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

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