Monday, December 20, 2010

Relaxation Riddles: Journal Notes #18

Notes from my May and June 2004 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.)

May 2004 -
* The path of development is a path marked by various feelings. As you grow, your feeling experiences will change. An experienced guide will be able to recognize where you are in your development based on the feeling experiences you describe and the kinds of questions you ask. In this realm, book knowledge is an impediment because the mind will think it knows something when in fact the feeling (that you need to learn) cannot be learned through reading.

(It's only after having developed a feeling that I'm able to go back and read how someone else describes the feeling and say, "Yeah, it could be described that way.")

June 2004 -
* Once you get the feeling, go straight for it every time. Program yourself for the feeling. You have to be able to drop into it at a moment's notice. It has to become intuitive, automatic, like the professional basketball player, after years of practice, it all comes naturally.

* There are different training strategies.
  1. Hold the position in stance no matter how much it hurts and eventually the tension will release.
  2. "Where the mind goes, the chi follows"
    • 2a. Focus on part of your body and keep building the chi there until it breaks out.
      2b. Focus on another part of the body than where you are focusing.

* Don't tuck. A lot of Tai-chi teachers erroneously teach their students to "tuck under". The resultant problem is that the lower back bows out losing its straightness and the intention is driven forward instead of straight down.

* Exercise to help loosen and develop feeling in a tight lower back. Sit on the edge of a hard chair with feet flat on floor. "Slide" knees forward and back (only an inch or a couple cm) by rocking on the "sits bones" - the bones of the pelvis that contact the chair seat - creating alternating arched and straight lower back. Feel into the pelvis. (This is the Buddha Dipping His Something in the River Qigong.)
(I find that with any new exercise, I tend to force it, or muscle it to "do it right" and I can feel all the muscle-ing I'm doing which is OK to begin however, a more advanced practice is to continuously discover a more relaxed way to do the same, simple exercise. Sometimes I find different muscles can be used or that I don't need to use as much muscle to get the same movement. I've had lots of "a-ha" moments with this method alone!)

* Always remember that all these exercises and analogies and set-ups are methods to elicit a particular feeling. These are all methods to draw your awareness to a particular structure which has a feeling distinct from the structure you are usually familiar with.

* Focus on remembering the structural set up only as long as and until you recognize the feeling. Once you get the feeling, then focus on that and intensify the feeling. Explore where the feeling leads you. Grow in that feeling. Develop the kinesthetic feeling sense is the core practice, the key to "getting it".

* Remember:
  • Relax is not limp
  • Relax is no tension
  • Relax is Chi-ful
  • Maintain structure and release all unnecessary tension
  • Pressure is not tension.
  • Develop the feeling of pressure.
* Because of chronic tension in the glutteal muscles (tight ass), notice your natural standing posture of how the toes point out. This is due to tight muscles on one side pulling the toes out, not balanced. Practice stance to correct that to a balanced point. For me, this means turning the knees, femur heads forward but push the knees out to the side so don't become "knock-kneed".

* Question: My natural stance is with the toes pointed out, especially the right foot. Are there exercises to loosen the muscles so the feet naturally stance straight and parallel?
Answer: Stand "pigeon toed", toes touching and heels out to get the femur heads to roll forward, knees touching and pointing toward each other, slowly roll down, dropping the head and let the arms hang until between knees and floor. Roll up and repeat.

* Question: I notice I'm continually clenching the perineum area. How do I get this area to remain relaxed? I notice that when I relax this area I get a better relax/widening in the lower back.
Answer: (I've edited the original entry to the following...) Some techniques are neither generally nor publicly discussed. A technique may be used for different purposes but "unplugging" or releasing the tension in the perineum muscles to allow the Qi to drop is the purpose here. Remember, Tension restricts Qi flow. Relaxing allows Qi flow. You also may want to find a good instructional video on hip-freeing exercises.
(One reader suggested the book "Pelvic Power" by Ivan Franklin. I've heard, 'the best place to hide a planet is out in the open where everyone can see it'. I've found this to be true in at least a few different ways.

Discovering my muscular holding patterns regardless of bodily location is an amazing part of the process. Just because I'm able to relax say my abdomen area doesn't necessarily indicate that I've relaxed another area.)

* Question: I feel a pain in the collarbone while standing. What's up with that?
Answer: If it's pain from releasing and relaxing, then that's fine. Just breath into it.
(I still experience this. It's not a bone pain, rather, when I relax the muscles in the front of my shoulder and neck I feel a 'tugging' or 'pulling' in a four fingertip width from the center end of the bone.)

* All the exercises are done slowly and deliberately with intention of feeling the fascia stretch throughout the body. We can dispense with talk of "Qi flow" and "Tan-tian" because these things appear spontaneously after sufficient feeling of fascial connectedness is developed.

* What's the feeling of this? Find the feeling! It's difficult to use words to describe that which words are ill-made to describe.

* The old old masters and teachings speak in contradictions because if a teacher said "X" then the mind would go to "X" and get stuck there.
(Hmmm... Contradictions like riddles fry the brain creating an opening for what... Yes ! Letting go... Relaxing... Even more... Now... )
Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Bio Questions: Journal Notes #17
Next article in this series: Practical Non-Attachment: Journal Notes #19


  1. I have a question about feet alignment.
    Most often I find that the outer edges of feet should be parallel but there are some who claim the centrelines or inned edges of feet should be parallel.

    Even more confusing is to discover pictures of Wang XiangZhai with feet pointed out.

    Anyone has any suggestions?

  2. My understanding is that foot placement is a method.

    Methods, like the finger pointing at the moon, are great pointers, however,

    The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, then get rid of the method.

    Here's something interesting, I can align my feet so they are parallel and then 'rolling' laterally on my heel, that is, rolling in (collapsing the arch) and rolling out (increasing the arch), can take them out of parallel alignment.

    I notice that rolling on my heels changes where the weight falls through my heels.

    So maybe more important than center or outside alignment is noticing the feeling of where the weight drops.

    If my feet are parallel but my ankles are collapsed inward, that is, my weight is not dropping cleanly through the center of my ankle/heel, this could skew my knees and contributing to tension in my lower back...

    Maybe once you get the feel for cleanly dropping the weight through the heel, then foot alignment (for this purpose) becomes less important?

    What do you think?

  3. I think I'm dropping my weight through but I don't have the feeling associated with it.

    I've tried the rolling and both feet aligned so that the second toe is pointing forward.

    There is a slight pronation on my left leg. I'll try to concentrate on that.

    (When beginning I had a very unpleasant feeling of literally crushing my heels with my weight. It's no longer there fortunately.) (:

  4. For me, when "I think" I'm doing something, this is an indication that I'm not. The validation is in the feeling.

    Assuming you don't have a medical condition causing the unpleasant feeling, maybe what you call the 'heel crushing feeling' is how you are feeling and describing your weight dropping at this point in time?

    Maybe, and I'm making a guess here and you could verify this, maybe your structure is carrying your weight in the balls of your feet. Shifting the weight to the heels could feel like a lot of weight in the heels. How does this fit?

    What do you notice regarding your weight dropping if you aim to feel your 'heel crushing' feeling?

    For some other tips, check out the Zhan Zhuang Alignment article:

  5. I can no longer feel that even if I shift the weight.

    I'll try aligning centers of my feet as is suggested by Wang XiangZhai in the book The Right Path of Yiquan. Maybe I'll get the feeling right after some time.

  6. It would be really neat if you could visit The School of Cultivation and Practice sometime.

    We could talk all day long and practice even longer when a couple minutes of seeing and hands-on adjustments would do the trick.

    All the best!