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

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