* Question: Does the saying, "rooted in the feet, directed by the waist, expressed in the fingers" mean that the pelvis should be "locked-in" with the legs and the main horizontal movement is attained by rotating the lower thoracic and sacral vertebrae - that is the area below the rib cage and above the pelvis? How does dan-tian movement show up here?
Answer: Instructor demonstration: Notice that there is very little skeletal movement. The movement is driven from the abdomen in front. So, no, dan-tian movement is not driven by muscularly rotating the spine in back.* Practice:
Get into a kind of usual zhan zhuang stance position. Now stick your butt out. This means to really arch your back. Let your belly hang out in front. Really lift your butt up in the air. Feel your femur heads roll forward. Your knees may point a little toward each other or feel a little "pigeon toed". This gives you a "kua in" feeling in the front along your inguinal crease.
Then, keeping the front relaxed and "kua in", release the arch, relax the back and allow the lower back to settle and drop. If done properly, you will feel an even greater feeling of "kua in".
The trouble is that most people are too tight and while they can let their bellies hang out, and make the arch, and stick the butt out, they can't maintain the "kua in" when they release the arch. If this is where you're stuck, then this is where you have to work.
A typical mistake to get the arch out of the back is to tighten the abdominal muscles which pulls up the front of the pelvis and forces the back to drop. But this pits one muscle force (the front) against another (the back). Doing this will prevent you from ever getting any dan-tian rotation! You've got to maintain the "kua in" feeling in front with a relaxed back!
You do not get dan-tian rotation by tensing the abdominals! Focus on keeping the abdominals relaxed while also relaxing the spinae group. This will allow the pelvis to rotate on the femur heads. This is really tricky and can take years to figure out. While this in itself is not dan-tian rotation, it is a critical pre-requisite. If you don't fulfill the pre-requisites, how can you graduate to upper-level coursework?
* If you can't get this basic movement with relaxation and get the resulting openness in your zhan zhuang practice, then your zhan zhuang is too rigid.
* It's now been two months since I've returned from China. For the four weeks that I was in China I opened to new food, new friends, new experiences. I relaxed and let go. I felt so much more alive even though I know I did not intentionally change my fundamental soma-psychological patterns. When I returned, my intention was to continue to grow and nurture the opening feeling that I was feeling.
* Question: You know how we say that there is no separation between stance practice and daily life, well, over the last four weeks (since I've returned from China), I've been working on being more expressive of my sexuality as opposed to continuing repressing this "part" of myself due to my moral and religious beliefs around being a "good" man. What I'm noticing is that I can feel more deeply into my pelvis during zhan zhuang stance practice. How can I know if this change in my daily life is actually creating a change in my internal gong fu practice or if I'm somehow imagining the relation?
Instructor: Show me what you are doing.* My note: I practiced this particular method for the next two weeks and between this and other changes in my personal life, I noticed my zhan zhuang stance practice becoming more inspired. I was waking up early and feeling excited about practicing again. I was developing more of a different kind or quality (?) of feeling in my pelvis. And then something happened and I could literally feel myself "shutting down" or "withdrawing" from continuing developing these deeper feelings... again.
Me: I demonstrate my zhan zhuang stance.
Instructor: That's better. I notice that you are still holding just above the pubic bone; that little bit of muscle. Try this. Visualize and feel your genitals expanding downward with each in-breath but don't contract with each out-breath; maintain allowing a relaxed expansion.
Me: I try this exercise.
Instructor: What do you notice?
Me: I can feel like more abdominal pressure going down from my abdomen into the tops of my legs.
Instructor (asking my school brothers): What are you guys noticing?
Comments: He's sinking more. There's more connection through his pelvis/dan-tian.
Me: At that point, I got very self conscious and embarrassed and stopped practicing. When I tried to get back to that kinesthetic, I could not do it. I will practice this at home.
* My note: What is different or unique this time is that I am able to observe my going through this opening and closing process whereas previously "I" was the opening or closing. It's like before I was too close(?) to the kinesthetic so I could not distinguish "myself" from "my kinesthetics". I think my four week vacation in China gave me a break in ways I had not anticipated. I don't know. Something shifted. I don't understand. Nonetheless, this is a valuable insight.
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Going Places and Coming Home: Journal Notes #114
Next article in this series: Wujifa Mini Breathing Squats: Journal Notes #116
Make sure to visit Wujifa.com and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.