Monday, February 27, 2012

Beginning How to Feel Connection: Journal Notes #80

Notes from my July 2010 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.)

* Note: I feel that I've shifted from a focus on looking for the answer to "How to develop internal strength?" in data to looking for the feeling in my body. With this shift came a puzzle. I know how to ask questions from a data or mechanistic perspective. I don't know how or what to ask about my internal kinesthetic feelings. As such, I feel that I am now lacking curiosity.
(It's odd to think that curiosity only applies in the venue in which I've lived most of my life; mechanistic and generally numb to kinesthetic feeling. Curiosity is curiosity. It's not that there's a lack of curiosity but more that there is a not knowing how to apply it.)

* Question: I feel like I'm not connected. How do I begin feeling connection?
Answer: Stand with your weight equally distributed on both feet. Feel your right foot. Shift your weight to your left and lift your right hip. What happened?

Me: My right foot lifted off the ground.

Instructor: Good! So you are connected and you noticed connection!

Me: Well, of course my hip and foot are connected! Don't be so patronizing.

Instructor: Noticing or feeling your body in a mechanistic way is a good place to start. You are where you are. Notice and feel the fingers connected to the wrist connected to the elbow connected to the shoulder. Begin with noticing and feeling this level of connectedness.

Can you notice and feel more? Can you notice and feel in-between the various joints. This is another beginning level.

Don't force a feeling with muscular tension and don't imagine feelings. Simply feel what you are currently able to feel and notice what you feel.

Can you notice and feel more?

If you notice numbness, or an area where you can't feel, it's good that you notice that. Is that the most numb area? Is there an area that is less numb? Is there an area where you can feel even a little maybe in comparison to the numb or less numb areas? If you noticed each of these areas, now you have noticed and distinguished two to three different feelings. This is a great place to start! Build on this.

* Here's a method to help develop a connection with yourself. What we're going for is arousing an emotional energy and not necessarily a label-able feeling like "happy". Using both hands, "pet" one of your thighs and in soothing comforting tones say, "Good puppy!" Maybe one leg won't respond so try the other leg. Pay attention to notice when you get a shift in energy as your body responds to your praise.

* Regarding zhan zhuang adjustments, most people move the arm and shoulder as a single unit. They have lost the flexibility to allow the arm to move independently of the shoulder. For example, in the customary zhan zhuang posture of "Holding the ball", people tend to hunch or pull their shoulders together in front as they move their hands together. To counter the hunching, roll the shoulders back. What typically happens next is that rolling the shoulders back results in the hands pulling apart. The "trick" is to keep the hands together in front and the shoulders back.
(Some people will struggle to force this movement, "See I can do it!" but when the muscles used to force the movement get tired, then the original posture re-emerges. Moving as a single, rigid block, is not the kind of connection we are looking for. The "trick" is to learn to relax. And learning to relax evolves through feeling and noticing and connecting with your kinesthetics.)

* Past muscular patterns get embedded in your body and you don't remember why, when or how it happened. These patterns show up in various areas of life. Everyone has their own pattern. You need to figure out your pattern. Like a tree, one pattern (the tree trunk) can have multiple manifestations (the tree branches).

* Notice the posture I assume when I say, "That's interesting." My head cocks to the side and the eyes look up and out. Notice the patterned body response.
(Noticing my patterned bodily responses is another way I can begin to notice and feel connection with myself.)

* Question: In the last class, you guys worked a lot on correcting my structure through my feet. How can I release tension in my feet so I get a better balance in my feet?
Answer: Stand with all your weight on a dull, hard object under the arches/instep at the most tender location. Stand on these golf balls.

(This is very painful both physically and emotionally and can result in releasing tension and getting energy to flow. The first time I tried this, it was completely unbearable. Each time I do it, it gets a little less painful and a little more interesting as I notice where I feel pain and where I don't.)

* Question: How would you explain the Tai-chi concept of "raise the spirit"?
Answer: The martial "spirit" is not about a killer spirit. Rather it is about being spirited in the sense of "high spirits", the cheerleader's "Rah! Rah! Rah!". Many people tend to be rather numb. They go through life and martial arts training very mechanically and lose spirit.

(The way I've experienced "raise the spirit" in Wujifa class is experiencing the kinesthetic feeling of being tall. The best way to describe it is it's as if I usually see the world from the ground floor and then I road an elevator to the top floor of a tall building and was standing on the observation deck seeing the world from this vantage point. It felt like I was looking out of my eyes for the first time. Kind of like standing tall and proud but without being proud of myself; more of a kinesthetic experience than an emotional experience. Though of course the kinesthetic and emotion overlap and cannot be compartmentalized. Hard to describe....

And what I also noticed is that I felt connected and present in that experience. So even though I may feel enthusiasm, I may still be mechanical and somehow "blocking" my spirit from "raising".)

* From what I've learned in class, the value of using a certain understanding of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) is that it provides a structure through which we can examine the intention or feeling behind one's words. If you only listened for the data meaning of the words, then you might miss the underlying feeling behind the words. It's the feeling behind the words that can reveal more about a person than the words themselves. Of course you may sense or intuit the feeling behind someone's words but without a structure, a "common language" to discuss that level of feeling, it is difficult to connect and help build awareness of one's patterns.
(You may want to see My Introduction to NLP: Journal Notes #40 to understand how I understand NLP.

Here's an observation from a typical Wujifa class. When I began, I couldn't see this happening. However, more recently, this is so much more apparent to me now.

When a student raises an issue or asks a question, the instructor listens more to the feeling behind the words and less to the cognitive aspect of the question.
Being able to see the body is additional corroborating information that provides a fuller picture as to the motivation and intention of the question or issue raised.
The resulting answer typically does not directly answer the cognitive aspect of the question or issue because the answer addresses a picture bigger than the limited cognitive aspect.

From my perspective as a student, this kind of answer can seem confusing and convoluted and when the answer includes physical adjustments to my stance or involves doing other movements, then it's easy to lose track of the relation of the answer to the original question.

However, what is interesting is that by the time we get to, "Does that answer your question?", I've got a fuller, deeper, richer understanding that is way beyond the limited scope of the answer I imagined my question was asking and often I notice there is a shift in my body as well.)

* Question: Why do some people make progress while others get stuck?
Answer: Chunk size. Some people have a goal of eating an entire cow in one sitting and others have a goal of eating a cow one bite at a time. Change your goal from "getting it" to the goal of learning and setting up and maintaining a time and space in daily life to practice. Keep your goal about learning, taking one bite at a time.

* Question: Why and how do I fall off the wagon and stop training?
Answer: If you want to be special, then Wujifa practice probably won't make you feel special. These are very functional and ordinary practices. Remember, Wujifa practice leads to results that a very tiny, tiny minority of people through all human history have ever achieved. Developing internal strength is not like learning to walk or ride a bicycle.

* Once again, be a scientist, an explorer, a discoverer. Even though you are looking for a particular outcome, namely, internal strength, you won't find it by looking for a particular outcome based on where you are now. Wherever you are and whatever results you notice at this time become the basis to guide your curiosity to explore and discover.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Deeper Insights into Zhan Zhuang Foundations: Journal Notes #79
Next article in this series: - Zhan Zhuang Question: Journal Notes #81

Monday, February 20, 2012

Deeper Insights into Zhan Zhuang Foundations: Journal Notes #79

Notes from my June 2010 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 foundation of zhan zhuang is in the feet. In today's June 6 class, my school brothers Rick, Dan, and John all worked on identifying and correcting my structural misalignment coming from my feet. They discovered my weight dropping down and out the inner side of my ankles (the medial malleolus?) rather than dropping straight down through the center of my tibia into and through my heel. I learned that I don't stand square on my feet. There are various muscular reasons for this.
(I think it was at this time that I started looking more seriously at working on my feet as a way to improve the effectiveness of my overall zhan zhuang structure. It's very interesting how small adjustments in the feet affects the connection to ground.

In Wujifa zhan zhuang, when adjusting someone's zhan zhuang structure, the feet are the first thing we look at and adjust. I've learned through experience why this is so important.

Something else I've learned since this June 2010 class is how little aware I was of the positioning of my feet. And in an art where kinesthetic awareness and feeling is of prime importance, discovering something as seemingly simple as the exact location and alignment of your feet can lead to deeper insights into the foundations of your zhan zhuang practice.)

* Question: How does my side-to-side look?
Answer: The best you've done so far. The hips are remaining more level as you shift (less muscular holding pulling your hips out of alignment) and your relaxing is showing up as more movement in and connection through the kua. Keep practicing.

* Question: It feels like fa-jing comes more from the inside muscle of the unweighted leg pulling-snapping the torso across and it's not the weighted leg pushing the torso across as I earlier understood it. Am I on the right track here?
Answer: Not really. The fascial stretch is more along the outside of the unweighted leg. You need to work at a deeper level than simply noticing fascial stretch. You need to get to where you actually build up the feeling of fascial stretch.

You want to develop the feeling in your fascia like you are pulling the string of an archer's bow as you practice the Wujifa Side-to-Side exercise. And then as if letting go of the bow-string, relax quickly. Relaxing quickly allows the stretched fascia to pull-snap the torso across. The energy stored in the stretched fascia when relaxed quickly is fa-jing.

If you try to do fa-jing with forced, mechanical, muscular movement, then you are building in bad habits and not learning what you need to learn. Continue relaxing and developing feeling fascial connection.

(Another bad habit is wanting to do more than I'm capable of. So even though my ego takes a hit, having an instructor that tells it to me like it is really helps keep me on the right track.)

* Question: I tried what you said but I didn't feel any pulling fascial stretch feeling. Why?
Answer: You don't have enough relax and feeling of fascial stretch built up yet. You're asking a question as if you were a playing with a child's toy archery set. Your draw weight is very low and you can only pull that toy bow string 1/2 millimeter.

( I love the archery metaphor as a way to describe fa-jing as "relax quickly" and as a way to gauge my developmental process. If I have no relax and no connection, then I'm not even in the archery shop. If I have a little relax and connection, I am beginning with a child's toy archery set. Again, you are where you are and that's where you start.

What's really cool about training in Wujifa over these years is that I'm getting better at seeing how fascial stretch generates fa-jing and how different people demonstrate their understanding of "fa-jing" even though I freely admit that I still don't do it right.)

* Occasionally practice the "Zhan Zhuang Dance Party". Use lighthearted, silly dancing as a method to reduce over-thinking the feel and focus more on simply feeling. Over-focused means too much analyzing. Dance with connection is a way to pull the "artist" into "martial artist". Bouncing off heal: Right 1,2; Left 3,4.
(Yes, sometimes the most valuable aspect of training is to break the over concentration on "getting it" or "doing it right" and loosen up and relax a bit which of course is the paradox of practice; finding balance between the extremes of wanting and letting go of wanting and discovering what shows up somewhere in the middle.)

* When there is muscular holding in the pelvis, it is said the crotch (裆 or 襠 ; dāng) is shaped like: "\and \!\," . Some people refer to this as "A" shaped or tent shaped crotch.

* When the muscles of the pelvis relax, it is said the crotch (裆 or 襠 ; dāng) is shaped like: "∩". Some people refer to this as a rounded or arch shaped crotch.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Methods, Feeling, Thinking: Journal Notes #78
Next article in this series: - Beginning How to Feel Connection: Journal Notes #80

Monday, February 13, 2012

Methods, Feeling, Thinking: Journal Notes #78

Notes from my May 2010 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: So, I now understand that "the feeling" can change as my practice deepens, that it's not an "on" or "off" proposition. How about relax?
Answer: Relax is not "on/off". Your musculature, your armors simply cannot let go 100% in an instant to achieve "sung". It may feel like on/off, tense/relax, hold/let go to you but in reality, your relax might only yield 2% or 5% of true "sung" and that's fine. You are where you are and that's where you start.

So start with what you are capable of doing. Get comfortable and notice what you notice at that level of relax. Later, relax further. And so on. Relaxing a little more. Letting go a little more. Over time the little steps add up.

(You might also like to read my Tai Chi Principles: Muscular Quality of Sung.)

* Question: You also say, "Relax is not limp." and to have "peng" I must relax but "peng" is more than relax. So is the quality of the relax feeling somewhere between limp and peng?
Answer: No system can define itself. You must get out of the system you use to create your definitions. There is no "in-between" because "between" is in the yin-yang system and the feeling you're looking for is some of each and neither of both.

Me: OK. But what is it?

Answer: Yes. It is what.

Me: Come on. "It is what" doesn't help me. Can you say that another way?

Answer: You might think of it as a third feeling always on the edge of awareness and understanding. Third feeling. First sensation. Present moment. Once the feeling is understood in the analytical mind, then it is history. If you get stuck on reproducing past feelings, that is, on feelings you understand, then you have stopped growing.

Noticing is a method to get into this "third feeling". Noticing always occurs in the present.
third feeling diagram
(You might also like to read my article The Third Feeling where this answer continues in more detail.)

* Question: Lots of teachers tell their students to imagine different stuff. Can imagination help with discovering this "third feeling"?
Answer: Imagination can be used as a method to find "the third feeling" but if this becomes patterned and projected into the future, that is, something you always go back to, then you don't grow. You must always be present to discover a new feeling on the edge of awareness and understanding.

* Question: So if imagination can become a method, how about feeling? Can feeling become a method too?
Answer: Feelings can become methods when you focus on developing "a" particular feeling. For example, now you say you are feeling expanding-ness. In fact, this is just a sign-post. Do not stop at the sign-post and continue working on developing that one expanding feeling. If you do, then you get stuck at that level and never progress. Continue to relax and develop feeling of connection.

(A challenging aspect of this practice for me is to continue past the sign posts.

For example, when my definition of my kinesthetic experience matches my pre-conceived definition of "peng-jing" which is based on reading other people's descriptions of "peng-jing", then I think I've achieved something and then I would stop there.

If it were not for the continued guidance of excellent advice like, "This is just a sign-post", I would easily have gotten stuck at the first "I got it!" level a long time ago.)

*Question: Are there different types of connections, or different ways to connect?
Answer: Being present, connecting with the present with and through feeling is a form of internal connection. Connection is connection.

(This is such an excellent example of the mind getting ahead of the body. Or said another way, an example of thinking or theorizing a feeling. If I were to simply practice relaxing, feeling connecting, then over time, with practice, I would learn and understand the answer to this question from my own kinesthetic experience.

Often, questions like this come from thinking. While having data contributes to writing lots of blog posts, articles, and books, more functional questions like, "How can I get my shoulder to relax under load while maintaining proper structure?" are actually more valuable to helping me progress.)

* Question: So if imagination and feeling can become methods, then what about zhan zhuang?
Answer: Zhan zhuang stance is a simple, stripped down method that provides you a safe place to practice and play at being present and feeling. How we "show up" in stance is how we show up in life. If your stance practice is very rigid and mechanical, you are probably also rigid and mechanical in daily life and vice versa.

* Question: If zhan zhuang can be a method, then what about push-hands?
Answer: Your "limp noodle" method of push-hands only works in fixed-step push-hands exercise because of the rules of the game. In real life there are no rules. If I play "limp noodle" and my opponent is intent on demolishing me, then I will get annihilated or I will be forced into another game, to become present and in doing so, the limp noodle disappears.

(The "limp noodle" is one of my bad habits that I resort to when my connection is tested beyond what I'm able to ground. When I resort to push-hands tricks to avoid being pushed over, I am actually only tricking myself into thinking "I won." because I didn't get pushed over. In fact, I cheated myself from learning more about where I'm holding and resisting.)

* Feel. Don't analyze your feeling. Don't think it. Don't do anything. Relax. Drop. Feel.

* The pattern I tend to run is alternating between feeling and then theorizing about the feeling, then feeling, then theorizing. If I could only stick with the feeling, I'd make quicker progress. The feeling is not a theory.

third feeling mental process
(The feeling is not a theory. I now see that there is a difference between reflecting on a kinesthetic feeling experience versus trying to fit a kinesthetic feeling experience into a theoretical framework.

Sticking with the feeling does not mean to ignore using my intellectual faculties to help me develop further feeling relax and connection. However, intellectualizing too much, extracting feeling into intellectualizations distracts my focus from feeling. Finding Balance in this area is also part of the process.)

* There are no rules. Only presence.

* I've noticed that I feel the most enlivened when sparring but I am not the most present because my intention is on a future result - winning, expecting an outcome. To me, this kind of "presence" is qualitatively different from the presence I've felt in a good zhan zhuang session where I'm simply connecting deeply in the present moment with no other intention than to feel and connect.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Toward a Feeling-Based Understanding: Journal Notes #77
Next article in this series: - Deeper Insights into Zhan Zhuang Foundations: Journal Notes #79

Monday, February 6, 2012

Toward a Feeling-Based Understanding: Journal Notes #77

Notes from my April 2010 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: How do I bridge or connect the isolated kinesthetic feelings I'm noticing?
Answer: You tend to work from a mechanistic paradigm and you tend to see and experience parts. Even your question of looking for a "bridge" from separate and distinct (1) - (2) - (3) - (4) feeling sets to a single (1234) feeling set is still seeing and experiencing feeling in a mechanistic "parts" paradigm.

(Also, see my article How Do I Learn Zhan Zhuang (April 28, 2010) on this blog which includes more notes and drawings from this answer.)

* Question: So what's the next level for me? How do I transition from a mechanistic-based understanding to a feeling-based understanding?
Answer: You cannot anticipate what the next level might be until you have accomplished the level on which you are currently working.

For example, you must first learn addition before you can learn multiplication. You cannot explain multiplication if you only know addition. However, after you learn multiplication then you can also explain addition.

The previous cannot explain the next. The next can also explain the previous. Whatever level you have achieved, you are then able to explain the previous level.
(I think the answer to "How do I transition?" cannot be obtained or provided from anyone else as a "How To". And if someone does provide a "How To", I think this could too easily become yet another mechanistic method to the person in the mechanistic paradigm. I think that how I make the transition is how I figure out internally how to do it and my way cannot be anyone else' way although we may all go about it a similar way.
In a feeling art like internal gong fu, I have now progressed through several levels of feeling-skill and there are many more to go. Unfortunately, I am not aware of an established "feeling skill ranking" in the internal kung-fu world and so the levels I identify may not be levels others identify.)

* Note: When it comes to guidance on developing functional internal kinesthetic feeling-based skills, I've learned more in Wujifa class than anywhere else. It's good stuff!

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: From Method to Feeling: Journal Notes #76
Next article in this series: - Methods, Feeling, Thinking: Journal Notes #78