Monday, December 30, 2013

Wujifa Mini Breathing Squats: Journal Notes #116

Notes from my October and November 2013 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang.

* Question: I've been practicing the combined mini-squats with theraband stretching. I can feel the bottom fill and the top fill and stretch but I'm having a problem connecting the top and bottom.
Instructor: What are you focusing on?

Me: The problem. (notice the way I phrased my "question").

Instructor: Focus on what you can do and grow that.

Me: I can feel the bottom and top.

Instructor: Now focus on coordinating the bottom and top. Focus on coordinating the top with the squat. For you now, you've got to remove structural artifacts causing deviation. Lock and point the elbows down. Turn the palms down while maintaining a slight stretch in the theraband. Now breath.

Instructor: How does that look?

Comment from school brother: "It looks like how Shi-li should look when it's done correctly."

Me: I can definitely feel the breath driving the stretch of the theraband. The stretch is not being driven by arm or shoulder muscle movement.

* I need to focus on details but if I focus on details I can miss the key driver. It's tricky to figure out where to focus.

* Simple warm-up exercises can also reveal great depth when done properly over time. The Wujifa neck and hip circle warm-up exercises are designed to help you notice and feel fascial stretch and connection.

* Regarding our Wujifa neck circle warm-up exercises... The reason for maintaining the nose forward while circling the head is to notice where fascial adhesions or muscle tensions attempt to pull your nose away from its forward position. When done correctly, you should feel the fascial stretch work its way around your head, neck, and upper torso as you rotate your head. Work to remove deviations and eliminate variables in movement.

* Regarding our Wujifa hip circles warm-up exercises... This needs to be done in the same precise, controlled manner as the neck circles. If your hip circles look like a hoola-hoop movement, then you are doing the exercise with breaks and this makes it more difficult to feel fascial stretch.

* When circling the hips around one (weighted) foot, the stretch goes through the center of the weighted foot, not across to the other foot. The stretch goes through the body from the dan-tian to ming-men. In the beginning it is difficult to feel this stretch going through the body. In the beginning it is best to identify and resolve structural deviations.

deviations from roundness

* Question: In Tai-chi they say, "Rooted in the legs and directed by the waist." To me, the waist (a.k.a dan-tian area) is the spine L1-L5 which is the driver of the movement. Right?
Answer: Movement driven by the spine is not internal movement. (Here he demonstrates a side-to-side movement.) Look at the front in relation to the back. (The abdomen moves a lot in relation to the spine which hardly turns at all.) The abdomen is the driver, not the spine. The spine only turns a little relative to and because of the more powerful abdominal movement. This is not to say that the waist doesn't move, because it does. Because your focus is misdirected, it is better to say that the spine is not useful for you to consider as a driver in the manner you are considering it now.

* Remember, if you try to see movement done in "X" paradigm through the perspective of "Z" paradigm, then you'll never see "X" paradigm movement. You've got to throw out your "Z" paradigm frame of reference.

* More about mini-squats practice. In the beginning, simply coordinate breathing with movement. From standing, breathe out and squat a little. Breathe in and rise up a little. Practice breathing deeply into the lower abdomen and pelvic floor. Feel the intra-abdominal pressure pushing out the lower belly (especially the point just above the pubic bone) and pushing down the relaxed pelvic floor muscles. Notice abdominal breathing in and out. Spine doesn't move much.

* The Wujifa mini- breathing squats train horizontal kua movement and the Wujifa side-to-side exercise trains vertical kua movement. Once you can independently demonstrate horizontal kua movement and vertical kua movement, then you have the two directions and can begin combining.

* We practiced a little strength-testing - pushing to test ground path. I'm using/engaging too much muscle. Why? So I don't "lose". What I learned is that I should only practice to the limits of what I can do correctly. If I exceed my correct limits by falling back on bad habits and tricks, then I'm impeding my own progress.

* While practicing mini- breathing squats, I notice that if I let the pelvic floor extend down and the lower abdomen fill out, then not so much pressure goes up. If I expand the lower end maybe half way and hold that there, then more pressure goes up to the chest and shoulders. This is the first time I've felt this so obviously.

* Remember to use the breath as a means to develop intra-abdominal pressure to help you feel lower into the abdomen. Breathing is a method. A goal for you now is to use breath and pressure to help you develop your feeling in your kua.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Questions About Dan-Tian Rotation: Journal Notes #115
Next article in this series: Trying vs. Trying Too Hard: Journal Notes #117

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Questions About Dan-Tian Rotation: Journal Notes #115

Notes from my September 2013 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang.

* Question: Does the saying, "rooted in the feet, directed by the waist, expressed in the fingers" mean that the pelvis should be "locked-in" with the legs and the main horizontal movement is attained by rotating the lower thoracic and sacral vertebrae - that is the area below the rib cage and above the pelvis? How does dan-tian movement show up here?
Answer: Instructor demonstration: Notice that there is very little skeletal movement. The movement is driven from the abdomen in front. So, no, dan-tian movement is not driven by muscularly rotating the spine in back.
* Practice:
Get into a kind of usual zhan zhuang stance position. Now stick your butt out. This means to really arch your back. Let your belly hang out in front. Really lift your butt up in the air. Feel your femur heads roll forward. Your knees may point a little toward each other or feel a little "pigeon toed". This gives you a "kua in" feeling in the front along your inguinal crease.

Then, keeping the front relaxed and "kua in", release the arch, relax the back and allow the lower back to settle and drop. If done properly, you will feel an even greater feeling of "kua in".

The trouble is that most people are too tight and while they can let their bellies hang out, and make the arch, and stick the butt out, they can't maintain the "kua in" when they release the arch. If this is where you're stuck, then this is where you have to work.

A typical mistake to get the arch out of the back is to tighten the abdominal muscles which pulls up the front of the pelvis and forces the back to drop. But this pits one muscle force (the front) against another (the back). Doing this will prevent you from ever getting any dan-tian rotation! You've got to maintain the "kua in" feeling in front with a relaxed back!

You do not get dan-tian rotation by tensing the abdominals! Focus on keeping the abdominals relaxed while also relaxing the spinae group. This will allow the pelvis to rotate on the femur heads. This is really tricky and can take years to figure out. While this in itself is not dan-tian rotation, it is a critical pre-requisite. If you don't fulfill the pre-requisites, how can you graduate to upper-level coursework?

* If you can't get this basic movement with relaxation and get the resulting openness in your zhan zhuang practice, then your zhan zhuang is too rigid.

* It's now been two months since I've returned from China. For the four weeks that I was in China I opened to new food, new friends, new experiences. I relaxed and let go. I felt so much more alive even though I know I did not intentionally change my fundamental soma-psychological patterns. When I returned, my intention was to continue to grow and nurture the opening feeling that I was feeling.

* Question: You know how we say that there is no separation between stance practice and daily life, well, over the last four weeks (since I've returned from China), I've been working on being more expressive of my sexuality as opposed to continuing repressing this "part" of myself due to my moral and religious beliefs around being a "good" man. What I'm noticing is that I can feel more deeply into my pelvis during zhan zhuang stance practice. How can I know if this change in my daily life is actually creating a change in my internal gong fu practice or if I'm somehow imagining the relation?
Instructor: Show me what you are doing.

Me: I demonstrate my zhan zhuang stance.

Instructor: That's better. I notice that you are still holding just above the pubic bone; that little bit of muscle. Try this. Visualize and feel your genitals expanding downward with each in-breath but don't contract with each out-breath; maintain allowing a relaxed expansion.

Me: I try this exercise.

Instructor: What do you notice?

Me: I can feel like more abdominal pressure going down from my abdomen into the tops of my legs.

Instructor (asking my school brothers): What are you guys noticing?

Comments: He's sinking more. There's more connection through his pelvis/dan-tian.

Me: At that point, I got very self conscious and embarrassed and stopped practicing. When I tried to get back to that kinesthetic, I could not do it. I will practice this at home.
* My note: I practiced this particular method for the next two weeks and between this and other changes in my personal life, I noticed my zhan zhuang stance practice becoming more inspired. I was waking up early and feeling excited about practicing again. I was developing more of a different kind or quality (?) of feeling in my pelvis. And then something happened and I could literally feel myself "shutting down" or "withdrawing" from continuing developing these deeper feelings... again.

* My note: What is different or unique this time is that I am able to observe my going through this opening and closing process whereas previously "I" was the opening or closing. It's like before I was too close(?) to the kinesthetic so I could not distinguish "myself" from "my kinesthetics". I think my four week vacation in China gave me a break in ways I had not anticipated. I don't know. Something shifted. I don't understand. Nonetheless, this is a valuable insight.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Going Places and Coming Home: Journal Notes #114
Next article in this series: Wujifa Mini Breathing Squats: Journal Notes #116