Monday, June 25, 2012

Whole Body Relax: Journal Notes #97

Notes from my December 2011 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: When I see Youtube videos of YiChuan by Yao ChengGuang, I can't tell the difference between him and others. Why?
Answer: You haven't yet developed that movement quality in yourself yet.

* Question: How would I develop fa-jing from the Wujifa side-to-side exercise?
Answer: After you are able to do side-to-side properly, then you practice advanced side-to-side which is done with a modified bow and arrow stance by shifting forward and back in a figure eight pattern. Essentially, this is the Chen Xiaowang warmup he does in every seminar but he doesn't tell anyone what this is for. And no one ever asks. Attendees try to imitate the gross external movement but do it all wrong.

* Another perspective on Chen, Xiao-wang's "When one part moves, then all parts move." could be, When one joint moves then all joints should move. No stuck joints. No stiffness. No tension. OR, When one fascial sheet moves then all fascial sheets move. No fascial adhesions. No scar tissue inhibiting any movement anywhere.

* Question: Once again, what does relax mean?
Answer: Relax means to use the minimum muscle needed to maintain structure.
* My work habit is to have the answers, to rationally think through and analyze and solve problems, to always clarify confusion. This habit has not worked so well for me in practicing zhan zhuang. I now need to practice developing an attitude of "I don't know. I'm confused." and saying this with emotional feeling. Be less certain, less analytical and more open to uncertainty. It's difficult to notice what shows up when noticing through the filter of what I'm certain I'm looking for.

* A super advanced form of theraband practice involves holding an 8 foot length of chain (which weighs about 5-10 pounds) with arms outstretched in front of the shoulders. In my first attempt, my shoulder muscles exhausted within a minute. In my second attempt, my instructor adjusted my structure and soon it felt like my entire structure, not just my shoulder muscles, was carrying the weight. And soon, my entire structure exhausted. And by this I mean something other than bone and muscle was carrying the weight. Was it my fascial system? I kind of freaked out at this experience. I was holding the chain up and yet, I wasn't using the same muscular force to do it and whatever other system was holding it up wasn't strong enough to hold it up for long either.

* Question: What's your purpose for standing on wobble discs?
Answer: To feel the adjustments occurring in and through the hips that are needed to maintain balance.

Me: Why?

Instructor: This is a method to help me feel into this area; to help me better feel connection.

* Question: I've been practicing trying to go straight to feeling to identify and work on specific areas. For example (I demonstrate how I'm trying to feel through my shoulders.) How's this?
Answer: You have a tendency to focus on using muscle. Using muscle violates the principle of relax. Of course muscle must be activated to position your skeleton but you don't want muscle tension to interfere with feeling your fascia connection. Review tensegrity.

* My instructor noticed that my upper chest was locked. So we worked on getting me to breathe into my upper chest using the bio-stool. My long time habit of belly breathing which I thought was suppose to be a good thing, in fact created a bad habit of deadening movement in my middle and upper chest. After I got some movement in my middle and upper chest, this helped me relax areas without directly trying to get these areas to relax.

* After the bio-stool work, I stood in zhan zhuang. I felt like a gooey lump of poo on the floor. My glutes relaxed, my abs relaxed, and oddly, my quads relaxed. A lot of muscles felt pretty loose and yet I was able to remain standing and in good structure! Then I realized, this is the meaning of "Relax is not limp"! Feeling like I'm a gooey lump of poo on the floor without maintaining structure is limp. Feeling like I'm a gooey lump of poo on the floor while maintaining structure by definition is not limp!

* The gooey lump of poo feeling is closer to a whole body relax than any feeling I've had of relax to date. Practice the gooey lump of poo feeling!

* From this experience, I wonder how many people don't know how to relax; don't know what relax is, or like me, really work hard at relaxing the wrong way?

* We then had the following discussion and demonstration. Hold a chain between your hands. Call these ends points "A" and "C". Then have a second person grasp the chain somewhere in the middle. Call this point "B". Hold at "B" and twist the chain from "A" so that between "A" and "B" gets all knotted up. This is an analogy of what happens in your body. The muscles between "A" and "B" can be tight and tense and the muscles between "B" and "C" can be relaxed. You can notice between "B" and "C" and say, "I'm relaxed." but you can have a blind spot or resistance to noticing what's going on between "A" and "B". And if you do notice, you may try ways to forcibly relax it when all you need to do is let go of "B" and then the tension between "A" and "B" naturally resolves itself.

chain twisted into knots
* Question: When I practice the chain holding exercise, I can't get the weight of the chain past my shoulders. What's the trick to this?
Answer: The trick is to get under the chain. Hold the arms up high and relax so the weight of the chain is carried by the structure. Aim to feel the weight of the chain in the legs.

Me note: And then my instructor re-positioned my shoulders and I felt the weight of the chain drop into my quads. My habit is to engage a lot more shoulder muscle than needed to hold my arms up.

* I may be resisting feeling deeply because if I did, then I'd have to acknowledge other body feelings that I have been keeping boxed up.

* Instructor's question to me: What is your passion?
Me: I don't know.
Instructor: Well, how would you explain it?
Me: I might try to explain it with data.
Instructor: But passion is feeling.
Me note: This was a very strange exchange for me. Others can see what I'm passionate about and yet I don't know how to or can't express that with feeling through words.

* It's possible that the next big breakthrough for me will be to verbalize my passion and line up the rest of my life to support and feed that passion.

* We talked about the book, Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week. From a Wujifa internal gong-fu perspective, the internal martial arts would benefit from real scientific research on how the kinesthetic quality of "internal strength" is developed. Current "scientific research" on Tai-chi is only looking at the benefits of external, slow-motion dancing.

* The main problem with most internal martial arts curriculum is that students are taught an airy-fairy dance-like form and then their push hands has nothing more than trickery and technique. It would be better that students learn structure and stance and develop whole body relaxed strength first and then learn how to apply that quality through forms and then in push-hands practice.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Perturbation and Internal Martial Arts: Journal Notes #96
Next article in this series: - Lessons From the Shoulder: Journal Notes #98

Friday, June 22, 2012

Internal Aspects of Tai Chi Walking

Many Tai chi teachers only focus on teaching the outward mechanics of performing Tai chi walking. After the rudimentary mechanics of walking are mastered, then what? Is that all there is to Tai chi walking? This article suggests one way that can help you learn more from your basic Tai chi walking.

The beginner who is learning Tai chi walking can find it challenging to simply coordinate the gross mechanical movements. This, I believe may be attributed in part to the student's habitual, neuro-muscular patterns or life-habits of walking.

As the beginner evolves, the mechanics of Tai chi walking become ingrained and habitual. However, in my experience, the pattern of Tai chi walking is learned through the "filter" of one's pre-existing neuro-muscular walking habit. By this I mean that the muscle groups that are favored or under-utilized in ordinary daily walking are unconsciously and similarly employed in performing Tai chi walking.

(While I am focusing on Tai chi walking or stepping here, I believe the same principle can be applied to the other walking or stepping patterns used in other internal martial arts as well.)

For most people, "mastering" the basic gross motor mechanics of Tai chi walking is the level at which they stop learning. And this may be for good reason. IF your purpose is to imitate the external, gross mechanical movements, then your purpose has been fulfilled.

However, if you want something a little more internal while keeping your practice functional, then become conscious of your usual everyday walking pattern. For a few minutes a day, consciously choose to walk slightly differently. And then notice and more importantly feel what is different. Which leg and/or hip muscles feel more fully engaged or less engaged or engaged differently? Focus on the physical, kinesthetic sensation through the legs and hips.

You may also want to get some therapeutic massage which focuses on the hips and legs. After a couple sessions, a good massage therapist should be able to point out to you which muscles are relatively over or under developed and where some muscles are holding against the tension of other muscles. If your muscle development suggests one kind of walking pattern, then experiment with a different pattern. And notice and feel what is happening.

For a humorous exaggeration of this idea of walking patterns, see John Cleese in the Monty Python skit, "Ministry of Silly Walks". Although his purpose here is to entertain, the numerous examples may give you ideas of how to alter your normal, habitual walking pattern.

While Gait Analysis (as performed by a podiatrist or physiotherapist) is used to detect biomechanical abnormalities and may provide precise kinesthetic data to correct these abnormalities or tune your mechanical performance, in my experience, focusing on external mechanical analysis shifts my focus away from feeling internally. And so I think much can be gained from the above method of focusing on simply noticing and feeling.

Noticing and feeling what is happening under the skin are key skills that can contribute to developing the feeling of relax (song) and ultimately contribute to the feeling fascial connectedness. I hope the above method leads you to insights as it did for me.

Further reading:
* Internet search: walking analysis biomechanics
* For more information on the functional development of internal strength, see

Monday, June 18, 2012

Perturbation and Internal Martial Arts: Journal Notes #96

Notes from my November 2011 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: What's the difference between the Wujifa Side-to-side and the karate/Shaolin hip rotation?
Answer: In karate/Shaolin, you pop out the back kua. Internal martial arts is different. You open the kua without popping it out. Side-to-side trains you to shift weight without popping out your kua.

* Question: What is peng?
Answer: Peng is the feeling your fascial connection from hand to ground.

* Question: What are different ways that students ask questions?
Answer: One way is ask for and about data. Asking data questions does not expose where you really are in your practice. Another way is to ask from a perspective of, "I'm confused about my practice." This way can result in more functional training tips.

* In class I tested my peng connection against my instructor and asked, "How's this"?
Answer: You still use too much muscular tension. You are fooling yourself by engaging muscle tension even when it is barely visible.

Me: Where should I focus my training now?

Instructor: You need to continue working on the lower back. If you get the shoulder relaxed first, you won't have connection through the hips to ground.

* Question: What's an exercise to help develop my ability to feel into my shoulder?
Answer: Stand with one side of your body facing a wall. Place your elbow on the wall, level with your shoulder so the upper arm is at a 90 degree angle to body. Rotate on the elbow only as far as possible without moving the shoulder. Develop feeling into the flexibility of the movement.

(The point here is to feel muscle movement when isolating movement to the glenohumeral joint in one plane. Do not move the shoulder. Notice the feeling when you reach the end of your range of motion. Where is the tension? What can you relax?)

* I was watching my school brother practice fascial connection while punching. According to my instructor, his focus was too much on punching forward which broke his fascial connection to ground. When he changed focus to sit back and down and focus on the kua, keeping weight in the back leg which helped hold torso in place, then there was much better fascial connection.

* In class we were arguing about what is the most fundamental principle in Taijiquan. We all finally settled on "Ward Off", which is another way to say, "Don't get hit". The "don't get hit" principle is applied through all the movements. This seems like a pretty fundamental principle to me. :>)

* We had one entire class devoted to using wobble discs for internal strength training. How? By making the purpose and focus of these exercises to maintain a dynamic balance with relax and to focus on moving through opening and closing the kua. Here are my notes on these exercises:

samples of wobble board exercises
* Question: How can physical therapy perturbation training techniques be used to develop whole body fascial connection?
Answer: Perturbation is just a word. One way to consider perturbation is anything that challenges your purpose. How far do you take the definition?

Wobble discs can perturbate. How can you maintain dynamic balance when acted upon by an outside force?

Silk reeling is perturbation. How can you maintain connection while moving?

While practicing zhan zhuang, the thought to get a drink is perturbation.

The purpose of perturbation in Wujifa is to notice where your are holding, blocking and inhibiting dynamic balance, not just on wobble discs and zhan zhuang but also in daily life.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Discovering How to Fail in Zhan Zhuang: Journal Notes #95
Next article in this series: - Whole Body Relax: Journal Notes #97

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Opening Dao: An Internal Gongfu Perspective

As the western understanding of Dao has changed over the centuries, I view the recent film "Opening Dao: A Documentary Film on Taoism and Martial Arts" as another contemporary understanding that reflects both the perspective of the filmmaker's project and the perspective of the selected interviewees.

I was raised in a western culture, in a mono-theistic religion, with a mechanistic, causal, orientation to life. This stuff is in my bones! So even though I began reading about Dao thirty years ago in college philosophy classes, there is still much of the Chinese philosophy of Dao and the broader Chinese cosmology that is completely alien to the way I fundamentally view and move in the world.

That said, regarding the practice of internal gongfu, I particularly like what one of the four interviewees in this video, Master Yuan Xiu Gang, says about how to understand Dao:
(time 6:12 in the movie)
"You want to understand Dao... you have to understand your body... The Dao treats the body like a small universe. So if you don't understand your body, how are you going to understand the universe?... So we practice kung-fu... to understand yourself, your life."

(time 11:20 in the movie)
"Anytime the body has pain, sore, problem... it's because (Qi) blocked. Why blocked? Maybe injury. Maybe your body is too stiff. You know, cannot move well... So we need soft. Soft is easy to understand now because when soft, the blood, Qi is easy to move. Make it better circulation."
(Note: the full interview with Yuan Xiu Gang, from which this is extracted, is also available at LifeArtsMedia.)

Now, without getting hung up on "Qi talk", I like this because I think he's saying to keep your practice practical. Don't get lost in the various aspects of Daoist philosophy and mysticism. To the extent that "becoming one with the Dao" means connecting to a greater whole of life, the most practical and functional place to begin is within your own body. How deeply you connect with and within your own body lays the foundation of the process to connect with others and the world outside yourself.

When you are able to soften (relax without going limp) and connect the feeling of your own legs to your own pelvis to your own chest to your own occiput, then you will have developed the ability to connect to the greater whole in a functional way.

However, if you have not identified and resolved your own muscular tension and stiffness and you persist in believing that you are connecting with or flowing with the Dao of the universe, then you are fooling yourself. A lot of people fall into this trap. I fell into this trap too at one time.

And so now I like to practice Wujifa because it is a western oriented system using functional methods to develop the feeling of whole body connectedness. Practicing Wujifa is helping me discover where I hold tension and stiffness and through my Wujifa zhan zhuang practice and other Wujifa exercises, I am slowly developing the feeling of fascial connectedness throughout my body.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Discovering How to Fail in Zhan Zhuang: Journal Notes #95

Notes from my October 2011 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.)

* My default tendency is to feel connection by using muscular tension. However, this is a faux, or fake feeling of connection. Using tension to feel connection is not the kind of connection feeling we're looking for. The feeling of fascial connection can only be discovered and developed when your musculature relaxes to the point where you can begin to develop the sensitivity to feel your fascia.
(I've come to learn that at a very high, or abstracted level, it really is a simple process: stand and relax and feel your fascial connection. However, the devil is in the details.)

* Occasionally my instructor will press vigorously into points where I hold tension to help me get my tight muscles to let go and relax. This method can trigger my whole body quivering as well as emotional expressions of fright and confusion.
(I've found over the years that simply imagining I'm developing connection does not yield the result I can get by going through this temporary pain of having someone targeting and busting up those areas of "relaxed" muscle that feel to them like I've got wood, stone, steel cable, or manila rope embedded in what should otherwise be soft and pliable muscle tissue.

What is most amazing to me is that I can believe I feel relaxed in an area until my instructor "points out to me" some little area of muscle that is hard and painful to pressure.)

* I'm discovering yet another layer of understanding relax. I found this by realizing that there was more to relax than the way I had been defining it. I had defined relax based on relaxing my more 'external', more easily felt muscles. The limit of my ability to feel established the parameters of my definition of relax. I couldn't feel deeper into my own musculature. So I'm now discovering I need to relax those more 'internal', more difficult to feel muscles.
(Wow! I really like this: "The limit of my ability to feel established the parameters of my definition of relax." I think this is a really important insight into practicing Wujifa zhan zhuang! What I call "relax" is related to the level at which I am able to feel.)

* During stance practice in class, my classmates put their hands on my lower back as my instructor was adjusting my posture. My classmates commented that my lower back felt like a salmon swimming upstream; quivering, wiggling, not relaxed or still at all. I was shifting tension here and there. I simply could not relax and let go and stand in relaxed stillness. Apparently I've mastered the art of hiding from feeling and running from really relaxing! And I didn't even know I was doing this!!!
(This was a huge lesson for me! Even though I thought I felt relaxed in the area I was focusing on, it was only through validation that I learned that I'm not. Lesson learned: my scope of noticing is still far too narrow.

My standing "still" does not necessarily mean I'm relaxed. My standing relaxed does not necessarily mean I am still.)

* Question: How can I use squats to validate if I've got sufficient relaxation thought my hips and ankles?
Answer: Stand with your toes one shoe width from a wall. With your arms hanging at your side and keeping your nose to the wall, squat all the way to the floor. If you fall backward, this could be an indicator that you have tension you need to let go of.

* Here's how to do the "poor man's", external, cheater, scam, sham, fake fa-jing. The results of this method are not the same as internally produced fa-jing. Some refer to this method as the Jack Dempsey drop-step or fa-jing step:
  1. Stand with feet parallel.
  2. Raise heels off the ground by standing on your toes.
  3. Relax quickly and drop onto your heels. Feel the muscles, skin, and fat drop/shake/hang from the skeleton.
  4. Raise heels half as far as before. Repeat step #3.
  5. Keep feet flat on floor. Quickly "kick out" the knees forward and stop or "catch" yourself from dropping and find the same effect as in step #3.
  6. If you work on this and slowly incorporate it into your form, you will be able to fool people with your demonstration of fa-jing. By the same token, you also now know what to look for to discern who is doing fake, external fa-jing and who is doing more internally produced fa-jing with fascial connection.
(Note: With a qualified Wujifa instructor this method can also be used as a training method to help develop the feel of fascial connection. However, from my experience watching my school brother practice a modified form of this exercise and observing my instructor's observations and comments of his practice, I learned that there are many traps and pitfalls. It is easy to believe that you are doing this with full-body connection when in fact you may be holding here or there which blocks the connection through that area. A qualified instructor will be able to point out to you those areas where you are holding; where muscle tension is blocking connection.)

* I feel like I'm at a crossroads where I have now developed the skill and discernment where I can choose to either shut down to feeling, or open completely to feeling. I can see both roads and yet, I'm not fully committing to walking one or the other.

* I wonder if I'm that kind of student that just wants to nibble at the crust and not really dig into the whole pie.

* In class, we practiced a few different training methods while standing on inflatable wobble discs. What I learned from doing and from watching my school brothers doing these exercises is that balance on wobble discs can be achieved either through:
  1. using core muscles through hips with little motion in the ankles, or,
  2. using ankles because core muscles through hips are locked.
In my case, I discovered that I find the balance point and then lock into it and become statue-like. My core is unmoving and I adjust in my ankles to maintain a static "balance".

I need to relax my waist and hips and feel how balance is dynamically achieved through my core. I need to play, to look for ways to mess with my balance on the wobble disc. Find how to balance through my core. Notice which core stabilizers are firing. Feel. The more I fall off, the better. Stop trying to do it "right". Do it to notice and feel.

The opportunity to learn is on the edge of losing balance at finer and finer levels. If you are satisfied with how you have achieved balance, then you are not learning and growing.

There's a difference between finding balance (dynamically in each moment) and maintaining balance (statically locked in to a found balance at one point in time).

So with the wobble disc, wiggle, play with moving through the kua, be inventive, allow yourself to simply play and fail and discover. Allow the body to learn where the rule driven mind would disallow learning.
(I subsequently purchased a couple wobble discs and as my instructor suggested, I played with an attitude of not being so uptight about "doing it right". After a few months of daily practice, I can stand more "still" with more of a dynamic balance on the wobble discs and I can now feel some movement through my hips with less movement in my ankles.)

* From this simple wobble disc exercise I learned that I'm stuck on "doing it right". I'm afraid to allow myself to play on the edge where there is risk of failure. When I train, I don't allow myself to go to the point where I may fail. I judge myself and believe that problems and errors are wrong and bad. This belief system is inhibiting my progress. At this point in my training, I could learn from how I'm doing it wrong.

* Never control the body. Control leads to tension. It's better to relax and find balance in relax.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: What I Never Understood: Journal Notes #94
Next article in this series: - Perturbation and Internal Martial Arts: Journal Notes #96

Monday, June 4, 2012

What I Never Understood: Journal Notes #94

Notes from my September 2011 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: In the end, isn't "the feeling" I'm trying to get something quantifiable?
Answer: "The feeling" is not a single, quantifiable, objectifiable anything. Think of "Feeling" as "Love". How does the feeling of "Love" change between two people as a relationship deepens over time? You meet. You "connect". You deepen that connection. You fall in love. Infatuation. Disillusionment. Work at the relation. Deeper love. And so, just as the feeling of love changes, so too does the feeling of internal connectedness change and mature over time with practice. The only thing continuous about "the feeling" is the sense of fascial connectedness.

* Question: So how does the level of kinesthetic feeling I have now lead to deeper feeling?
Answer: The feeling you currently have becomes a method to find a deeper feeling.

* Question: You know the saying, "You are where you are and that's where you start." but how do you know where you are, honestly?
Answer: What's the method? Feeling! So assess yourself with two questions: 1. What do you feel? and 2. How deeply can you feel? Whatever your answer is, that's where you are and that's where you start.

Me: But what if I'm not sure about what I'm feeling?

Instructor: If you don't know, then do an experiment. Newton was right at the physical level but was wrong at the quantum level. Edison's experiments all worked in some way but did not always yield the intended result. If you're not sure, then go on a hunch. A hunch is a feeling that is too often generalized.

Me: How do I know if I'm generalizing? How about if I notice that I feel good?

"Feeling good" is too general. This is where data can be useful to quantify and delineate. For example, finding a $20 bill and having a great meal both feel good, but in the same way? Probably not. So how do they feel different? Describe the feeling of each. Develop this language and discernment at the kinesthetic level.

* Question: I'm going to be teaching a Tai-chi class this fall. Any tips on how to integrate Wujifa zhan zhuang practice?
Answer: When working with students, you have to remember where you were at that time and keep it simple for them.

* Question: Teaching this stuff seems really personalized or customized. Why is that?
Answer: The approach depends on the student's temperament and habitual inclinations. One student who doesn't apply enough effort is told to work. Another student who thinks too much about it is told to play.

* Question: I know I think too much. How do I add "play" to stance practice?
Answer: You can play in stance and you can play in life. Look at your interactions as experiments and gauge the result. Don't trust others' opinions. Test it out. Is it true for you at that time and in that situation or not?

* Question: But if I "play", then how am I taking responsibility for figuring out my own questions?
Answer: You don't have to figure out a question rationally through analysis. Simply ask a question. Really ask. Ponder. Let it roll around in the back of your head. Maybe the answer will come to you while you sit on the toilet. Remember, your questions indicate your level of training. By posing questions, you hold yourself accountable for discovering answers.

* Question: Will the theraband exercise help develop internal connectedness?
Answer: The theraband exercise won't get you there but it will give you some insights.

* In class we practiced swinging kettleballs; start with squat and kettleball between legs then snap knees and hips as stand up to propel ball forward as if pulling it out of a hole. My instructor said I wasn't doing it right and I argued that I was. He videoed me and a classmate who was doing it right and I could then see the difference. To me, mine looked about the same but my 'form' lacked power. Maybe I wasn't using the same muscles the same way? Maybe what I'm calling relaxed around the hips could be limpness? Maybe I need to develop my core stabilizers which may help me feel through the hips? Developing muscles is not an "internal" exercise but it may be a method to help me develop kinesthetic feeling of muscle that I can then relax and feel connection through which is an internal exercise. Need to use a muscle to relax it.

* Watch the National Geographic DVD video, Science of Babies which shows how the brain and neural pathways develop.

* Here's a discussion I had with my instructor about feeling fascia.
Me: I've read that fascia has nerves but I can't feel into it.

Instructor: But yes, you can learn to feel into your fascia. This is what I've been talking about for years.

Me: I never understood. So is it a different level of feeling?

Instructor: Lay your right arm on the table. Relax it. Go limp. Now fire the bicep only and keep the rest of the arm relaxed.

Me: After a few attempts, I got better at isolating the activation of only the bicep.

Instructor: How did you do that?

Me: I don't know. It's a different way to use the brain. Through feeling I guess but in a different way.

Instructor: Exactly! It's a different level of feeling. By the same token, learning how to feel fascial movement requires a similar yet different development. Even doing our Wujifa hip circle exercise can lead to that deeper level of feeling into fascia.

Me: How do you go from bicep to fascia?

Instructor: Start with the bicep. This is easiest. Then do the tricep. Then do this muscle (pointing to my forearm). Then this. Then do the same in your left arm. Then right leg. Then left leg. By that point, you'll start to get "the feel" for it. Isolating muscles across the back where there is skeletal structure is easier than isolating abdominal muscles so do the abdominal muscles last.

Me: OK, but muscles are about contraction and the feeling of contraction. You always talk about expanding. How do I go from isolating contraction feeling to expanding feeling?

Instructor: Isolating individual muscle movement is a method to train your brain differently. Feeling fascia connection, which feels like expanding in comparison to feeling muscle contraction, requires developing the ability to use your brain differently. Developing the ability to activate and relax individual muscles builds in the neural pathways you will need to feel fascial connection.

Me: So how do I feel fascial connection then?

Instructor: You are where you are and that's where you start. You couldn't even consciously move an individual muscle five minutes ago and now you want an answer that is ten steps ahead of where you are capable of working.

If I gave you the data, it would only be data to you and because you think you know something when you have the data, then you'd fool yourself into thinking you knew and understood feeling fascial connection when in fact you could not demonstrate it nor explain in your own words how you developed the ability to feel connection.

Me: Well, yeah, it's true that I "go data" to avoid feeling.

Instructor: I know it's true. This is your pattern. You've got to change your patterns if you want to "get it".

Thinking that data is feeling is a mistake. Your frontal lobe is you enemy in this game! The kinesthetic feeling is the direct pathway to your subconscious mind. Feeling bypasses thinking.

* Question: What does it mean to be successful in the internal arts?
Answer: There are different types of success in the internal martial arts ranging from being successful at developing what you were told to do, to, being successful at what you have discovered and developed on your own.

* In my own practice one night, I accidentally relaxed enough to feel my right forearm had a feeling of being like a theraband under my skin. I tried subsequently to replicate this feeling but couldn't. A big "A-ha" moment. My instructor has used theraband as an analogy of "the feeling" of fascial connection.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Faux Feeling, True Feeling: Journal Notes #93
Next article in this series: - Discovering How to Fail in Zhan Zhuang: Journal Notes #95