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

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