Monday, September 27, 2010

Some GroundPath Stuff : Journal Notes #6

Notes from my April 2000 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.)

* The more relaxed, the more pure the groundpath.
(My assumption then appears to have been a "path" is a line, a pipe, a conduit. The "imagine a feeling" thing. In recent classes we practiced a similar yet different exercise. And the feeling is soooo completely different, nothing linear, tubular or imagined. But I might draw it the same way. It's tricky to convey the feeling in words or pictures.)

* What is "pre-path"? Pre-path is where 'A' adjusts to receive incoming force. This is a demonstration of the saying, "The yi leads the chi" - intention directs the energy.

* Intention is the key and is the more subtle and misunderstood point to the novice.
(I still consider myself a novice in this area.... I still don't feel confident that I've got a clear grasp on the feeling or various feelings of intention. It's like, whatever I can feel or do understand, I feel like I'm only touching the tip of the iceberg. This is an area I continue exploring and discovering.)
(Gosh, when I think about how much I've relaxed and let go since those days... I wonder if that kind of exercise did anything more than stroke my ego into believing I was actually developing "groundpath". I mean, that was before Rolfing, before some major breakthroughs, before so much that came later... Surely, I must have been playing with so much tension... Sure, it all looks good on paper and may sound impressive, but really it's kinda funny looking back and thinking that this exercise could have developed anything at all.... )


A note on the time period of this journal entry...

In the mid-1990s I was reading and experimenting with material discussed in Mike Sigman's on-line newsletter
Internal Strength: A Practical Approach to Internal Strength and Qi. I was reading the U.S. T'ai Chi Magazine where he was a regular contributor in the early 1990s. (August 1991 - February 1993 issues.) I was also reading the U.K. Tai Chi Chuan Magazine which featured an interview with him; Mike Sigman, Internal Artist.

Unfortunately, I never actually met him nor attended one of his seminars. I have viewed his
How to Do: Internal Strength video.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: This Is A Feeling Art: Journal Notes #5
Next article in this series: The Keys To Something: Journal Notes #7

Monday, September 20, 2010

This Is A Feeling Art : Journal Notes #5

Notes from my March 2000 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.)

* There's a difference between the intention of sitting down and tucking under. Seems that the amount of tuck is dependent upon the angle or direction of the sitting intent.
(Look at how mechanistic I was; geometric right angles? Notice that there aren't any words about the feeling of intent. This was all concept stuff. Pretty convincing though, eh? How interesting... )

* If you don't get the proper posture in standing, then you won't be able to do silk-reeling properly and if you can't do silk-reeling properly, then your tai-chi will be ineffectual.

* The "kua" closed is the inguinal crease. Feet parallel, little more than shoulder width apart, shift side to side. Feel the skin bunch up on the weighted side. This is the kua closed. The other side is kua open. This exercise requires someone getting you properly aligned, set up. If the knees, back, hips, are not aligned properly, then you won't feel the skin bunch up.

* Must see and feel. This is a feeling art. The oral transmission has more to do with the transmission of feeling.

(For the longest time, I thought that the teacher could teach me the feeling. What I've come to learn is that s/he can help me discover the feeling for myself and guide my course.)

* Open your heart and accept people as they are. Then you'll see everyone is really walking around naked, wearing their emotional history in their physical body. Nothing is hidden. There are no secrets.
(I really didn't understand this then but the more I feel and let go in my body, the more I see variations in others' bodies. A pretty amazing by-product.)

* "Concentrate the yi (mind)." Concentrate means like a magnifying glass concentrates or intensifies sunlight. Paying attention is a pre-requisite. "Raise the shen (spirit)." Raise the spirit means being confident, enthusiastic, lively, not depressed. Think, cheerleaders. "Sink the chi." Sink the chi means to relax, to let your legs carry your weight.
(When I first heard this whole concentrate, raise and sink thing, I went completely mystical with it; imagine.... Even years after hearing this pragmatic interpretation, I still don't have a feeling sense of the concentrate part. Maybe these don't develop simultaneously... )

* It has been observed that I'm eager and ready to learn but if what I learn doesn't yield the perceived result in my time frame, then I get angry and emotionally attack the person who taught or shared with me.

(Geez, I can be a real jerk sometimes, eh? I really didn't have a clue as to what this work involved and how I, my body, responded... )

* I had the experience while standing this past week of seeing a black, round hole open in my chest extending tube-like, deep into my body. And in the hole was a crying, pained face. I saw this as looking at myself not from inside my body nor from outside my body, rather, just seeing myself.
(Some say, "Zhan Zhuang is a powerful qigong." Others say, "Don't try this at home." I've learned to say, "That's interesting." This is where I found a teacher/guide to be important in helping to sort out what is relevant to the practice.... )

* Tai chi is more about awakening, recruiting, utilizing the power of the mind to allow or enable the body to perform a certain way.
(This whole "mind" thing can be so confusing and misleading. It seems there's no use of defining it. Just practice and "it" will work as needed. Geez, does that sound Taoist or what?! )

* Consider a stream flowing from a pond. Water flows around rocks, logs, hard earth. From the perspective of the source, the blockages are clear. Looking upstream, the rocks, logs, hard earth are not seen as blockages and the twisting, curving flow of energy is seen and felt as normal and removing the blockages is felt as painful.

* Perfectionism is a disease born of judgment beyond accepting oneself. Accept who you are. Acceptance is not a logical, rational idea. It's a feeling. With acceptance comes a measure of peace.
(Ah.... Here's an aphorism begging for a feeling... I wonder.... What is the feeling of self-acceptance? )

* During one exercise, I noticed that the energy moved freely when recalling 'good' memories but the body closed down and controlled that free flow when recalling 'bad' memories. Alternating between freedom and control several times demonstrated to me that freedom and control are points on a continuum. I am not two different people, one free, one controlled.

(Again, another one of those, "that's interesting" experiences in the process of exploring my mind-body connection.... )

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Simple Lessons: Journal Notes #4
Next article in this series: Some GroundPath Stuff: Journal Notes #6

Monday, September 13, 2010

Simple Lessons: Journal Notes #4

Notes from my February 2000 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.)

* Having difficulty standing still. Painful physically/emotionally. Want to keep moving. Why is standing still painful?

(Must have been something I was working through. Or maybe it changed. I can stand still well enough now but often feel like I "hit a wall" and "need" to end the session.)

* I'm learning a different view on peng. Told my peng arm is too stiff and needs to feel more like pushing on a stack of tissue. Peng intent is always forward but never resisting.
(Hmm, if my peng arm was too stiff, probably the rest of me was too stiff too...)

* Learned a different view of push-hands from the continuous play I learned previously. As soon as touch arms, then immediately know where the opponent's center is and strike with a push. This stays true to martial intent of Taiji. Train push-hands this way for martial purpose.

(Got this lesson again. Contact. Take the opponent's ground. Attack.)

* The empty cup is most useful. When the heart is closed with "I am this." or "I am that." the heart cannot function, is cut off from Life. So rather than day by day filling up, practice day by day letting go. Empty the heart of whatever reinforces separateness. "I" is a limitation, a constraint. No "I" yields no "You" but only "We" and "Us", oneness. Feeling this is enlightenment. And enlightenment means being fully human, not human restricted to some particular area or function of humanity.

(Blah, blah, blah.... None of this helps me with knees forward sit back and down.)

* Had the stance experience of the pelvis feeling 'large'. But this 'large' feeling goes away when I feel threatened. So now I know open and closed. When I feel safe then relax and open but close down when feel insecure and threatened.

* Don't assume you can do a higher level work when your understanding and ability is low because imitating high-level practices from your level of understanding and ability to feel will mislead you. Take it step by step.
(Still so true! I'm more comfortable with this now, than then.)

* Groundpath can be achieved through course, physical alignment (for example, bracing), but this is like roughing-in a house. There is still more detail work to do: electricity, plumbing, insulation, walls, paint, furnishings. The detail work in stance is the release of energy bound in chronically tense muscles; emotional release work. Emotions and feelings create certain patterns in the body's muscles which block or re-route pure groundpath. So to enjoy the free flow of energy from heels to fingers requires the releasing of these muscular holding patterns.

(And herein lies the crux of the work that I'm still working on!)

* Groundpath then becomes synonymous with enlightenment; the free flow of energy between heaven and earth; the free expression of universal energy.

(more blah, blah, blah...)

* Goal is to feel myself whole just as I now feel fragments of myself. How do I become whole? First, increase energy; eat "Live" foods, detox, exercise. Feel emotions as expression of energy in the body.

(And I would add now, Relax! I'm getting more from relax than I'd ever imagined!)

* When you think you hit your goal, had some insight, that is not the end, but the first door to open. Now, what are the facets of that insight? Explore more.

(Wow! I wrote this? So true!)

* Got to get feeling of energy staying down while doing simple, straight forward and backward movements.

(I was struggling with the "sink the chi" stuff and was trying a variety of external exercises like the above. What I was missing then is that sink comes through relax. Now, I've got a better feel for this. How do I know? I feel more loading in my legs.)

* During stance, felt pressure building behind my eyes. Then, think "Let go." Then felt it draining, like swallowing and then felt more balanced. Weird.

* Legs started shaking as usual but not rest of body as usual. I think, "Open between legs." and suddenly I feel a wave of pressure, warm, needle prickly feeling.

* From these experiences I learned the simple lesson of blocking, releasing and feeling the energy flow.
(Well, yeah, at the level I was capable of at that time...)

* I completed 30 minutes of standing but completely in my head, telling stories and thinking and then noticed how my whole body felt locked, rigid, holding its position but I'm not feeling any flow in the body.

* Standing yesterday morning I noticed upon relaxing the shoulder that the left side of shoulder blade got a sharp pain that drove my arm down.

* Standing and relaxing the pelvis, I noticed it keeps tensing up because I have to keep re-relaxing it. Why? Why does it tense up? I shifted focus to relaxing the shoulders and this seems to help keep the pelvis relaxed.

(Yeah, I still deal with this. Relax areas only to have them tense again. Relax, Tense, over and over, like a little ping-pong game I'm playing with myself. And an answer to "Why" would only be academic and of no practice-able value. Better to keep practicing relax and getting the chronic tensions worked out.)
Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Half Hour Getting Easier - Journal Notes #3
Next article in this series: This Is A Feeling Art: Journal Notes #5

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why Relax?

I have heard "Relax. Calm down. Let go." more often than I can remember. And I dutifully engage my concept of relax to the level I'm capable. But why relax? What's the purpose of relax?

Last night, while standing at my kitchen sink washing vegetables, my mind somehow turned to this question and some answers "just occurred to me". (See Framing Your Zhan Zhuang Practice about asking questions.) Here's the ideas I was tossing around...

At one level, there is the physiological knowledge that too much stress and tension constricts blood flow, pinches nerves, and is generally not good while relaxing allows more free flow and in turn, better health.

At an internal martial art level, one purpose of relax is to allow the weight to be more fully carried in the legs, creating a more stable structure. See Tai chi - Bottom Heavy, Top Light.

And then the insight I had was that as I go deeper into focusing internally on relaxing my musculature, what I'm actually doing is integrating more and more of my mind into my body which yields a different result than "just" relaxing. This led me to the idea that relax can be more than a result. Relax can also be a method.

Then I recalled, "The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method." So I wondered, if relax can be a method, and the method is not the truth, then what is the resultant feeling? Maybe relax is the finger pointing at the moon and not the moon itself.

At one level, relax remains a feeling to compare to tense or less relaxed. For example, "My lower back feels more relaxed now."

At another level, and what occurred to me is, the resultant feeling feels more... something. More mind-full? More integrated? More in-my-body feeling? I don't know what words to use to describe this kinesthetic feeling.

And then I thought about the apparent contradiction that relaxing leads to internal strength.

If I frame relax as a limp, mind-less, noodly feeling, then I don't see how this relax leads to internal strength.

But if I frame relax as a method which integrates mind and body and allows the possibility of developing body-mind-full-ness, then maybe there's no contradiction after all. Why relax? Because maybe relax (the method and the feeling) is a key to a door. But how this integration results in such sturdiness is still a mystery to me.

Does this make any sense? How would you describe your experience or practice with relax?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Half Hour Getting Easier - Journal Notes #3

Notes from my January 2000 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.)

* My "easy-going" persona can say "It doesn't matter." or "I don't care." but that's the mask, the armor speaking. There is a feeling I'm contradicting with "It doesn't matter." I never noticed this before.

* What's your purpose? To have a special kind of power, strength. To have something that few others have. To be respected. (Wow! So much insecurity and ego !)

* Hurt comes out as anger. Are the two the same? How do I express hurt?

* Last night in stance, pain in mid-back, left shoulder between spine and shoulder blade. Somehow let it go. Then Zowee! pain like a big animal biting my right elbow. What is that about?

* Letting go hurts. Why continue this craziness?

* Generally can feel abdominal area and chest move with breath but pelvis and shoulders locked, not moving with breath. Body not moving as a whole. I want to feel that whole-body-breathing feeling.

* Last night during stance, noticed arms had lowered from hold-the-ball position and I wanted to raise them. Felt arms just float up, feeling full. But when I pulled my attention from them, they started to sink so I immediately put my attention back in and kept it there. Is this the feeling of "the Yi leads the Chi" (the mind leads the body)? Is this the magic power I'm shooting for? This morning I tried this again and it did not work. There's got to be a trick to this.

* While standing, it feels like relaxing will naturally create a "tuck" and I don't need to muscle it (as early tai-chi classes taught).

* Took a shower after stance last night. While getting undressed, I noticed a bunch of tiny red dots on lower torso, pelvis and inner thighs. Each looks kind of like a burst capillary but I've never had so many at one time! What triggered this? Why so many? Today, most seemed to have gone away. Weird.

* Standing for 30 minutes is getting easier. Pretty easy to do the time. In fact, surprised when the alarm rang. Noticed right should pain not as severe. One night, felt my chest open. I felt very open, even vulnerable.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: What A Mess: Journal Notes #2
Next article in this series: Simple Lessons: Journal Notes #4

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Framing Your Zhan Zhuang Practice

How do you prepare for Zhan Zhuang practice? What's your intent or attitude or focus prior to standing? What's your intent or attitude or focus while standing? Over the years, I've approached my practice with different intents. However, I did not recognize a difference between a prior-to-session intent and a during-session intent. I had only one intent and a few of these have been:

* The intention to stand for 10 minutes, then 20, then 30, then 45, then 60. I focused on time-in-stance, believing that the longer I stood, the better my zhan zhuang.

* The intention to pay attention to or focus on anything else besides the incessant, rambling audio in my head; the "monkey-mind". I focused on listening to "meditation" music, and/or standing outside "in nature" listening to birds, crickets, frogs.

* The intention to re-produce a particular, mechanically derived feeling, for example sink the chi, or recalling a kinesthetic memory, or that feeling from the last class.

And of course, there are intentions that are permutations and variations on each as well as others.

Recently, I started playing with a different intent which for many years I regarded as a silly woo-woo (spiritual or mystical) mind game because I wanted a defined, intellectual, mechanical method that I could imitate, duplicate, replicate. I see now that I disregarded this method because I could not yet feel how it worked. I guess I wasn't ready for it.

This intent method says: Put a question "out there". Ask a question and let it go. Don't try to think of an answer (because thinking is not the same as feeling) and don't try to find or create an imagined feeling. Simply wait and notice what shows up.

So over the last couple weeks, after starting a practice session, I would ask the question, "How can I feel more connected?" I would then stand... and wait... and wait... noticing... waiting.... but nothing would show up. I didn't feel anything like an answer. So I asked my Wujifa school brothers during a recent class; How do I get this method to work for me?

I like Dan's response which went something like this: "It's like baking chocolate chip cookies. You get different results depending on whether you put the chocolate chips in before or after baking."

So, if your pre-session intent or attitude or focus is "I gotta stand for 30 minutes" and then during-session you ask, "How can I feel more connected?" well, that's like putting the chips in after baking the cookie. You've already set the intent or focus on watching the clock.

On the other hand, if your pre-session intent or attitude or focus is, "Hmm... How can I feel more connected?" well, one answer might be, "I can practice stance." This sets the intent "I practice stance to feel more connected." This is like putting the chips in before baking the cookies.

So this is what I'm playing with in my Zhan Zhuang practice now.

Then too questions might arise: How do I ask a question? What kind of question should I "put out there"? That's a good question. I don't know. From class I've learned that if you build a lot of explanation and background to the question, the explanation and background may limit the possible range of answers.

For example, if you say, "I read "X" and I saw "Y" so I'm thinking connection should feel like "this concept-imagined feeling", so my question is: How do I feel connection between my hips and shoulders?" Well, this intellectualizing may limit what you can notice. However, if somehow you can bypass the back-story and simply ask, "How does the connection between my hips and shoulders feel?" or "What do I notice-feel between my hips and shoulders?" well, this may create an opportunity for a wider range of answer.

What I've tried to share here is that preparing for Zhan Zhuang practice can involve much more than waking up the brain early in the morning or relaxing in the evening or preceding practice with some activity like stretching or walking or whatever. If you can become aware of your intent or focus or attitude, then like baking chocolate chip cookies, you may discover if you're putting the chips in before, or after baking. (Oh, and by the way, I love a good chocolate chip cookie!)