Thursday, March 6, 2014

The End of the Road: Journal Notes #118

Notes from my January 2014 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang.

*Question: I'm noticing movement under the skin just above my pubic bone. How do I expand or grow this feeling for side-to-side?
Answer: First, get into stance and shift to the right side. (I get into zhan zhuang and then shift to my right. My instructor adjusts my structure while I'm on my right leg. My right quads fatigue in seconds and I physically cannot continue standing in this posture.)

Your zhan zhuang is not strong enough to do side-to-side. Side-to-side is not about moving to avoid pain. This exercise looks simple but it is very difficult to get the body to the place to do this deceptively simple movement correctly.

If you can't do single leg zhan zhuang correctly for an extended period of time, then you can't do side-to-side correctly. If you can't to side-to-side correctly, then you can't do Cloud Hands correctly. If you can't do Cloud Hands correctly, then you can't do any other stepping because side-to-side is the most basic, fundamental stepping; all other stepping is more complex than side-to-side.

What's the rule with side-to-side? It's to shift left-to-right while keeping your hips on a level plane as if sliding on a rod that goes through the pelvis.

If you have any tension, muscle bunching, scar tissue, fascial adhesions, that is, anything that creates any deviation in movement no matter how small or how subtle, then you are not correctly doing the side-to-side movement. You are aiming to achieve the following: When everything under the skin can move freely, that is, when nothing is stuck, then there will be no deviation of the external movement. This is the meaning of movement in(side) stillness.

Mike, when you do your side-to-side, you have a slight wobble and your hip raises slightly at the end and you're not relaxed/dropped fully into your leg. You're making improvement but you have stillness inside movement. Something is stuck inside causing external movement.You've only got about 30% femur roll forward of what you should have. Your back is still too tight. You need to keep working on this. Don't try to control the movement. Relax. Let go. The correct movement shows up naturally when you get the internals moving freely.
* Here's the Wujifa Side-to-Side video in case you haven't seen it. This video was produced in 2009 when practitioners were just beginning to learn this exercise.

* (My instructor expressed,) It's so frustrating trying to teach Ph.D. level kinesthetics to students at a kindergarten level. I have to dumb it down and make it simple for you to get even a glimpse of what to aim for.

* Zhan zhuang is too complex an exercise to use as a method to learn how to feel into and relax muscles around the hip socket. A better set of exercises would involve removing every variable from the equation. For example, lay on the ground on your back, legs together and straight. Bending at the knees, slide your feet along the floor to where knees were. Move your feet laterally out to the side so they are about a meter apart. On inhale move knees apart. On exhale move knees together. The key to this exercise is to NOT move the pelvis AT ALL while moving the legs.
After doing this a few minutes I find that my pelvis moves. I cannot make it NOT move. Practice isolating movements. Focus on feeling into the hip sockets. How can you get the knees to move without any movement in the pelvis?
* Question: How are my mini-breathing squats looking? (I demonstrate)
Answer: Better but still not consistent. You get some breaks going up and you're collapsing when coming down. Build the stretch on the way up and slowly relax the stretch on the way down. Feeling "the suit" is only one component. The purpose of mini-breathing squats is to feel and develop the horizontal kua movement.

* Question: Soma-psychologists talk about sexual intercourse as being a way to free up or to release holding through the pelvis. Comparing someone who has regular sexual activity to someone who does not, is it correct to think that the person with regular sexual activity is more likely to develop internal gongfu skills whereas the person who does not, will not?
Answer: People confuse "climax" with "orgasm". These two terms are not synonymous. It is incorrect to use these terms interchangeably. Look at Reich's definition of "orgasm". Simply having sex and climax will not help free or release the tension and holding in the pelvis. Achieving the orgastic vibration is an indication of the level of relaxation through the body in general and the pelvis in particular.

* Question: I've been experimenting with something and I'd like your thoughts. I lay on the floor on my back with a block of wood under each of my greater trochanters so that only my upper back and calves touch the ground. My core body weight is resting on my greater trochanters. My butt is suspended off the floor. My idea is that this method will help stretch the hip muscles to help get more "roll femur forward." What do you think?
Answer: I don't like it because you are using a localized mechanical approach to avoid feeling the whole body relaxing in stance.

* The theory is that muscle has vasculature and so it is easier and quicker to build muscle. However, fascia does not have vasculature. Fascia is a gelatanous, fiber-like material that takes time to re-pattern and build.

* Weight lifting shortens muscles and its surrounding fascia. Internal martial arts aim to lengthen the fascia and stretch the fascia. The two regimens are counterproductive to each other.

* Yoga stretches are only functional for internal martial arts to the extent that they target and stretch shortened fascial planes and not just stretch the muscles that are capable of stretching. If yoga stretches do not address the fascia that are chronically shortened, tight or stuck, then these stretches are not contributing to your practice.

* Try to get an individual muscle to contract and relax. Start with the bicep, then move on to the tricep and then apply what you've learned as you systematically go through your entire body. The amount of attention to do this practice is the amount of attention you need to apply to your zhan zhuang practice.

* If you can't feel an area, then try to tighten and relax that area. Isolate that area until you can feel into it. This may take some time.

* It takes a lot of focus over time to re-wire the brain to re-pattern your fascial system.

* If you need music while standing, this is OK if it helps you get started. But this is a distraction. It prevents full focus on your body. It's best to practice in silence. Later you can add distractions to further refine your focus.

* My instructor and I had a couple heart to heart talks this month about why I'm taking so long to progress. Why am I lagging behind others? Why do I withdraw when shown the door? We talked about my approach and how I continue to keep it mechanical. "Are you a scientist?" I think I'm trying to be. "Have you ever read about scientists?" No.

After a couple weeks of thinking about the "Are you a scientist?" question, I conclude that I'm not a scientist. Why not? This may be due to a trait I developed early on. Certainly the kinds of work I got into involved variations on the theme of learning the optimal or desired operation or outcome of something and anything less is a problem to troubleshoot and resolve. Applying this to my internal gong-fu practice, I've identified an optimal kinesthetic quality and I've tried a variety of approaches to troubleshoot and solve the problem in me to achieve this quality. Even though I've made progress, I realize now that this approach will not carry me to where I want to go. I've got to shift to something else. Stay tuned!

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Trying vs. Trying Too Hard: Journal Notes #117
Next article in this series: Noticing vs Analyzing: Journal Notes #119

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

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