrendering and never get to a further Relaxing/Opening. It's like I want to let go but the fear holds me back, keeping me "safe".

* After a bit of discussion, I now have a better understanding of my issue with relaxing the muscles in and through the pelvis, why there is chronic muscular tension/rigidity in this area blocking the free flow of feeling.

* Question: What's the difference between habits vs. way of life?
Answer: Habits are based on armoring; the death process. A "way of life" is spontaneous and in the moment.

* In my own zhan zhuang practice, I notice it's really difficult to maintain the level of intention that comes much easier with guidance at Wujifa stance class.

* Question: When I relax, I can feel my back "rounding" sideways and when I don't relax, I feel it pull flat. Am I on the right track?
Answer: No! You're tightening the abdominal muscles and pulling the butt forward. You're doing an advanced tuck. This is a faux stretch! Don't do that! A lot of people get stuck here.

The problem is that you are feeling the stretch where you are looking for it but you don't notice that the stretch is being created by contraction on the opposite side. Get the vertical stretch/open first through relaxing the entire structure. As you relax more, the horizontal widening will occur naturally.

* Question: I feel like the rounding I was doing extends to the elbows but gets stuck there. How do I feel extension into my fingers?
Answer: First the rounding was wrong as we just talked about. Go get into zhan zhuang stance.

Me: I get into stance. After some initial structural adjustments, the instructor then proceeded to apply a gentle kind of stretch like he was somehow grabbing and pulling the fascia, progressing from stretching my fingers, to stretching my hand, to stretching my forearm, to stretching my upper arm, into my shoulder.

Instructor: How does that feel?

Me: I don't have words for this feeling. I can only say that it feels different in comparison to the other untouched arm.

My school brothers watching this then said my right arm looked fuller, more alive, more like the "Qi flowing" adjustment at a Chen Xiaowang seminar.

Instructor: Different how?

Me: I notice this feeling sort of feels like nothing but not nothing either. It feels kind of like a stretch but not a muscular stretch which feels more like pulling on something tight. This feels more like stretch without stretching.

Me: I really want to put this feeling in a box to pull it out and recreate it later.

Instructor: Just let it be. Feel. No boxes.

* Question: In last month's class I had that amazing full-body shaking experience. Should I practice to recreate this kind of whole body pulsating movement?
Answer: The people who make this their goal tend to get stuck there. Remember what Chen Xiaowang says:
  • (Begin) No shaking. Qi stuck.
  • Shaking. Some Qi flow. Some Qi stuck.
  • (After) No shaking. Qi flowing.
So don't get hung up on shaking. It's a sign post.

* The difference between doing stance and loving to do stance is the feeling you bring to stance.

* Another breakthrough experience in Wujifa zhan zhuang class! We had been standing for over an hour and my instructor poured on the structural adjustments to the point where my legs gave out and I collapsed to the floor. On my way to the floor, he said, "You just had it! You feel that?" At some level, this time I understood "letting go". In all previous classes when we went through this, I had no idea what he was talking about. The feeling an instant before the legs burn out - letting go.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Zhan Zhuang Questions: Journal Notes #81
Next article in this series: - Compartmentalization Compromises Connection: Journal Notes #83

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Silk Reeling Exercise and Silk Reeling Production

In Chen style Taijiquan, there are a set of exercises known as Silk Reeling (ChanSiGong or ChanSiJing). Why are these exercises called "Silk Reeling"? How does the reeling of silk for silk production represent the internal kinesthetic feeling that you are looking to develop in Silk Reeling exercises?

This brief article answers these questions by considering parallels between A) silk reeling for the production of silk and B) Silk Reeling exercise.

When I first learned Chen Silk Reeling, I only had a vague reference point to pulling silk from a cocoon based on a tour I attended of a silk factory in China years earlier. Outside of that, I really didn't know anything about Silk Reeling.

Now after years of Wujifa Zhan Zhuang and other practices, I think I've got a much better feeling for and understanding of Silk Reeling and I'd like to share this with you.

As I wrote earlier, and I am more convinced now than then, that learning and practicing Silk Reeling forms as they are commonly taught is not the same as doing silk reeling:
"A common error that beginners make when learning Silk Reeling exercises is focusing on learning the various Silk Reeling forms and then believe they are doing silk reeling. Instructors who teach silk reeling exercises say to practice the forms as if pulling a silk thread from a cocoon. Well, folks, a beginner doesn't even have a thread to pull much less worrying about how to pull it! Silk reeling exercises are not about employing the imagination process but rather about something much more kinesthetic and tactile."

There are many on-line resources to learn about silk production, for example, Silk Making and Silk Production and Silk Fabric Production in Shanghai, China which has nice explanations and excellent pictures.

Basically, a silkworm eats a lot, grows really fast and rotates its body in a figure-8 movement some 300,000 times, constructing a cocoon and producing about a kilometer of silk filament.

In the same way that a silkworm weaves a complex pattern for its cocoon, so too through our lives, we weave a complex pattern, layer upon layer of psycho-physical, emotional-muscular patterns which form a kind of "cocoon".

The silkworm's cocoon is then treated with hot air, steam, or boiling water. The silk is then unbound from the cocoon by softening the sericin and then delicately and carefully unwinding, or 'reeling' the filaments from 4 - 8 cocoons at once, sometimes with a slight twist, to create a single strand.

In the same way that the cocoon needs to be softened before reeling the filament from the cocoon, so too do our hardened mind-body "cocoons" need to be softened to develop internal feeling sensitivity. Relax. Calm down.

Just as boiling is a method to relax the silkworm cocoon, so too there are a variety of methods that may include but are not limited to Wujifa Zhan Zhuang stance, Rolfing Structural Integration, Bio-Energetic Analysis and so on, that help us relax our "cocoon".

Watch the first 50 seconds of this video that deals with silk reeling: How Silk is Made in China.

Notice the method used to discover or find the end of the silk filament.

In the same way, an experienced teacher is needed to help you discover and identify for you the feeling of your internal silk filament.

Notice how fine, how nearly invisible, and as she says, how soft is the silk filament from the cocoon!

In the same way, the level of feeling sensitivity you must develop in your body to detect, as it were, a single silk filament is far beyond the usual feeling sensitivity level of most people which I'll say is a feeling level in the range of steel cable and manila rope! In comparison to where I am now, when I started practicing Tai-chi, I was in this feeling level range too.

Years of practicing Tai-chi forms and push-hands really only helped me refine my cable and rope feeling level. It wasn't until I got into Wujifa Zhan Zhuang, Rolfing and other Wujifa practices that my internal feeling sensitivity developed to a much deeper level. Now, after years of these practices, I am probably now feeling to the level of cotton string.

In the past when my Wujifa instructor adjusted me to help me feel a single silk filament, I would say it felt like nothing. So subtle is the feeling of silk filament when my feeling sensitivity level was at the cable and rope level! Now after more "boiling" and repeated "See? Here is the end of the filament.", I'm developing the internal kinesthetic sensitivity to identify the difference between my string feeling level and silk feeling level!

Just as silk production is complex and labor intensive, so too is the process of developing the internal kinesthetic sensitivity to the feeling level of a single silk filament.

In this analogy, muscular tension and the feeling sensitivity at the muscular level is represented by steel cable and rope and the feeling and sensitivity of fascial stretch is represented by silk filament.

So if you are doing Silk Reeling forms and your level of feeling is steel cable or manila rope, then, if you're like me and you're looking to develop internal strength and whole body connectedness, then you might consider putting your "cocoon" in the boiling waters of zhan zhuang and other practices until you relax your muscular tensions and develop the more subtle silk filament feeling of fascial stretch.

You need to grasp the end of the silk filament first before you can reel silk!

Hope this helps. Happy practicing everyone!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Zhan Zhuang Questions: Journal Notes #81

Notes from my August 2010 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: I've been asking questions in class for a long time and I've never asked, "What's the best way to ask a question?" What's the best way to ask questions about my zhan zhuang practice?
Answer: The way you tend to ask questions is that you first explain how you arrived at the question before you ask the question.

Providing all that background only narrows or limits the range of possible answers. For example, when you say, "I read X. I saw Y. I'm thinking Z so how do I feel connection between my hips and shoulders?" then it's as if you have established the parameters through which the answer should be answered.

If you simply ask the question, "How do I feel connection between my hips and shoulders?" then this leaves a wide open opportunity for any number of answers. It expands the range of possibilities to explore.

(I've learned there is a mental-context and a feeling-context for questions regarding my zhan zhuang practice. As I transitioned my zhan zhuang practice from being a mental-construct based practice to a feeling-construct based practice, I had to relearn even how to ask questions about my practice.)

* At the August 1 class, we practiced a form of laying down zhan zhuang with guided bio-exercises (details withheld) and I experienced my first full-body reflex response; several minutes of spontaneous cranial-sacral pulsations moving through my body. Wow!!! Huge breakthrough!!!! After the pulsations abated and I was finally able to stand up, I felt very light headed and high-like, silly, free, open.
(The previous most amazing experience I ever had in class was two years ago on July 6, 2008. It took me a long time to get to where these major roadsigns on this path were possible. What I find fascinating and enthralling is that I never know what the body is ready to reveal or when...

The significance of this experience to me is that I believe some level of tensions/blockages had to be removed in order for this kind of whole-body movement to arise naturally. I say this because I've done similar exercises before without this response. Something in my body has changed!

Experiences like this give me a lot of "juice" and rededicating to practice is easy and natural!)

* Question at Aug 15 class. Over the past two weeks, my zhan zhuang practice has been dramatically different! I feel more in my torso than ever before!!! It's a completely and utterly amazing feeling! I've been noticing that my torso feels like one big hollow cavern wherein I can feel points but it's like I don't have enough attention to feel all these points at the same time. How do I feel and connect all these points?
Answer: You are still thinking of your body as separate parts: torso, arms, legs, where some magical Dan-Tian movement pulls the strings of the puppet. In fact, it's different than what you think!

Ask yourself these questions: How are you noticing? What are you noticing? How big is one part?

Remember, "When one part moves, all parts move."

What if your entire body is one part?
What if you and another person are one part?
What if you, another person, and the surrounding intention are one part?

How would that affect your frame of reference?

(Looking back, it seems I've gone through several phases or frames of reference to date:
  • Disembodied - Body exists to do bidding of thoughts.
  • Learning about body as a bio-mechanical collection of parts.
  • Becoming aware of body and still thinking of it as parts.
  • Having experience of awareness and sensing my body as a separate entity and still thinking of it as parts.
  • Having experience of unity of body and intention feeling, whole-body movement and still thinking of it as dis-integrated parts.
  • Beginning to think of my body as repeated in-class experiences point to; the feeling of whole-body movement.)

* Question: What do you think would help my zhan zhuang practice the most now?
Answer: Bring a more playful attitude and silliness into your zhan zhuang practice. You're still trying too hard. Notice without judgment. Judging creates a pause. Judging creates room to think which displaces feeling.

Before your practice session, put a question, "out there". Ask a simple question. Don't try to find or answer with analysis or logic data. Wait and notice what feeling shows up.

* Question at the Aug 29 class: During the last two weeks, I've been practicing zhan zhuang with a question, "How can I feel more connected?" and then wait for an answer to show up but I'm not feeling anything. How do I get this method to work?
Answer: It's like baking chocolate chip cookies. You get different results if you put the chocolate chips in before or after baking the dough.

If you start stance with the intention, "Oh bugger! I have to stand now." that intention frames the practice. However, if before you get to stance, you ask, "How can I feel more connected?" one answer might be, "I can practice zhan zhuang."

Then too, this depends on where you put the emphasis. There are different ways to ask the same question and different ways to interpret each question.

You may be getting the answer to the question you are asking but you are not aware of the feeling and intention beneath the words in your question - you are not aware of what you are really asking. Develop a sensitivity to the intention and feeling underlying the data represented by the words in your question.

* Question: I'm still having a hard time with Feeling, Understanding and Being Aware. Can you go over this again?
Answer: Feeling is kinesthetic. Understanding is data. Being is not Understanding. Being is not feeling. Being is more Aware. Awareness is the closest to reality without running through the NLP filters; generalize, distort, delete.

What happens when you let go of understanding? You'd probably have awareness - simply knowing.

* Question: How do I get peng?
Answer: Rephrase the question into:
How do I meet myself with a power that is not my own force?
What is the process of activity that a person can connect with a type of energy that is not generated by myself?

As long as you are caught up in yourself, you won't notice the force that's not yourself.

What's your understanding of "peng"? What is your understanding of "bedeezle"?

You attach your concept or understanding of others' descriptions to "peng" but you have no rational understanding to attach to "bedeezle".

You think your concepts of "peng" will guide you to the feeling of "peng" and yet you have not achieved "peng". So how is this approach working for you?

You might make better progress pursuing "bedeezle" for which you have no self-limiting concepts to run match to and you have only feeling "bedeezle" to be curious about.

(Note: "Bedeezle" is a non-sense word used to illustrate the point that having a concept of the goal I want to achieve can actually prevent me from reaching that goal. Even though I may eventually describe my experience of "peng" the same way, there are so many, many steps between here and there.

The road to "peng" begins with making an honest assessment of where I am now and beginning training at that level. Others I train with come to this same conclusion as well.

You have to give up what you want to work on where you are now to get to where you want to go.)

* Question: Why is it so hard to let go?
Answer: It's like dying. Something is ending. Something that kept you safe at one time is now what is holding you back. You don't recognize that it is no longer needed to keep you safe. You only feel the fear of letting it go.

But remember that letting go and surrendering are not the same as giving up and quitting. Surrender and let go but don't quit. Never quit surrendering.

* What people don't want to experience, they will hide in the area they don't usually use. For example, if someone is primarily Audio, then they will hide what they don't want to experience in Visual or Kinesthetic (because they are not primarily Visual nor Kinesthetic).

(Believe it or not, I've seen in myself and others who, when they say they want to relax and change to develop internal strength, and when receiving adjustments to their zhan zhuang, will quite unconsciously move the tension being worked on to another area of the body effectively avoiding the change they say they want.)

* Gaps and breaks are defensive. There is a need to defend because of a mis-identification in some way.

* I watched the movie, "The Bow" (2005), a Korean film where there is no talking between the main characters. They communicate with feeling expressions only.
(For a guy like me who long held that communication only happens with words and certain hand gestures, this was an interesting film demonstrating how much communication can take place with feeling.)

* Metaphors can be wonderful in that they are flexible. Their flexibility only becomes a problem to the mind that wants exactness.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Beginning How to Feel Connection: Journal Notes #80
Next article in this series: - Feeling Letting Go: Journal Notes #82

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And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.