Monday, November 19, 2012

Back To Where I Was Six Months Ago: Journal Notes #107

Notes from my October 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.)

* Note for October, I'm still not fully back to practicing my Wujifa zhan zhuang training on a daily basis. I am doing some stance maybe 2-3 times a week for 10-20 minutes a session and I continue doing the Wujifa adjunctive exercises and my Tai-chi form.

October 7 class:
* Question: It's tough to get back into practicing stance. I can get "tuned up" in class and this will last a few days and then I go numb again. I've been in a numb place for a while. It seems I've got a fear or anxiety about feeling and I retreat to data to avoid feeling. I see philosophy as data and not as a basis for behavior, a way of experiencing life. What's up with this?
Answer: The instructor turned my question over to our school brothers to answer. Here's some of their responses:
  • Do you want security or growth? There is security in not addressing your fears.
  • The Cro-Magnon sense of responsibility, of keeping the clan safe, can trap you too. What works for you can also become a trap.
  • Consider your intention vs the compromises you're making.
  • Adhering to an identity is secure. Developing gongfu changes your identity.
  • Sometimes you need to do the uninspiring just to stay in the game. Practice isn't always inspiring.
  • I found something in Wujifa that I can do for the rest of my life. There's no urgency to achieve something so it's easier to practice every day.
  • Starting out is always inspiring but after a while, it's easy to get bogged down in the drudgery of the details especially as you dig deeper.
  • People get caught in circular thought and rationalize dysfunctional behavior. How do you get out of the loop? Identify what you never do and do that. Do something a little different. Start with something small, almost insignificant.

* Question: I'm practicing the rubberband-hands exercise. I think I'm feeling fascial stretch. How's this look to you?
Answer: You're still making the mistake of using muscular tension. All you're creating is a tension stretch. You're fooling yourself by forcing it. Some people mistake tension for stretch. It feels like stretch but in fact it's tension. Feel the bicep as a force pulls down on the forearm. (Slowly allow the arm to extend.) It feels like the bicep is stretched. With this bicep example, you feel stretch but this is tension stretch not relax stretch.

bicep tension vs stretch

* A note on observing my school brother receiving a postural correction. Head back and up, if done wrong, can create tension in back of the neck. Rather, first start with pointing the chin to the ceiling. Then, rotate on a point under the ear lobes by raising back of head, not by pulling the chin down. Use mental tricks to "trick out" which muscles are engaged and how to achieve the desired posture with minimal muscle use, with the most relaxation.

* A teaching note. Only work on the part of the body that the student asks about even if you see problems in other parts. Why? Because this is the area that the student is ready to work on.

October 21 class:
* Question: Would you check my rubberband-hands exercise? I feel like my breathing is creating a little stretch and I'm not using muscle to stretch the rubberband. Is my breathing driving my arm movement or am I still muscling it?
Answer: You're chest is frozen so your breathing, your upper chest, is expanding forward and upward but not sideways. First, look at how your arms hang at your side. Your shoulders are rolled forward. Now, raise and lower your arms like the first Tai-chi move. You are contracting your rhomboids and pulling your scapula in and back. You don't need to engage all those muscles just to raise your arms.

Me: I''m not even aware that I'm doing that.
After more discussion, my school brother Trevor, who passed his first level of Rolfing certification and my instructor gave me an unprecedented three hours of body work just to get my shoulders to lay down. A lot of work on a tense and shortened pectoral minor. During this time, Trevor noticed a link between the tension in my scapula and my kua. When I can roll my scapula out flat and do so without pulling them down, that is by relaxing, then this creates length down the back for the femur heads to roll forward achieving a closed kua.

(When I got off the massage table, I was really jittery and confused. So much of my body had changed. A lot of stuff was worked free. I could barely stand. I could barely speak a coherent sentence. It took a while to get oriented and my posture was much better.
Note that the body work I describe pertains to my body. You may or may not share all or part of the muscular usage and tension patterns that I have. Do not assume that what is therapeutic for me will by therapeutic for you. Even though generalities may apply, each body must be addressed on an individual, case-by-case basis.)

October 28 class:
* Same question as last week. I can feel the inside of my upper chest area moving but it feels like there's a hard covering over my heart/chest area that isn't moving. After the three hours of body-work last week and a week of practice, am I doing the exercise any better or any less wrong?
Answer: What did you notice after having all that body work in the last class?

Me: (Gazing unfocused into space - up and to right, I said in a data tone) I noticed I could feel and breath more fully into my upper chest in the area under my shoulders.

Instructor: Look at me and say that. Associate.

Me: (Repeating what I said.)

Instructor: You're disassociating.

Me: What do you mean?

Instructor: You're giving me data. Where's Mike? Tell me again.

Me: When I'm paying attention to my practice and I notice the feeling of my breathing...

Instructor: Stop! Notice how you said the word "and". A little bit of feeling showed up. Go back and say that again and really emphasize and put a lot a feeling into the word "and".

Me: (Repeating with emphasis)

Instructor: What did you feel?

Me: Expansive.

Instructor: This is the process you want to bring into your practice. You have the data but the data is not helping you progress. Discovery is the biggest part of gongfu practice. Most people either just want the data or they take their discoveries and turn them into data - their purpose for discovering was to get data. If you want to progress to the highest levels, you've got to stick with discovery and don't get stuck in the data.

Instructor: You need to have emotional connection with kinesthetic feeling. Going to data is disconnecting. Real masters are connected with their emotions. Conversely, you can see "masters" with blank, lifeless, dead-pan faces. These folks have disconnected or disassociated from their emotions. The admonition about emotions is to not get attached to emotions. Many people make the mistake of interpreting this admonition as meaning you should disassociate from emotions. Not getting attached to emotions is vastly different from disconnecting or disassociating from emotions.You've got to practice connecting emotions and kinesthetics.

* Instructor demonstrated lying down stance and how the movement of lying down stance appears in various other exercises like squatting monkey and silk reeling.
(I was really amazed how he was able to see how this kind of internal whole-body movement quality shows up in other exercises and how this one simple exercise, lying down stance, is a foundational exercise for all these other movement patterns.)

* Question: Going back to the bicep curl exercise... As one side contracts (bicep), the other expands (tricep)...
Answer: Only focus on the expanding side. In Wujifa, there is no such word as "contract". There is only expand, extend, elongate, stretch.

Me: But if I focus on the bicep, it alternates between contract and expand as I close and open my arm.

Answer: Always change your point of reference and focus on the side that is expanding and stretching. Find and feel the expanding feeling in every movement. A postural move may appear to be withdrawing and contracting but in this you can find the expansion. Sometimes the expansion is "hidden" in a twist.

If you put your attention on contraction, then you become tense and stop noticing expansion. When you stop noticing expansion, then you lose peng.

* If you're working in a yin-yang paradigm, you are trained to look for balance. If yin is contraction and yang is expansion, and you look for balance, what do you have? Nothing! Peng is a function of relaxed elongation and expansion. This is where a lot of Tai-chi people get screwed up and never get peng.

* On a related note, the kua never closes. Yes, we talk about opening and closing the kua, and this is to help beginners develop basic movements. However, once you develop a level of movement through the hips, then remember how Bagua talks about the kua wrapping. So if you are closing in the front, the back is expanding and wrapping around the front. Always focus on the side that is expanding!

* The opposite of anger is sadness. People can armor through anger. Crying releases the armor and leads to genuine feeling which is the basic requirement to develop internal connection.

* Question: If sadness is opposite anger, then what is the opposite of data?
Answer: Connection! Feeling!
*When even a little bit of genuine feeling shows up, is expressed and connection is felt, I get overwhelmed and withdraw to data and become Spock-like, emotionless.

* I've developed an ability to express emotion as and through data. It is really difficult for me to be genuinely me and connect and remain associated. I learned to shut down feeling and exist in data.

* Question: Those few moments in class when I do open to feeling, it feels amazingly fantastic but when I get to the uncomfortable feelings, then I close down to block them out. How can I remove the plate over my heart, open my heart, feel the connective tissue moving across my chest, feel and not freak out and shut down?
Answer: When you practice your zhan zhuang stance at home, attach some emotional feeling to your standing practice. Being emotionless is limp. Remember, "Relax is not limp." And so, relaxed is not emotionless. Always stand with an emotional feeling. Being intensely focused can be emotionless which does not help.

There's always some emotionality to kinesthetic feeling and that's the point. Connect with that emotion!
Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: What I'm Not Doing: Journal Notes #106
Next article in this series: - Habits, Patterns, Blockages: Journal Notes #108

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