Sunday, January 18, 2015

Gaining Clarity on the Training Methodology: Journal Notes #129

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

* During practice, even though I tend to not think thoughts, which suggests to me a level of quietness, in fact, my continuous non-verbal scanning of my body searching for tense areas to relax is also a form of consciously directed inner activity. A question I ask myself is, "How can I simply stand, be present, and calm even this level of activity?"

* Another understanding of dead-post stance is when the body is standing and the mind is elsewhere; disassociated from the body. True calm is not dead-post. However, not-dead-post is not the mind actively scanning the body either. Find a deeper level of experience of "Calm down." Stop matching the calm you feel to your not-calm state. Assume what you label as "calm" is not calm and from that find a deeper calm.

* My school brother offered an hypothesis regarding why my muscles are quivering as they do. The hypothesis is that I know how tense feels but I don't know how relax feels and the quivering/oscillating between tense and relax when I'm in zhan zhuang is me trying to feel relax where I don't know the feeling relax. So I asked about this in the next class.
Answer: This is not true. The fact is that you can feel relax and connected. You have said so yourself on different occasions over the years. I have also seen you do it (stand relaxed and connected) on your own with less and less of my involvement. (In the early years, began with hands on physical adjustments and in recent years, only minimal verbal coaching.) So own it! You do have it within yourself. You know what to do. You have known for a long time. The fact is that when you feel that level of aliveness (relaxed connection) and you go back to your daily life, you shut down. For whatever your fear, you won't maintain that level of relaxed connection/aliveness in your daily life. All the rationalizations, stories, beliefs, and moral codes you adhere to are all expressions of your armor.

[Post-class note: These moments of honesty leave me both exhilarated and depressed. On the up-side, I have stood on the threshold and felt the pre-requisite for developing internally connected movement. On the down-side, I haven't been successful at combating the shutting down which repeatedly pulls me back and away from the threshold. How long am I going to nibble at the crust of the pie, retreat, come back, retreat, before I simply jump into the pie with both feet?]
* Question: How did you come to develop the side-to-side and mini-squat exercises?
Answer: I attended silk reeling seminars over a number of years with a world renowned master and noticed that few of the participants were developing any skill. So I began to wonder if there was a better way to help people "get it". Even though silk-reeling is supposed to be a basic exercise, it was probably still too high a level for most people to grasp. And so I went back, analyzed the basic silk reeling movements and over time I developed these two fundamental exercises to help people begin to feel internal connection.
* Question: What's the difference between silk reeling and these two exercises?
  • First, the focus of these exercises is on feeling and developing the most rudimentary movement of the dan-tian area; horizontal kua movement and vertical kua movement. In the mini-breathing squats, I incorporate the use of breath. Silk-reeling does not include breath as a training component. 
  • Second, you must develop the feeling of connection through the dan-tian area before incorporating upper body movement. After you practice and develop a sense of internal connection through this area, then you can graduate to basic silk reeling practice. 
  • Third, these exercises are actually more powerful than silk-reeling because of their explicit focus on helping you develop the feeling of connection through the dan-tian area.

* We had a long discussion about the word "experiment". I needed to get clear on this because I've long been confused about the difference between how I understand the word vs. how my instructor is using the word. For example, I would learn an exercise (experiment) in class and then go home and change and modify the exercise (experiment) to discover, "What happens if I try it this way instead?" I'd then come back to class and demonstrate what I'd been experimenting with and then get scolded for not doing the experiment.

After this hour-long discussion, what I learned was that "experiment" means to follow the protocols of the experiment to see if I get the same results. I should then come back to class, demonstrate the results I got, sharing what I was doing and the results I was getting. My practice is to repeat the same experiment and see if I get the same results to validate the experiment. For example, one of the protocols may be to not move my back but if I missed this detail, then I've unwittingly changed the design of the experiment and I won't get the same results. When I demonstrate how I've done the experiment, my instructor may notice that I am moving my back which  is contributing to why I am not getting the same result. The repeated verifications in class refine the protocols in my body which should then get me the same results as the original experiment.

* I'm just now acknowledging that I've tightened up a lot over the past several months. There were big changes at work and at home this past year and I loaded all my anxiety and stress into my lower back. During the summer my left knee began popping and grinding when I did stance and I developed soreness in my Achilles tendon. I've lost a lot of the flexibility I used to have. Gratefully, work and home life have now stabilized around their new norm; neither is an ideal situation, but both are stable. Need to get back to doing some basic stretching exercises targeting these tightened areas.

* One element of me is that I feel that I have to be right. My work demands it. My home life depends on it. But in Wujifa practice, an apparently opposite tact of discovery and playfulness is needed. Being right is in my body as rigidity.

* A school brother describing how my "push" feels: You're a strong guy but you pivot off your lower back by locking your lower back into your legs. This is strong but it is not internal. You will not get dan-tian movement with this strategy.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Vertical Kua Exercises: Journal Notes #128

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