Monday, August 13, 2012

Holding To Routines: Journal Notes #104

Notes from my July 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: Why do you teach with questions?
Answer: Because the "question and answer" format shows how students' brains work as they develop. It shows where your focus is. It shows your intention.

* Question: Can you check my stance to see if I'm doing correctly what I learned in last class?
Answer: Show me. (Reminder of what I was shown):
  1. Arch your lower back to give you the "kua in" feeling. This is a faux "kua in" because you did not attain "kua in" with relax.
  2. Relax the lower belly just above the pubic bone and feel the kua move in deeper.
  3. Now relax the lower back and butt muscles, let the femur heads roll forward. Slide the knees forward with maybe bow slightly forward on the hip joint.
  4. Check the belly again. Is it still relaxed? Is the kua still in?
  5. Drop the chest.
The key is that the hips should always remain over the ankles. Your tendency is to roll back off-line as you roll your hips so you need to shift forward to keep the femur heads over the ankles.

* Question: As I walk around during the day, I feel like I'm letting go of the lower back as I step out. I feel this more with the right side and not so much with the left side. I used to call this feeling "pain" and avoid it but now I've slowly gotten comfortable with this feeling and now I'm calling it "stretch". What I used to avoid and hold against feeling, I am now aiming for. So the question I'm working with when I practice is, How can I get this feeling of stretch in stance because I've only felt it when walking?
Answer: Show me what you're doing. (I get into stance and demonstrate.) You're tucking. You're using tension in front to feel the stretch in back.

Me: I don't feel that I'm tucking. I only notice feeling a strong stretch in back.

Instructor: As you're standing with the stretch in the lower back feeling, use your fingers and push in just above the pubic bone. It should be soft even when you feel a relaxed stretch through the back. And the pubic bone should not rise when the lower back goes down.

If you simply let your flesh hang, this will give you a truer stretch than using tension.

Here's a guidepost: If the pubic bone rises when you relax the back, then you are tucking. That said, the pubic bone may move a fraction due to where the hinge point of the hip is between front and back.

Me: Darn! I thought I was making some progress re-framing the feeling from "don't let go, holding and painful" to "letting go, stretch".

Instructor: If you were just beginning, I'd say this is good but you're not a beginner. Can you notice without preconceived ideas? Your resulting data will be skewed when you approach a feeling with preconceived ideas. When you label a feeling, it's like you're putting it in a box; first, the "pain box", and now the "stretch box". What's next? What are you going to label it after "stretch"?

Instead of labeling feelings, how about simply feel? Simply notice what is there. Notice what you are doing and notice the result you get.
* Practice note: I went home and practiced stance in front of a mirror and recreated this feeling of stretch in the lower back. With my clothes on, I could not see what I was told. After undressing, I could easily see in the mirror how the front muscles are tightening. Not so much the surface abdominals as the muscles deeper inside the pelvis. When I jamb my fingers into the front sides of the pelvic crests, I can feel these muscles engage.

* Question: How do I find stillness in stance (referring to last month's class where you guys felt and noticed my back muscles twitching and not relaxed)?
Answer: What do you mean by stillness? There are stages of stillness developing. Beginners either move excessively or they are stiff like a dead post. Asking a student to relax, whatever form it takes, is a form of stillness for them. Calming the mind is a form of stillness.

* Question: Is it possible to practice point-to-point alone? For example, can I push against a wall or the top part of a door where the bottom is against the door stop (so there is a little play in the top part)?
Answer: Do not use a wall because there is no push back. The door has push back but you'll do it wrong. You could use a small tree because it is alive and connected to the ground but you've got to play real light like just barely touching.

* Question: Is point-to-point a necessary method for everyone to train?
Answer: It depends on your purpose. Point-to-point can be used to help discover where tension is in the body. It can be used to help refine connections. The problem arises when using it as a method to practice beyond your current capabilities.

* In the July 29 class, we learned a few new perturbation exercises with the wobble discs and theraband. These are adjunctive exercises which are not recommended until you can perform the basics and you've had your performance of the basics validated. If you cheat in the basics or do them wrong, then you will cheat in these adjunctive exercises or do them wrong as well.

* Question: What about the warm-up exercises like the Wujifa Hip Swivels? Are these adjunctive exercises too?
Answer: Yes. But you need something to do for warm-ups. Even though these appear simple, without a qualified Wujifa instructor, it is easy to do these wrong too.

* Comparing my performance of these new adjunctive exercises on the wobble discs to a school brother's, I tend to try to control my balance instead of allowing the perturbation to run through my body as he does.

* If you are trying to control, then you're going to work hard and be too slow - it takes time to implement a control plan. This occurs at the milli-second level. When you feel connection and you aim to maintain connection under perturbation, then where there are breaks or spaces, then you will automatically be able to connect. This occurs at the nano-second level.

* Remember, the micro-level is what shows up in the body. The macro-level is what shows up in daily life. From the micro, you can see the macro and vice versa. This kind of perturbation can show that if you are stuck in a routine, you may be disconnected from the flow. However, if you are connected to the flow, you may be able to vary your routine according to conditions.

* Do all your core and adjunctive exercises with weight in quads. Most people think their legs are getting stronger when they don't feel the weight in their legs but in reality, they are cheating and not progressing in relaxing to allow more and more weight to drop into their legs. Relaxing and dropping, and getting the burning feeling in your legs is not a one time goal but rather, is an ongoing process.

* Note: I went back for my sixth set of three Rolfing sessions during this month. Focused on really working the ankles. The last session "cured" my problem with the right foot arch collapsing as I step onto that foot. The arch doesn't collapse as it used to.

* I went for an Active Release Technique massage therapy session which seems like a blend of Physical Therapy manipulations and Swedish massage. (In my experience with Physical Therapy, the therapist does not do massage.) The therapist worked on the tight muscles in my hips and pelvis. He recommended particular stretches to target these muscles.

* My daily practice journal for July shows I'm standing 10-20 minutes every other day with some 30-40 minute sessions. I've been working on and noticing more distinction between the feeling of "kua in" and "kua out".

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Learning From Myself: Journal Notes #103
Next article in this series: - Working the Lower Back: Journal Notes #105

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