Thursday, December 3, 2009

Noticing the Shoulders, Elbows, Arms, and Fingers

When I first tried Zhan Zhuang, I began by simply raising my arms to shoulder height in a manner that imitated holding a large ball or hugging a large tree. I didn’t notice all the tension and sticky points that caused my shoulders to raise with my arms, and my elbows to jut up and out, and fingers to spread apart stiffly. While this may have bore a vague, external resemblance to Zhan Zhuang, and despite my best efforts at imagining and visualizing chi flow, I wasn’t feeling anything internally, kinesthetically.

Later, when I started practicing Zhan Zhuang in earnest in the Wujifa system, I started with the version of Zhan Zhuang that placed my elbows at my sides and forearms parallel to the ground, palms facing each other. In this structure, I was not “tempted” to raise my shoulders. I also started practicing with relaxed wrists, hands hanging loosely, keeping the fingers relaxed.

After many months, I slowly moved into practicing extending the now relaxing fingers more with intention than with stiffening the fingers muscularly while keeping the wrists and hands relaxed.

In recent months I’ve been focusing on relaxing and widening the shoulders. (I’m carrying a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders so this is a real challenge.) I now can notice a stretchy feeling from my lower jawbone down my neck to collarbones and into my deltoid muscles. When I make tiny adjustments in my head position, I notice the lower sides of my face will tingle and a kind of subtle “pull” into the arms.

A little over a month ago I felt my elbows “drop”.

And most recently during stance, I noticed the fingers-extending feeling increasing when, or originating in, the shoulders relaxing and widening; a feeling, sort of what might be described as an almost continuous feeling of something from shoulders to fingertips. Feeling connection? Note: I noticed this feeling when playing with the "hold the ball" arm position.

So at the next Wujifa class I went to, I demonstrated my discovery and asked, “Am I on the right track?” Here are my class notes, loosely paraphrased through my own filters.

First, my "hold the ball" arm position was changed to elbows at sides, forearms parallel to ground and parallel to each other,wrists and hands relaxed and palms of hands facing each other. (See the article on Zhan Zhuang Alignment.) And then...
Extend using your intention the top (index) finger. What do you feel? I feel the tops of my forearms.
Extend using your intention the bottom (pinky) finger. What do you feel? I the feel the bottoms of my forearms.
Extend using intention the center finger. What do you feel? I feel kind of through the centers of my forearms. Not as obvious a feeling as the tops and bottoms.

Practice extending through the center finger.

If you hold the ball and practice expanding OUT as a method (as you were doing), then you must also learn how to ‘expand’ IN (squeeze) as a method. This is polarity. When you build the intention in the middle path and generalize out from the center in all directions, then you have top and bottom, and in and out, in a single unified feeling.

Remember that methods are "feeling-pointers". Feelings are not data! Don’t make the mistake of treating a feeling as data. Don’t practice “X” activity to yield “Y” feeling. Learning a collection of methods/feelings is not the same as learning the principle and the feeling of whole body connectedness.

Getting stuck on data-feelings results in missing the unifying feeling of connection.
So this is where I am now regarding noticing the shoulders, elbows, arms, and fingers; allowing my shoulders relaxingly widening, feeling expanding through my shoulders and arms and relaxingly with intention extending my center finger. (Described sequentially but in real-time, happening simultaneously upon letting go.)

1 comment:

  1. Your blog is cool. I completely love zhan zhuang practices too - I think a lot of people don't appreciate it enough. Best of luck on your awesome internal arts journey!

    -Loretta Wollering