Monday, March 19, 2012

Compartmentalization Compromises Connection: Journal Notes #83

Notes from my October 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: Why do you give us different methods to practice?
Answer: Training methods must be tailored to accommodate the individual. For example, Mr. D. needs to learn specifics because he's naturally so global. You, Mike, need to learn global because you're so specific.

(And as I've mentioned previously in this blog, my notes in this journal mostly apply to my case. My instructor may give suggestions to my school brother standing next to me that contradict what he just told me but which are exactly the "medicine" my school brother needs. In Wujifa class we are warned to practice our own "medicine" and not someone else' "medicine".)

* Question: If I need to learn global, then why do I still work on specifics?
Answer: A method is a compartmentalization intended to focus on an specific area to facilitate growing connection in that area.

But keep in mind that, compartmentalization compromises connection so you don't want to get stuck there.

* Question: So if I ask questions about specifics, am I going down the wrong road?
Answer: Your tendency is to look for problems to fix and in doing so, you add tension and energy to the problem. So instead of asking "How do I relax this tension here?" which to you is a problem, you should focus on how much you simply enjoy relaxing. Ahhhh... and breathe this ahhhh.... feeling into the problem area. The problem may not go away immediately but changing your focus will help.

* Question: How do I ask feeling-based questions that aren't focused on my problem areas?
Answer: Ask yourself this, How can you come up with a general question that will allow space for something to show up which will contribute to focus?

If the question is too specific, then you will miss a lot of information that could help you with what you're focusing on.

You notice tension in area "A" but actually tension in area "B" is contributing to "A" and if you noticed "B" and let go of the tension in "B" then "A" would naturally relax. But you're so focused on "A" that you're not noticing "B".

So let's try this. Stand up and do the Side-To-Side practice and really focus on how your right kua is operating. Now, continue doing side-to-side... and... Hey! Pay attention to this distraction! Now, notice your right kua. The distraction actually allowed a flow, a relaxation to appear in the movement of your kua. Your focus was creating a stiffness, a closed-ness.
(Indeed! Sometimes over-thinking a feeling and trying too hard to do it right actually impedes progress.)

* Question: So how can I distract myself during my own practice?
Answer: A quick and easy distraction might be doing a silly dance or wiggling your butt.Get your mind off what you're focusing on. Feel the shift. Notice how this de-focusing creates a space. Then notice what shows up in that space as you go back into stance with that space.

If you get too focused, you may get stuck. Find a functional balance and don't be mechanical about it.

For example, say you are piloting a boat navigating a tricky channel. If the boat develops a leak and you get fixated on the leak, you may run aground. Alternatively, you could use a bilge pump (a brief distraction) to keep you afloat while you navigate the boat to safe harbor (your purpose).

People try so hard to stay on track that they get off track.

(This idea of distracting yourself may seem counter intuitive to a practice where you're suppose to focus and not let your mind wander. And to me, this is the distinction: A wandering mind is not a productive distraction. If I deliberately induce a distraction for the purpose of de-focusing to create a space, to loosen my grip, to relax a little, then this can be productive.)

* No one gets it by focusing on the Dan-Tian.

(When I first began Tai-chi, I engaged in a wide variety of practices to keep my attention focused on my Dan-Tian. I thought that "holding to the center" was the key to "getting it". However, I learned later that getting stuck focusing on only one part is a form of "compartmentalization". I focused so much on "A" that I missed "B" through "Z". Compartmentalization Compromises Connection!)

* Question: So would I be OK to work on something more global like distinguishing tight from not tight?
Answer: Think of something different than the opposite. Use that "global feeling" as your bio-feedback device. Go for the WOW! factor!

* Open your heart. Reduce hunch with shoulders rolled forward. Tension in upper chest locks down or closes the heart.

reducing hunch
(Working on reducing hunching is an ongoing practice for many Wujifa practitioners. Some of us have more hunch than others. There are also various ways to hunch and degrees of hunching. From what I've seen, regardless of the hunch's how or why, there is also a correlated tightening or closing of the upper chest/heart area. Working on correcting a hunch, rolling the shoulders back also works on opening the heart area.)

* Allow yourself to play in the wobbly areas.
(For a guy like me who wants to do it right, and where wobbling and uncertainty are not necessarily good things, it was difficult to understand how I could learn and develop by feeling awkward.

What I understand now is that the "wobbly" shows up when I'm departing from a rigid pattern and progressing into a new area that has not yet become part of my patterned movement.)

* In class we practiced an advanced form of Side-to-Side, namely, a "Front-to-Back" exercise.

To help keep the hips level, a pole was placed between my legs and I had to maintain contact with the pole and the inside of my leg.

My problem is that I focus on muscling the kua open and close. This exercise helps me open to more subtle feeling and helps me stabilize the hips.

This also gave me a reference point and I discovered that I have too much play in my hip. Too much up and down. Too much arch and tuck. Too much muscle.

I need to relax my hips. Use the intention of the knees pushing in or out. What do you notice in the kua?

(This simple method exposed my mistaken notion that I was moving in a relaxed manner when in fact I wasn't. This is a good example of the answer at the top of this page: "A method is a compartmentalization intended to focus on an specific area to facilitate growing connection in that area.")

* A continuation of the above notes and diagrams...

Maintain level hips. Do not tilt.

Keep the pole in contact with the left inside leg as you shift forward and backward.

* This next drawing shows how I set up some stuff at home to practice the Front-to-Back exercise.

(Just when I thought I was doing it better, I made some short videos of myself. Where I "thought" my hips were staying level, the camera showed me that they were not. This was a really neat way for me to see how much tension is below my awareness! How do I relax when I'm not even aware of what I need to relax?

Working in front of a mirror is also helpful however, I've found that I lose a "naturalness" when focusing on doing it right for the mirror. Doing the exercise without the immediate feedback of the mirror, but captured on video, provides maybe a more honest feedback. Different ways to train... )

* Head hanging exercise. Feel fascial connection as the "tuck" pulls the head up.

("Tuck" here actually means "drop" because the typical understanding of "tuck" uses contraction to create tuck and the goal is to relax and feel fascial connection.

This exercise has appeared elsewhere in these journal notes too. This is a good exercise and it can take a long time to get to the level of relax needed to be able to feel the fascia pulling the head up as the lower back drops.)

* Question: How does the Phi ratio apply to Wujifa zhan zhuang practice?
Answer: A little change at the center creates large change at the outside. A little change on the outside creates even less change at the center.

(Practicing forms and techniques will probably not lead to the same level of internal connectedness as training for connectedness which will result in more connected forms and techniques.)

* Question: I can trust and verify data. I don't know about trusting my feeling.
Answer: Grounded-ness is trust. Trust your kinesthetics.

* A person's armoring may allow little leaks in the armor to prevent catastrophic failure (the dam breaking). The leak, or spillway, allows some discharge of the pent up energy and allows the dam to remain.
(From my experience in Wujifa class, referring to relaxing tense muscles, sometimes relaxing a muscle or group of muscles = releasing some pent up emotional feeling. Sometimes the body allows a muscle to relax a little in a controlled way to allow the emotional energy to "bleed off" without relaxing or letting go completely which may result in feeling the fullness of the emotional feeling.)

* Question: In very general terms, how would you categorize the range of students you have taught?
  • Students who come from other schools and are certain.
  • Students who don't know what's out there and are open.
(As for me, I fell into the "certain" category. After investing years in classes and practice, I was not willing to abandon my previous training. I was certain all my former training was valuable and this new Wujifa training had to fit into that schema somehow.

It took me a long time to learn that I was "comparing apples and oranges" as the saying goes. Training in the internal martial arts is not the same as internal training.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Feeling Letting Go: Journal Notes #82
Next article in this series: - Principle Driven Training: Journal Notes #84

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