Monday, September 5, 2011

Backlash: Journal Notes #55

Notes from my May 2008 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.)

* Question: Sometimes when practicing zhan zhuang, I get muscle spasms in my lower back. Why is this happening? How can I prevent this from happening?
Answer: You recently had a breakthrough. You shifted from living a rigid, analytical, rule-based life to living with more feeling and connection. But there is an internal battle between the new, free and feeling Mike versus the analytical, live rigidly by rules Mike. You're experiencing a whiplash effect between relaxing and letting and wanting to hold on. If you attach to a rule (an exercise) to fix the problem, this only re-enforces the old habit. Stay with the feeling.

(So much of my blog focuses on developing kinesthetic feeling because my primary "mode of operation" was and largely continues to be living life from what the data says rather than living life from feeling kinesthetically.

In spite of having had moments of overwhelming kinesthetic feeling which point the way, I continue to hold on to and not let go of my more deeply held habits and patterns.

There is no difference between muscular patterning and behavioral patterning. Each is a representation of the other. The development of deeper relaxation and connection requires feeling and letting go of muscular-behavorial patterns. I know this as data and I'm still afraid to do this.)

* Note: One of the "Baba Roshi" stories... The monk who got so upset that he wasn't getting enlightened when all his fellow monks were so he went to a brothel and in the act experienced enlightenment. Point being, he let go of the rules and lived fully in the moment.

* Question: What is a functional understanding of karma?
Answer: Karma is what happened yesterday. Yesterday is your past life.Today is a new day to create a new life, new karma, or resolve yesterday's karma. The coolest thing about stance is feeling connecting in the present moment.

* Question: Regarding Ego, how do I know if my quiet noticing is a quieting of the Ego or noticing from that space outside my Ego?
Answer: Don't be concerned with analytical distinctions of ego vs. non-ego. Ego is one of those ambiguous terms like Qi. It doesn't matter if it's ego or something else that is being still, the point is to experience stillness. Go to the feeling. Calm down...

* Question: I'm working on relaxing my feet. Is my weight dropping through my feet correctly?
Answer: Relax is not limp. You don't want a limp foot. We wear shoes not made for feet. Gravity and the lack of proper exercise results in the arch "falling". Using arch supports is a crutch. It's better to work on re-developing the arch. For example, exercise moving the ball of the foot toward the heel to get an arch with the correct intention.

* Question: What can I do to get more flexible and maintain connection?
Answer: For internal strength, you don't need a lot of flexibility. Being hyper-flexible can work against you. It's best to have a proper level of flexibility in the ankles and hips. Stretch your calves and hamstrings. Open the lower back. Being able to do a proper squat is all the flexibility you need.

* Question: What can I do to add value to the group?
Answer: Experiment, explore, share, write, post.

* Note: Force is a method used to create a feeling. Focus on the feeling, not the method/force used to create the feeling.

* Note: Invite an experience and be open to it. Standing develops intention. Relaxing helps opening. Don't get stuck on one-itis; "This is the one."

* Note: Don't rush it and it will happen faster.

* Note: Three paradoxes of internal strength:
  • Connected gives the appearance of locked - but connected is not locked.
  • Relaxed gives the appearance of limp - but relax is not limp.
  • Ease gives the appearance of easy - but ease is not easy.

* Question: What's the feeling of the chest dropping?
Answer: Take a big breath and raise the chest and then exhale and drop the chest. Get the feeling of the chest rising and dropping. Don't make the mistake of getting attached to the breath. Breathing is a method to get a feeling.

* Question: How would I transition from doing the "side-to-side" exercise to punching?
Answer: It's a process that takes a couple years after you have a good feeling of stance.
1. Feel the kua open and close and feel the back open (months).
2. Notice the feeling of twisting in the arms (at your side) under the skin (months).
3. Slowly (months) go with the twisting feeling.
4. Slowly (months) raise the arms to punching position.
5. Increase the speed of shifting, of opening and closing the kua (months).
6. Coordinate shifting with punching (months).

(My school brother is making real nice progress developing a connected punch. A real inspiration! However, without watching how someone goes through this process, or having gone through it yourself, then you will likely not understand these words. What should be clear is that developing a connected punch takes time and effort.)

* Question: What about push hands drills?
Answer: What is commonly taught as "push-hands" is all technique based.

When you distill out the principle of push-hands you find you only need to train:
1. Point (match each other) and
2. Off point (mismatch each other).

(From my years of practicing "push-hands", I would liken this experience to a K-12 level education. I have not seen anyone else practice "point off-point" push-hands which I would liken to a Ph.D. level education.

In point off-point push-hands, which begins similar to push-hands with both players in contact with each other, neither person makes what are normally considered to be "observable movements". All the action is inside as each training partner helps identify tense areas in the other through applying an appropriate level of pressure to help the other make subtle postural adjustments, to relax tense areas which improves internal connectedness to ground.

From this perspective, what is popularly known as "push-hands" may be considered a gross external practice.)

* Question: I can feel the burn in one leg but not the other. How come?
Answer: Your weight is not dropping because you're holding in the torso. Relax. Get the feeling of the side of the torso lengthening.

* Note: The training for internal strength can be summed up in one word. Relax. However, you need someone to notice what you cannot notice in yourself. You need a good training partner. This is what a teacher really does. Helps you notice so you can develop your own ability to notice.
(The Wujifa exercises provide a template or pattern against which the teacher compares your patterned movement. In pointing out how you can improve doing the exercise, you also notice and become more aware of your own patterns.

From my experience, one pattern that gets built in through traditional K-12 and college coursework is to put responsibility on the teacher to teach me. But to develop the ability to notice, feel and make progress developing internal strength requires almost an opposite approach. This lesson can take a while to learn in itself.)

* Question: How about using mirrors for practice.
Answer: It's OK to stand before a mirror initially for the visual cue. Then practice with eyes closed. Then practice with eyes open without mirror. Closed eyes practice helps develop the looking inside to help focus attention inside not distracted by external visual stimuli. This too is a method. Once you get the feeling, then practice with eyes open.

(I've found that when I practice with my eyes closed it's easier to "drift off" into La-La Land. Keeping the eyes open and having that visual stimuli helps keep me present.)

* Question: Sometimes in stance my arms feel like floating. Is it OK to go with the feeling?
Answer: In stance, don't zone out to La-La Land. If your arms are down and feel like floating up, don't do it. Rather, raise them with purpose and intention. But be careful with this. Sometimes raising the arms is a way to cheat, a way to pull the weight out of the legs into the chest. Be aware of what's going on in your body when you feel the "urge" to raise your arms.

* Note: A couple notes on stance practice in class today.
  • Started very rigid. Too much trying to stand. Too much following the rules. Rick helped me lighten up by giggling, poking, laughing which helped me shift. Just stand. Don't "do stance". You learned the rules, now forget the rules. Relax. Enjoy.
  • Wow! Feel heavy below, light above. Waves of pleasure, bliss. Waves of sadness and crying. Felt more completely in my own body than ever before.
(From what I've read and seen online, people don't talk emotions that may come up during stance practice. I find this odd since I've seen in others and experienced myself emotional responses in the process of relaxing and letting go. I've even heard other high-level masters speak privately of emotional reactions during stance practice.

The purpose of stance is to feel and relax and build connection.
The purpose is not to evoke emotional reactions. Sometimes there may be spontaneous emotional reactions like laughing or crying or fright or calm during workouts. These and other reactions are simply part of the process.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Don't Do Stance, Just Stand: Journal Notes #54
Next article in this series: Teaching Internal Strength: Journal Notes #56

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