Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Experimenting or Avoiding Feeling: Journal Notes #112

Notes from my May 2013 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 I always turn a feeling into mechanics? I can get "the feeling" in class and think I practice it at home but somehow it transitions back into being mechanical because when I return to class and demonstrate what I've been practicing, then I'm told that I'm doing it too mechanistically; I've lost the feeling.
Answer: Armors are subconscious.
  1. In class, I take you through certain routines to get you to the emotional state where you feel safe and comfortable to open to your own feeling. There's certain music that anchors you to or helps you get in touch with feeling. There are certain methods of coaching and adjustments that get past your conscious defenses and bring more of your awareness into your body. How these elements are combined kind of depends on where you are in any given class. All these together help you find "the feeling".
  2. You also are wedded to your life habits, doing what you are expected to do. When some people have a heart attack or other traumatic life event where they fully realize their mortality, some of these folks lose the fear that kept them in their habits and then they feel free to live outside of the box of expectations they were in. I hope you can get out of that box before a traumatic life event.
  3. You're afraid to feel because to do so would fundamentally alter your data structured world.

* Question: Aren't you  being contradictory when you teach, "practice how I tell you to practice" and then turn around and say, "think for yourself and experiment."?
Answer:  First, you must build a baseline. Demonstrate the experiment. The problem is that people only practice for one hour and then do something else. There's no persistent focus. For example, I taught you how to practice with stretching the theraband. What did you do? You went home and "experimented" with using a stick. Your experiment was not to test the difference in fascial stretch felt between using theraband or using a stick. You simply jumped to using a stick because doing so engaged more muscle which is easier for you to feel.

However, what you did was not an experiment. You simply fell into an established pattern: AVOIDING EXPLORING DEEPER LEVELS OF FEELING! Not following an experiment designed to elicit feeling is a pattern of avoidance.

If an experiment is designed to open up something in you, and your pattern is to avoid feeling, then you won't do the experiment as designed but will avoid doing what you were told to do and will try doing anything else that fits your pattern and thereby doesn't elicit the targeted feeling.

It's O.K. to experiment as long as the focus of the experiment is maintained. I'm showing you the experiments I did that got results for me. If you run the same experiments, you should get the same results. If you deviate without first being able to demonstrate the results of the original experiment, then what you are doing is not an experiment. You have to understand the baseline.

* Question to me: Why aren't you maintaining your private practice journal? (Different from this summarized version of class notes.)
My answer: I did this for a while and then quit when I started touching on life stuff during stance. It's easy to practice when daily life is easy. It's difficult to practice when daily life is difficult. This is where I fall short and then complain that I don't "get it". It's almost like when I'm on the verge of change, then people, or "life" throw stuff at me to prevent  me from changing. My kung-fu is weak.

* Question: How can I discover my subconscious  resistance to feeling?  How can I discover my armors?
Answer: Experiment.

My response: But I don't want to because then I'd be responsible for my own progress.

Instructor: Exactly! And this is why so few people "get it". People generally want to mindlessly follow along. People who want to go further eventually encounter their armors and, like you, tend to get stuck there. You've got to experiment with your resistances, your armors. Notice your response.

* Here's an example of how to experiment eliciting different feelings. Remember, the mini-squatting exercise you learned last month? Do that now. (From stance position, arch your back which helps maintain kua-in, breathe out and squat down 3 inches, breathe in and rise up. Keep the angle of the pelvic tilt constant throughout.) Breathe deep into your pelvic floor. What do you notice?
Me: I can feel like the intra-abdominal pressure extending down a little into the top of my thighs.

Instructor: Sometimes you hit it (breathe deep and full enough) and sometimes you miss it (too shallow). Now experiment with tucking under and do the exercise. What do you notice? What's the difference?

Me: Tucking under pops out the kua. I can't feel the same feeling in the lower abdomen and tops of my thighs.

Instructor: Now go back to arched back and do a few mini-squats again. Now experiment with lifting up from the chest and do the exercise. What do you notice? What's the difference?

Me: It's like I'm trying to force a feeling of connection up the front but there's no that feeling in the lower abdomen and kua

Instructor: So one method gave you the feeling and two other methods blocked that feeling.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Too Tense for the Next Level: Journal Notes #111

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Too Tense for the Next Level: Journal Notes #111

Notes from my April 2013 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.) 

* Once again, I've demonstrated my ability to make a feeling into something mechanical. Despite my practice over the last two weeks, somehow I've transformed that alive feeling in stance into a mechanistic set of rules. What is amazing to me is that I didn't even notice the process of this happening. I thought I was practicing the feeling that I learned and I thought I was improving.

* In class we had a long discussion about forearm alignment in zhan zhuang and how tension in the shoulder affects this alignment. Here are the key points I remembered.
  • Holding my hand in front of me with my elbow at my side, with palm up, the radius is the outer forearm bone and the ulna is the inner forearm bone. With palm down, these two bones cross each other. At a mid-way point, between palm up and palm down, that is, when the palm faces inward, the radius is roughly over the ulna.

  • Getting the forearms stacked one on top the other at mid-point is the neutral position. I can only know twist and spiral to the degree that I know neutral. Once I can feel-understand the neutral position, then my feeling-understanding of moving away from neutral, that is, twisting in either direction, will be amplified. If I am locked-in at the elbow or shoulder, then the neutral and the twist will be corrupted.

  • If I'm locked in the elbow, then forearms turn in one fashion. If unlocked at the elbow, then the forearms turn in a different fashion. If the shoulder locks the upper arm in one location, then the movement in the forearms bones has a limited range of motion. If the shoulder unlocks, allowing the upper arm to rotate slightly, this allows increased range of motion in the elbow where the radius and ulna attach which has the effect of allowing increased range of motion for the forearms. Event though we're talking millimeters in these adjustments, the effect is dramatic.

  • The purpose in working the forearm, upper arm, and shoulder alignment is to 1. discover and release any tensions that may be limiting the range of motion, and 2. to achieve optimal alignment for the transmission of intention and force from the hand through the shoulder.

* The problem with older folks (like me) trying to learn this level of gong-fu is that decades of life habits have established the length or shortness of muscles and tendons. This is what an older practitioner is fighting against to achieve improved posture. The somatic, physiologic resistance is "built in".

* When I observe myself in the mirror, my posture and alignment looks good to me. And I am reminded that this is so because I can only see as far as I can see.

* In class, I was demonstrating posterior-anterior pelvic tilts (tuck-untuck) and my instructor asked me if I could feel the stretch from my back into my pelvic floor. Could I feel the "pull" at my anus? Well, "no". We then talked about how I get stuck in a tense-relax loop. It's like I'm stuck in a loop of feeling a superficial level of relax and I'm not jumping out of that superficial, "known" level of relax to a more relaxed level of relax that's a deeper level of relax than the loop I'm in.

* I made a comment in class that stance practice has gotten really boring for me. I'd rather do anything else than stand! To which my instructor responded, "This could mean that you don't want to see the depth. You're only seeing superficially." This made me think that maybe I am superficial.

* In class, I learned an exercise that coordinated breathing with doing a mini-squat (2-3 inches movement only). Standing with alignment as if in stance, then arch the back as a beginning method to feel kua-in. (Tucking results in the kua popping out.) Squat down slightly on exhale and rise up slightly on inhale and try to feel how the intra-abdominal pressure extends into the kua on the inhale. I couldn't really do this as it turns out because of the remaining tension in my pelvic area. My upper thighs (at the kua) feel like concrete in comparison to my instructor's. The top of my femurs, the greater trochanters, need to rotate even further forward which means the back needs to loosen even more. (If I can un-arch my back and maintain kua in, then that's a good indicator of another level of relax. Both straightening the lower back and tucking can cause the kua to pop out if the back is not relaxed enough.) In addition to learning how much more I need to relax, I also realized that a certain level of "drop" or "sinking the weight" can be achieved with a certain amount of relax but this amount of relax is not enough to get the kua-in position that is needed. And to achieve that also comes with more dropping the weight.

* In doing a little "push hands", I learned that my brace has gotten really strong but that I'm using all muscle and not the internal strength, "relaxed while maintaining groundpath" feeling I'm looking for.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Feeling in My Eyes: Journal Notes #110
Next article in this series: - Experimenting or Avoiding Feeling: Journal Notes #112