Monday, July 9, 2012

Zhan Zhuang Training Conundrum: Journal Notes #99

Notes from my February 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: Is there a difference between forms of relax? For example, relax in zhan zhuang vs. relax in ward off while receiving a push?
Answer: Chronic tensions and conditioned emotional-neuro-muscular responses are a type of pattern. In the solo stance practice "zhan zhuang", you learn to relax under static, no-load conditions. In "ward off", you are under a dynamic load and the way the body reacts to an incoming force uses a different patterning. Therefore, learning to relax under load is different from learning to relax under no load. The skill of learning to relax in a no-load condition like during zhan zhuang practice is the foundation to learning how to relax under load.

* Wiggling around the stuck spots without feeling and relaxing the stuck spot, (as seen in the "limp-noodle" style of push hands), will not lead to "sung" nor to a better root because this is a method of resistance, of avoiding facing the issue. The lesson to learn is how do I relax and let go and feel vulnerable and in that emotional feeling of allowing and vulnerability, to notice and feel how the musculature may respond in kind and then find a new way that requires less force and maintains structure so the incoming energy cam move through the structure.

* "When one part moves, all parts move" does not mean that all parts are frozen together into one part. It means all parts are free to move on their own and each part has movement freedom. There are no sticky spots, no holding. This also does not mean to be wiggly or wet/limp noodle like movement because in doing so, you could be frozen in one part of the noodle and wiggle around the frozen part.

* Question: What's the difference between not training and taking a break?
Answer: The difference lies in the underlying intention or purpose. Why are you not training? Why are you taking a break? You can fool yourself. You might say you are taking a break but do you know why? Did you encounter something in training that you don't want to face or go through? Is your zhan zhuang practice getting too intense for you?

Not training to avoid or ignore an issue is different from recognizing what the issue is and taking functional steps to work on that issue before resuming training. When you take a break, you may be revitalizing your reserves, building a base, preparing for more intense training. This would be an effective, purposeful break. There is a difference between being scared or lazy and taking an effective break.

Suffice it to say, most people stop training because they are scared or lazy or both.

* Question: In Wujifa, there are a lot of exercises to help develop the feeling of fascial stretch. If I only practice these various exercises and not zhan zhuang, does this still count as training?
Answer: The first question is, why would you want to not practice zhan zhuang? But yes, there are two kinds of training: core training and adjunctive training.

Core training is dedicated time when you practice zhan zhuang and other exercises.

Adjunctive training is practice you do throughout the day in those moments where you have an opportunity to be mindful.

If you engage in adjunctive practices 20 times a day and you don't do any core practice, then 20 x 0 = 0. Adjunctive practice alone does not help you improve.

If you practice core exercises 2 times and adjunctive 5 times, then 2 x 5 = 10. Adjunctive exercises used with core exercises become a multiplier.

However, many people use adjunctive training as an exercise to avoid core training and as a result, don't make much progress. The bottom line is, What's your purpose? Do you want to change and grow or not? A lot of people miss this.

(While the above looks at Core and Adjunctive Training in terms of dedicated time and moments of practice throughout the day respectively, here is another way to think about core and adjunctive training:

Result LevelPrimary ExerciseSecondary Exercise
Best ResultZhan ZhuangWujifa exercises to develop feeling of fascial connection
Mediocre ResultWujifa exercises to develop feeling of fascial connectionMindful throughout day
Poor ResultMindful throughout daynone

* Here's a zhan zhuang training conundrum: If we have trouble feeling, then we tighten to feel. We can't feel because what we need to feel is tense.

(This is the area where I'm getting stuck. I can feel some fascial connection but it is so much more subtle (to me now) than muscular contraction and when I'm receiving force (to test my peng), my system is overwhelmed and I don't feel my subtle fascial connection feeling and so I unconsciously resort to muscle tension which I can feel and because I can feel something, I then think that what I'm feeling must be fascial connection, but alas, it is not.

You are where you are and that's where you start. Here's what I've learned...

If when you want to test your peng and the incoming force overwhelms your ability to ground the force through your fascial connection, and you bring muscular force on line to compensate for a lack of fascial connection, then you are fooling yourself.

It is better to assume your peng is weaker than you want to believe it is and really be mindful of when your fledgling peng is overwhelmed and stop there. Often, pride and ego will trick you into going further than you are currently capable of going. Learning where you are is a huge lesson! Bringing muscular force on line when you test your peng is a bad habit to get into because doing so does not help you break the pattern of relying on muscular force. Practice according to your level.)

* I still have too much movement in the kua when practicing stance. I need to practice having more stillness in and through my kua.

* After months of trying the theraband exercise and continually being told I'm using too much muscle, in this class we worked on helping me to do this exercise in a way that helped me get the feeling I should be looking for.
  1. Shoulders down and back.
  2. Elbows down and locked.
  3. Hands palm down. (My palms down tends to pull my elbow out - probably due to sticky points or tension)
  4. Using the lightest theraband, pull and hold a slight tension.
  5. Breath into the chest up and out to the sides.
The purpose of the set-up so far is to isolate the movement to feel the feeling of fascial stretch while breathing.

I notice that my chest movement is driving the movement of the arms pulling on the theraband and I noticed a feeling stretch through the arms. Then once I got the feeling, then I could relax the arms and continue feeling the fascial stretch.

I commented that the feeling I noticed is subtle and not distinctly definable. There were no "fireworks"; nothing that just popped out as really unusual, distinct, unique feeling. I can't think of a way to describe the feeling of fascial stretch other than, subtle.

* Practicing the theraband stretch, I don't know if I'm getting the feel. I know feeling changes. I'm being careful to identify and not use muscle to isolate movement to breathing.

* Training insight. I've never been able to find nor has anyone ever explained to me the mechanical process of how relaxing leads to internal strength. Here's what I understand of the process now:
  1. I began with a lot of muscular tension and a vague "mind" disembodiment.
  2. Relax is a method to draw my attention and awareness into my body.
  3. A simple, static posture like zhan zhuang is key to getting the mind to focus inside the body to the level of relax detail needed.
  4. The process of embodying the mind and relaxing contributes to re-patterning my muscular and fascial structure. (Getting Rolfing massage also helps in this repatterning.)
  5. The more I relax (remove fascial adhesions and muscular tension) equates to the more my mind is embodied in my body.
  6. Developing relax and this kind of embodied awareness is just the beginning. Having the intention to feel fascial connection is the gateway.
  7. And this is about where I am now. I've got a fair level of relax. I have an idea of intention. I see in others how this process can play out. I haven't yet found for myself the proper balance of relax and intention that is beginning of internal strength. In my intention I revert to too much muscle. I have to figure out how to express the intention of fascial connection with relax without reverting to relying on muscle.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Lessons from the Shoulder: Journal Notes #98
Next article in this series: - Finally! The Beginning: Journal Notes #100

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting to read. I have been practicing ZZ for a few years and have done so the alleviate a very painful lower back. ZZ helps tremendously. There are mornings when my left lower back/hip is one tight, painful knot. 10 minutes of standing will open it up. I usually stand for about 40 minutes almost every day. When I skip my practice, I do not feel ok. I have noticed that I have gotten better in being able to relax more deeply and have used Lam's book The Way of Energy to train. Zhan Zhuang has had a deep impact on my life, and my intention is to keep it up for many more years to come. I feel quite healthy at age 59. Good luck and persevere with your practice.