Monday, July 16, 2012

Finally! The Beginning: Journal Notes #100

Notes from my March 2012 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: Regarding stretching the theraband, I found I was using too much muscle and so switched to holding a section of rope to eliminate the intention of stretching what I'm holding. Is this OK to do?

Answer: No. The rope has no "give" to it. Look! I did the experiment and got results. I shared the experiment with you so you can replicate and validate the results. Don't change the experiment (from therband to rope) and expect to get the same results.

Instructor: (He then cut a little rubber band and gave it to me.) Here. Pull this.

Me: I locked out my arms as I learned in last month's class and held the rubber band. I found that when I breathed, the breathing action stretched the rubber band.

Because the tension of the rubber band was so much lighter than even the lightest theraband, the only muscle I needed to use was to hold up my arms. I didn't need to engage any additional muscles to pull that little rubber band.

By allowing only the breathing action to pull that little rubber band, I was able to feel the fascial stretch running through my arms and back. Very subtle!

(It had been many months of hearing, "You're using too much muscle." and repeatedly scaling down to less stretch tension. When I finally found a tension where I could do the exercise correctly, I was pleased. Remember, the phrase: You are where you are and that's where you start." It took me a while to discover where I was. So now I can begin working at the level at which I am capable of training correctly.)

* Question: I first did the "swingset exercise" ten years ago and occasionally since then and I still have tense shoulders. Why?

Answer: The way you trained this exercise ten years ago is not the way you should train it now. Show me. (I demonstrate using a rope tied to the ceiling.) Ten years ago, your purpose was to begin feeling into your shoulder. Today, you should be refining your level of relax and feeling sensitivity in your shoulder.

Try this. Position your feet in a normal Wujifa zhan zhuang stance with your arms hanging straight at your side. Now, pivoting only on the shoulder, raise your right arm in front of you until your arm is parallel with the floor. Notice how many muscles you used to raise your arm. Feel your shoulder complex.

Now, begin with your right arm extended in front of you, parallel to the floor and let your right elbow rest on something, for example, your left hand, or your training partner. Allow your shoulder and deltoid muscles to relax. Then, slowly lower the support from under the elbow. Notice the deltoid muscles engaging. Repeat supporting and slowly removing support and figure out how to use the minimum amount of muscle needed to hold the arm up.

Once you get a feel for this, then let your right arm hang at your side and raise it in front of you until your arm is parallel with the floor. What do you notice is different this time?

Isolate simple movements and discover the minimum muscle needed to perform a movement. Retrain your neuro-pathways one simple movement at a time.

(This was a really instructive exercise. How can I re-pattern the muscles that I habitually use to using only the minimum muscles needed to raise my arm? To get up out of the chair? To stand in zhan zhuang?

Which reminds me... I was at a seminar once where I laid on a bedsheet on the floor. The other participants, by lifting the bedsheet, raised me into a standing position. For a few moments, I experienced a completely different way of standing - I had not used my normal muscle movement pattern to stand myself up. I learned that I don't need to engage all the muscles I habitually use to remain standing.

Darn! I had forgotten this lesson!)

* I use more muscle than needed to hold up and move my body under no-load conditions. It's as if I'm always responding to being under a load - I habitually engage more muscle than I need to simply move without load. Because I do this, I need to learn how to relax.

(I had an insightful discussion with my instructor the other day. Not everyone needs to learn how to relax. Practitioners who are tense, need to learn relax. Practitioners who are limp need to learn how to "firm up". There are a variety of neuro-emotional-muscular patterns and to find "the way" for you depends on your particular pattern.

Maybe it's the case that tension forms a dominant pattern, hence, why "relax" is such a popular mantra?)

* My school brother noticed that when I'm focusing on stance, then my muscles are dancing a lot and when I'm distracted, that is when I'm not focusing so much on my body, then my body calms down.

* Question: I'm frustrated that I don't know the labels of emotional feelings when I'm asked to label a feeling, as in, "What are you feeling?" Do you have any tips on how I can develop this internally?

Answer: You've mentioned many times about having a constant internal dialogue, the "monkey mind". In terms of the Audio/Visual/Kinesthetic (AVK) elements, your primary representative system is audio and you're expressing your body's feelings in dialogue. Because making pictures (visual) is not your primary rep system, you could practice visualizing or making pictures of your feelings without the dialogue. Then, move your pictures into kinesthetic and notice the feeling of your pictures.

* There's a difference between pushing yourself and finding joy in training the same simple exercises. The difference is trying to get to a more advanced level vs. working to find and understand the depth of a simple feeling. In my case, I still want to get to the advanced level. I want to be "good at X". I am still not content to find and understand the depth of a simple exercise that is designed to help me find the feeling.

(And so until I really understand that progress comes through the joy in discovering the depth of a single, simple exercise, until I really understand that, until I stop wanting to get something, then I think that I will continue to struggle with practice and I will continue feeding the very tension I'm ostensibly trying to reduce and let go of.)

* Question: I'm thinking of writing a blog article to try to explain how fascial movement is different from coordinated muscle movement. I wonder if the graphic I developed is an accurate representation. What do you think?

Answer: We had a long discussion about the relation between levels of muscular coordination and levels of fascial connection and how these can come to be expressed in fascial body movement. In the end, my instructor sketched a graphic that really clarified for me what I was trying to understand.

three circle overlap of structure, fascial stretch, and coordinated movement
* Question: Is it true that ground path is about having the skeletal bones in good alignment, where the bones carry the load?
Answer: The bone path is wrong. The load is not carried by the bones. The load is carried by the fascia. Read books by Buckminster Fuller and books on Tensegrity. The load is carried by the softer elements that connect the harder elements. The load is carried by fascia which connects bones.

(This is so counter-intuitive to me. I wonder if my mental constructs of bone-path is playing a part in interfering with my ability to develop fascial pathways?)

* For now, I need to practice simply swinging my arms (relax and move shoulder) and flick my fingers at the end of each arc. (Focusing on the fingers is the distraction to not put too much attention on the shoulder.) Don't engage muscles in front when raising arms. Keep relaxed and soft. After doing this, and keeping shoulders back and scapula in, then raise arms and hold rubber band and breathe. Feel what shows up. Do not pull the rubber band with breathing. Notice the most subtle feeling that is happening as you breathe a full chest breath.

* I've been told that I'm not noticing what is plainly showing up in my body because I'm paying attention to something else.
(Reminds me of that old joke. A guy is searching the ground under a street lamp. Another guy approaches him and asks,
"What are you looking for?"
"I dropped my car keys."
"Where did you drop them?"
"Over there."
"Then why are you looking here?"
"Because the light is better."

I think I'm in the habit of looking where the light is instead of looking where the feeling is showing up.)
Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Zhan Zhuang Training Conundrum: Journal Notes #99
Next article in this series: - Training Submission: Journal Notes #101

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