Monday, March 28, 2011

Zhan Zhuang Practice Time: Journal Notes #32

Notes from my October 2005 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.)

* Must stand for one hour minimum. It takes 30-45 minutes to hit and go through "the wall".

* Stance is like other physical activities. For example, to get a cardiovascular workout requires the heart rate at "x" beats per minute for "y" minutes. To build muscle with weightlifting requires three sets of ten repetitions per set. Any less heart rate or time or any less sets or reps doesn't yield the desired result. With stance it takes 30-45 minutes for the mind to calm down. As the mind calms, the bio-chemistry changes. After you get through "the wall", like the marathon runner, you enter a different place where the body changes and real progress is made.
(I think it comes down to: "What's your purpose?" Somewhere else in these notes I have: Practice 20 minutes for health. Practice 40 minutes for health and development. Practice 60 minutes for development.

That said, for a while I was standing an hour a day. And then I hit another kind of wall and backed off from that. Simple is not easy.

Building up to an hour is difficult but there's the sense of accomplishment in building your time. It's hard but it's fun because you see your accomplishments. Once you get there and if something pulls you away, whatever it is, then it is sooooo much harder to get back to that hour again. So if I were to give any advice, once you get to the hour, then stick with it!)
* You can approach stance from either of two places:
1. The "Light" side: Love, excitement, and enjoyment.
2. The "Dark" side: Rules and obligation where the only "pleasure" is in following the rules.

* Doing stance for 20-30 minutes never gets you to the place where stance is enjoyable.

* Doing stance for 20-30 minutes keeps you in the "Dark" side because you never hit the enjoyable part of stance and so you never do stance for the love of it but rather stay stuck in doing it as an obligation, a rule, a "must do" to get something.

(From my limited exposure to others' teachings, my guess is that many people don't teach stance to the level that it is taught in Wujifa. There is something really unique going on here... Take note! )
* Fake it until you make it. It's kind of like having faith. Find a place where you are excited about something and use that attitude to do stance as a method to get you over the hump, through "the wall", until you hit that place where stance feels good.

* This school is all about the ordinary. Take the ordinary and practice and refine it until it becomes extra-ordinary. Continue practicing the ordinary until it becomes extraordinary.

(I still struggle with the logic of: How can "just" standing and feeling result in developing internal strength? It does not compute! Of course, we do more than "just" stand. There's a ton going on during stance and there are a ton of other exercises as well, a few of which have been noted in these Journal notes. I don't understand and yet I am open. Maybe as I get more and more into the FEEL...)
* What is your purpose in practice? "I want to feel. I want internal power." (This answer felt strange. But yes, I want to be strong.) To have internal power you must practice more. Development is directly related to time in stance. You already have the understanding of the process, the alchemy, how lead is transformed into gold. Keep practicing.

* The kua has two fundamental directions. It can fold vertically as when practicing side-to-side, and it can fold horizontally as when doing sink and bow.

* Sink and bow are external methods. Feel, then manifest and amplify the feeling more with your mind (internally) and less with mechanical movements (externally).

* Question: How to get the chest to drop and keep the neck straight so the head doesn't tilt forward?
Answer: After ten minutes of adjusting stance, the verbal summary is to let go of the holding pattern in the pelvis. Drop the back of the pelvis and rotate the femur heads forward.

* In one student, adjustments to the pelvis resulted in her standing on her toes. The problem is too much tension in the hip and so the ankle became the hip joint. The angle of the pelvis and knee would not extend beyond a certain point and so the ankle absorbed the posture.

* When you stand, keep the elbows down at the sides for the first five years. Imagine heavy weights on the elbows if you must. Relax the shoulders. If you try to stand with elbows high (as you see in many "holding the ball" qigong postures) before you are ready, before you understand how to raise the elbows and maintain relax and connection through the shoulder, then you will likely tense up the wrong shoulder muscles. Tensing the shoulder to raise the elbows is wrong.
(It's worth mentioning again that imagining is a method to elicit a specific, functional Feeling. I spent years imagining all kinds of things and got no result.)
* Question: Why is it so difficult to surrender, to "let go"? Why do I have to go through such hell?

Answer #1: Think of your body parts as a community. The job of the legs is to carry the weight, to "take a stand", to "stand up for" the community. But someone in the community decided a long time ago that the weight should be carried in the neck, the pelvis, and in the chest. In retrospect, this was a bad decision that has now become a habit.

Answer #2: Mystically speaking, you are numb and the next level up is hell and the next level up is heaven. Entering hell is the beginning of feeling all your bad postural habits. So hell is a good place to be because you are more alive, no longer numb.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Yin-Yang Wuji Fulcrum: Journal Notes #31
Next article in this series: Discover Your Power: Journal Notes #33

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Journey to Feeling: Part 3

Feeling the ever increasing subtleties of kinesthetic feeling, the internal connectedness in Wujifa zhan zhuang also requires a journey into feeling the depth and breadth of emotional feeling.

If you haven't read My Journey to Feeling: Part 2 you may want to read that before continuing here.

* Non-articulated verbal responses (internal monologue) to an event is not a feeling. What is the feeling under this?

* The body is constantly taking in and processing stimuli. However, there is too much to analyze rationally so feeling provides a slice of reality, a compressed summary, a use-able message.

* Process is something like: Perception, Feeling, Response, Thought.

* Feeling can be influenced by beliefs and memory. A belief system can dampen feeling, for example, it's bad or wrong to express feelings of anger, lust, or whatever feeling...

* There are no good or bad, right or wrong feelings. Judgment is born of thought. Feeling is always pre-thought, pre-verbal.

* Fantasy keeps you "safe" in terms of, it acts like a pressure relief valve. Engaging in fantasy creates an internal event that fools the body and reduces the pressure. However, it does not promote a functional integration of feeling, thought and action.

* To the extent that you dampen one feeling is the extent to which you dampen all feeling. For example, dampen anger or sadness and you unwittingly dampen joy and compassion. If you dampen your ability to feel emotions, then you also dampen your ability to feel kinesthetically.
(Within the last month of this writing, I had an experience at Wujifa class which crystallized this for me. I'm thinking now that I've reached a plateau in what I can feel kinesthetically because I have the damper on feeling emotionally. I've got to work on developing my ability to feel emotionally to continue making progress feeling kinesthetically. Everything is connected!)
* Notice your rules governing expressing feelings.

* What are you afraid of? What are you avoiding? For me, right now, I'm afraid of and avoid emotionally charged conflicts. I avoid feeling overwhelmed by feeling.

* How do you dampen feeling? I load it into my shoulders - I feel my shoulders tensing and tingling. I give myself "heart-burn". I clench my jaw and grrrrr.
(Notice that these are all pre-verbal, pre-thought bodily responses to a feeling that were possibly developed in and shaped by earlier situations which over time may have become beliefs which now unconsciously control my kinesthetic reaction. Noticing a meta-process loop?)
* So... when a feeling arises, practice just "being" with the feeling. Try to not judge. Try to not dampen. Try to not express. Simply sit with the feeling. Notice and feel.

* Find a list of feeling or emotion words. Identify and distinguish your different feelings. Become familiar with your range of feelings.

* You can allow a fullness of feeling and choose to not act. Simply notice "Ah. This is how anger feels. This is how sadness feels. This is how lust feels. etc..." Sit with the feeling. Notice how the feeling feels as it moves through your body. Connect. What do you notice?

* Don't fall into the trap of "I think I should feel..." whatever in a given situation. Simply notice.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yin-Yang Wuji Fulcrum: Journal Notes #31

Notes from my September 2005 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.)

* "Elbows down" does not necessarily mean pointed vertically, physically down. The elbows can be pointed horizontally and still be "pointed" down when the intention in the elbows is down and not up. Also, when there is relaxation in the shoulder, and when the elbows feel as if they are sinking or pulling down, this is "elbows down".

* Question: When I drop or relax the elbow, I feel a tugging or stretching at the elbow. Is this good or bad?
Answer: A good sign but a bad habit needs resolving. Drop the shoulder. Start the stretch from higher in the shoulder. This will relieve some of the tugging feeling and yield a deeper connection.

(For more on relaxing the shoulder see the Wujifa article, Methods for Understanding the Relaxed Shoulder or Song Jian 鬆肩.)
* When adjustments to one's zhan zhuang structure are made on a tight, contracting body, the "natural" reaction is to contract more and more. When adjustments to one's zhan zhuang structure are made on a relaxed, expanding body, the "natural" reaction is to expand more and more.
(Maybe a better word than "natural" would be "habitual" , although when I'm receiving adjustments, my body appears to me to respond "naturally". I don't even notice the habit that is so deeply embedded that it now feels "natural". By extension, learning to stand and move in a more functional manner initially feels "un-natural".)
* Some silk reeling details: The main opening (expanding) and closing (contracting) occurs at the groin (kua) and to a lesser degree at the opposite breast kua. For the "qi to shoulder" move, the arm raises, back expands and upper abdomen rolls in. For the "qi to waist" move, breath out and allow the arm to follow the sinking feeling. The opposite shoulder does not turn. Breathe with each motion. Follow the natural ebb and flow of the force of the breath. Don't force anything.
(This is one tip of many that I've learned over the years at Wujifa class. When I learned this first Chen Xiaowang silk reeling exercise at a seminar, I only learned the gross mechanical movement. I really appreciate being able to receive this kind of advance training at The School of Cultivation and Practice.)
* Question: What to do with or about "back pain" where the muscle spasms and "locks" making moving difficult?
Answer: Remember, Chen Xiaowang says that shaking in stance is Qi hitting a block and trying to get through. Emotionally, a spasm is the body blocking something that is trying to get through, so the bottom line is to work with it, get into it, and to find out "why". Back pain provides you with a great learning opportunity. Don't medicate it to try to make it go away.
(I've had recurring bouts of muscle spasms in my upper and lower back over the last twenty years. I haven't had a spasm in a while since working on relaxing more deeply with Wujifa Zhan Zhuang. It's also taken me awhile to get over "freezing" in fear when I'd feel a spasm starting and to intentionally relax it. More recently, as I continue working on "widening and lengthening" my lower back, I can sometimes position myself to feel a "tugging"; what feels like a hard block (over the sacrum) suspended between two elastic bands. For me, relaxing (developing "song"), is a long-term and on-going project.)
* "When one part moves, all parts move". I saw and understood now three different ways that people move when doing taichi and push hands:
  1. Disconnected, noodley, "Gumby"-like. The individual parts move but blockages (localized, chronically tense muscles) prevent integrated movement.
  2. Block-like. A misinterpretation of this statement where the torso is "locked down" as if in concrete.
  3. True meaning - a dynamic, holistic, integrated, free, unblocked, unimpeded, smooth movement. Not a conscious kinetic behavior, rather a spontaneous movement that looks like it's powered by the legs, directed by the waist and expressed in the fingers.

disconnected vs block vs connected

* People tend to see through the dualistic (yin-yang) "rose colored" glasses and by being so focused, they can't or don't see the underlying fulcrum on which the yin-yang is balanced.

* When you look at examples A, B, C, and D, (below) in yin-yang terms, you see that B needs more yang than C, which needs less yang to move the block. In D, moving the fulcrum yields the same result from a different point.

* A block lays on the ground. How much yin-yang does it have? As you practice stance, you begin to develop a little fulcrum under the block but movement is limited. As you develop your fulcrum, the amount of yin-yang power naturally increases. If you focus on yin-yang and your fulcrum is not developed, you will not have much internal power.
(What I get from this is that I can either practice and develop more and more yin and more and more yang or I can practice becoming the fulcrum and becoming that upon which yin-yang rests.

For more on the Wujifa fulcrum see: Wujifa Triangles.)
* With the arm held in a standard zhan zhuang stance position (elbows at side, forearms parallel to floor, palms facing each other, fingers extended)...
Feel intention into the little finger - the qi moves along the bottom of the forearm.
Feel intention into the top finger - the qi moves along the top of the forearm.
Feel intention into the middle finger - the qi moves through the middle of the forearm.
Feel intention in all fingers - the forearm feels full.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Practice Non-Polarity: Journal Notes #30
Next article in this series: Zhan Zhuang Practice Time: Journal Notes #32

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Journey to Feeling: Part 2

Feeling the ever increasing subtleties of kinesthetic feeling, the internal connectedness in Wujifa zhan zhuang also requires a journey into feeling the depth and breadth of emotional feeling.

If you haven't read My Journey to Feeling: Part 1 read that before continuing here.

Most people are neither "up" nor "down" but in a kind of "neutral" emotional space.

I've noticed that my "neutral" space is more a kind of numbness as if there were no undercurrent of the joy of living, curiosity, playfulness, enthusiasm. Daily life is more like mechanically going through the motions of living; like a kind of emotional zombie.

Question: How do I feel what is under this "numbness"?

Numbness is a form of depression. People can't walk around everyday being sad, or angry, or fearful, or lonely, or whatever so they numb themselves, damper, mute the feeling. However, damping or muting feeling cannot be selectively applied to particular feelings. Damping affects all feelings, like the damper pedal on the piano, it dampens the entire keyboard.

Sometimes people numb themselves to "soldier through" a particular situation but then get stuck there. They fulfill their duty or responsibility but then lose their response-ability, their ability to respond.

For some people, the underlying emotion is fear. What are you afraid of? What are you avoiding?

Coming out of numbness can be dangerous in that you don't know how to handle all the feelings you are now no longer numb to. It's like coming out of a dark movie theater into the afternoon sun and you cringe and shield your eyes until they adjust.

Taking the damper off may drop you into a swamp. Feelings can be messy. A lot of people don't want to go into the swamp. Going through your swamp is your gong-fu.

The good news is that you don't need to make what are considered big, life altering changes. A change of one degree (of the 360 on a compass) today can result in a huge change over time. Baby steps also feel safer and can be easier to implement.

Look at the past, not for a magical "a-ha" solution to today's concern, but rather for a time when the damper was off. Also, to reveal any early patterns that got embedded and may be influencing choices today.

Notice when and more importantly how you mute or dampen feeling. Use the "when" to notice the "how".

Monday, March 14, 2011

Practice Non-Polarity: Journal Notes #30

Notes from my August 2005 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 are different translations:
  • Round the back, sink the chest.
  • Expand the back, soften the chest.
  • Keep the back straight, relax the chest.
This does not mean to do both. Take a deep breath, raise the chest up higher and higher and now let the breath out. Notice what you felt. The chest dropped and the back naturally rounded. Don't try to make the back round. Rather, focus on relaxing the chest, releasing the tension held in the chest as you do this. Get behind the feeling in the back. Feel where the force is going. In the beginning, just feel for a while.Slowly and gently, then amplify and grow this feeling. This is the correct approach. It is wrong to try to force the back to expand without knowing the feeling.

* Question: Is improved structure synonymous with increased strength?
Answer: Structure, balance, relax are all factors in strength. If any single one is perfect, then the others must be perfect as well. In the beginning, you feel the three as distinct but as you progress , the three become one and the same. As you work on each individually, you are working on the others as well. You cannot change/work on one without affecting the others.

* Question: Is it better to practice stance in silence or with music playing?
Answer: The best is to practice in silence and focus inward on the inner silence. But in the beginning, this is torturous. So you use music as a drug to soothe the mind, to keep it occupied. Eventually, you will wean yourself off this drug to stand in complete silence, stillness.
(In case this didn't come up before... when I first started standing, I used and hid an alarm clock set for 10, 20, 30 minutes. This was really difficult waiting for the alarm to ring and I would check the clock to make sure it didn't stop. I moved into listening to music and timed how long it took to get through to a certain song and then stood to the end of that song. As that got easier, I moved into just standing, no alarm clocks, no music but with a clock in view.)

* Practice under-ware. Not a-ware, and not un-aware as these are terms of polarity from the yin-yang paradigm. Focus on the fulcrum at ever increasing magnifications.

aware vs underware vs unaware
(This is a fun play on words, a kind of a koan... )

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Xing-Yi Quan Five Element Seminar: Journal Notes #29
Next article in this series: Yin-Yang Wuji Fulcrum: Journal Notes #31

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Journey to Feeling: Part 1

Developing the ability to feel is a journey.

Sure, I can "feel". I have the sensory perception of touch. My tongue can distinguish flavors. My ear can hear a variety of pitches, timbres and volumes. I can feel emotions. So what's the problem? After all these years, why do I still have trouble feeling deeper and ever more subtle layers of my "internal" kinesthetics which is needed to develop the internal strength of Taiji, Ba-gua, and Xing-yi? Feeling is feeling is feeling after all, right?

Somewhere in my life, I came to value others' feelings over mine especially when my feelings conflicted with others' feelings. In those cases, I would de-value and block expressing my feelings and rationalize a "good reason" for doing so.

I recently discovered that my efforts in developing kinesthetic feeling in Wujifa Zhan Zhuang conflicted with my lifelong habit of stifling my emotional feeling as I just described. As a result, I was trying to grow feeling AND at the same time, I was trying to squash feeling. I was trying to light the candle and extinguish the candle at the same time.

Years ago I tried an exercise: Check in with yourself periodically throughout the day and notice what you're feeling. When I tried this, I mostly noticed that I felt nothing and so I gave up on the exercise.

Recently, I've picked this up again. But in the interim, I learned that I cannot ever not be feeling. Me, "my" body is a sensory organ. There is no fundamental disconnect between my "head" and my "heart". The connection is there. (It's called the nervous system.) Physiological processes encounter or react to external or internal stimuli and create "feelings". Feeling is primary. Rationale thought and interpretation of feeling is secondary.

And if there is ever a time when there appears to be no "emotional" feeling, then notice a physical feeling. Is the chair hard or soft? Are your eyes sore from reading too much? and on and on... There is always feeling.

So in trying this exercise now, I'm completely blown away each time I "check in" because I notice that I'm feeling! I don't need a label for the feeling. I simply notice a feeling. And here's an "Ah-ha!" moment... maybe where I got stuck before was thinking that if I couldn't label a feeling, then it didn't exist. So not true! The feeling existed. The label did not. Two very different experiences!

Developing a new habit of simply noticing feeling in all its variety is a journey that can begin with simple, baby steps like the exercise described above.

Continues with: My Journey to Feeling: Part 2

Monday, March 7, 2011

Xing-Yi Quan Five Element Seminar: Journal Notes #29

Notes from the July 9, 2005 Xing-Yi Five Element seminar held at Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA as taught by Gary S. Torres of the Phoenix Dragon Kung Fu Academy. This seminar was organized by The School of Cultivation and Practice. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

This seminar covered:
  • Five Element Fighting Theory
  • Meridian and Point Striking timetable
  • Xing-Yi Five Element form
  • Xing-Yi Five Element, Two-person form
  • Xing-Yi point striking
Five Element Fighting Theory

five element fighting theory
(The Five Element Theory diagram can also be seen at the Phoenix Dragon Kung Fu Academy.)

The destructive cycle of Five Elements:
  • Metal chops Wood
  • Wood separates Earth
  • Earth dams Water
  • Water puts out Fire
  • Fire melts Metal
The defensive cycle of Five Elements:
  • If attacked with Metal, retaliate with Fire
  • If attacked with Fire, retaliate with Water
  • If attacked with Water, retaliate with Earth
  • If attacked with Earth, retaliate with Wood
  • If attacked with Wood, retaliate with Metal
A defensive move includes both defensive and offensive techniques. When you set up the move, you know how the other person will respond, so it's like a trap. When he goes for it, then finish the move. Fight with contingencies!

When you get hit, slap the point that got hit and rub C2 on the opposite side of the body that got struck. This will dissolve the energy.

(Gary Torres is an osteopath, a chiropractor and is certified in Traditional Chinese Medicine and so he often uses explanations from all three systems. When he references C2 he is giving a general location at the top of the spine. The point to be rubbed is underneath the base of the skull next to vertebra C2, opposite the side you got struck . This is a very powerful and handy way of neutralizing point strikes that is not commonly shared publicly.)

The Dan-Tian is the only place in the body that can store energy without any ill effects.

Medicine is the right spot, the right time, the right concentration.
Poison is the wrong spot, the wrong time, the wrong concentration.

Healing is about acu-point activation. Delivering medicine. Intended to restore, balance, or enhance chi flow.

Martial arts is about acu-point fighting. Delivering poison. Intended to impede, unbalance, or stop chi flow.

Strike three points and this is a knockout. Strike five points and this is death.

Some points need to be touched, rubbed, or hit in a certain direction depending on the time of day. (The cycle of qi flow in the meridian system was reviewed.) Need to know the time of day so you know when the energy is in which meridians. Energy is in a meridian for two hours. Strike these meridians during these time to interrupt chi flow.

* The lecture then concluded and we were instructed to put away our notebooks and we learned the Xing-Yi Five Element form and the Xing-Yi Five Element Two-person form. He concluded the seminar by demonstrating a simple "sleeper" point rub.

See also my other articles describing my training experience with Master Torres:
Gary Torres: Journal Notes #10
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Martial Stances
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Basic Training
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Martial Intent

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Yan Gaofei Tai-chi Spear Seminar: Journal Notes #28
Next article in this series: Practice Non-Polarity: Journal Notes #30