Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Trying vs. Trying Too Hard: Journal Notes #117

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

* Questions: Regarding theraband pulling, how am I doing? (I demonstrate.)
Answer: You're doing it wrong. Your arms are leading the breath and there's not much, actually, no dan-tian movement.

Me: Darn! But I've been feeling a lot of movement.What the heck am I doing wrong?

Instructor: You're using muscle. You've coordinated breathing and movement but you've done so mechanically. Your movement is not being driven by the breath. The movement must be driven by the breath. Look in the mirror.

Instructor: (After adjusting my stance), now pull the shoulders back, hold the arms out straight with the elbows down and locked, and palms down. Hold that!

Me: This is a hard position for me. Keeping the shoulders back, elbows and palms down feels really tense and I feel myself getting angry.

Instructor: Now just breathe.

Me: As I did, my arms moved with the breathing. (Wow! Amazing!)

Instructor: Now you can add some stretch with the breath. It's OK to use the mirror but then close your eyes and feel the kinesthetic.

Me: After I was able to do it more correctly I said, "I see" (looking in the mirror).

Instructor: Look at me.

Me: I understand.

Instructor: Understand what?

Me: You f###er. (A learned response when I notice that I am noticed.)

Instructor: (Talking to my school brother), Notice the anger. Mike holds down a lot of anger that he doesn't want to feel because if he allowed himself to feel it then he'd have to address it.

Instructor: The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Not wanting to feel one area manifests in his general inability or difficulty in feeling overall.

Instructor: That feeling is your kinesthetic. That movement is what we call stretch.

* Question: Regarding mini-breathing squats, how am I doing? (I demonstrate.)
Answer: You're stuck in one focus. Snap your fingers to the music and move your arms around.

Me: But I'm not consciously doing anything with the arms.

Instructor: I know but your body has engaged them with the movement. Now do you notice your kua?

Me: I can't find that feeling.

Instructor: (Demonstrating.) Here. Feel what I'm doing in front and back.

Me: I try to do the same and my body is surprisingly doing it. My brain is engaged in inquiry as to how this is working. I ask a question based on my immediate kinesthetic.

Instructor: Good question! This is exactly the kind of question you should be asking that should be driving your practice. And then he explains.

Me: Ohhh... And then I try to get ahead of myself and ask, How does this work in the CXW wrist spinning exercise?

Instructor: Don't do that. You're not ready for that yet. If you do that now, you will just build in bad habits that you'll have to unlearn later. You are where you are. Don't try to jump ahead.

* (In the next class) I've been practicing mini-breathing squats. I noticed three ways of doing these:
  1. I felt the breath separate but coordinated with rising and lowering.
  2. Breathing pressure pushes out to the sides and does not generate any "lift".
  3. I can channel or funnel the pressure down into the perineum which results in the torso rising.
* Question: Is pushing the breath down more on the right track?
Answer: Yes, but you're tensing the abdomen and chest muscles to create the boundary of your "funnel" and this is wrong. You need to stay relaxed.

Instructor: Try this. Knees forward. Bow at hips. Push xyphoid process to spine but do not hunch. "Tuck" to straighten the back and get a stretch. Roll the femur heads out. Now, breathe down as you stand/straighten up.

Me: What I notice is a pressure expanding up and into and through my entire torso. I feel very tall.

* Question: In my practicing side-to-side, I discovered that I get a more pronounced feeling of kua closing when the abdomen angles across and down into the thigh rather than moving straight across. And I feel a more pronounced kua open feeling when the abdomen angles up and away from the thigh. Am I on the right track?
Answer: No! You're over-thinking it. You're trying too hard. You're being too mechanical about it. It's like you're simultaneously tightening your bicep and tricep and trying to straighten or bend at the elbow. Of course you'll feel a "stretch" of the muscle that is being overpowered but this is absolutely wrong. You're violating the relax principle.

Instructor: Try again. Keep the back straight. Don't lead from the shoulders. You still have a little wobble in your spine. Really focus on moving from the hips. Keep the knees in place. Move only part way across the middle. Keep the muscles relaxed on the sides of your hips around the greater trochanters then notice/feel what is happening across the lower belly.

Me: I notice a feeling of a movement under the skin extending into the kua. It's kind of the same as the mini- breathing squats but different.

Instructor: It's different because side-to-side works the horizontal plane and mini- breathing squats works the vertical plane.

* You have to try. Some people don't try hard enough. But trying too hard can be a resistance too in the sense that you're not letting go and simply noticing/being with what is there.

* To help remedy this over-seriousness, access or get into a playful state. Recall a happy, joyful time from childhood. Whatever it is, allow yourself to access the memory, re-experience the feeling. Relax. Let go. Why childhood? Because children tend to bring their whole body/being into play so accessing that memory can recreate that state in the body. Practice from this place.

* The Christmas class is one of the few times a year when the instructor breaks out his top shelf liquor for class, pouring full the little tea cups normally used for kung-fu tea and toasting for the New Year. This year we enjoyed his: "Carralejo Triple Destilado" a limited production tequila from Mexico, La Mestize" an orange and chocolate flavored liquor from Mexico, and finally, some Grand Marnier. One of the perennial favorites is his home brewed Deer Penis Wine and his Snake Wine, however, he did not bring this out this time.

* Training with a little alcohol helps reduce the inhibitions and resistances and so helps in training.

* Punctuated Equilibrium. The principle that shows up in evolution and in practice. Spurts of development punctuate long periods of no change.

* Question: How do I stop the clicking in my left knee when I do stance or side-to-side? (I had a torn miniscus surgically removed in the 1970s. This long-ago injury never made any noise until recently.) There's no pain but the sound is disconcerting. I hope I'm not exacerbating any damage.
Answer: You are relaxing and opening the hip and moving the femur but you are keeping your tibia and fibia locked in place which is torquing the knee. Allow these two shin bones to move and stay connected to the movement of the femur.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Wujifa Mini Breathing Squats: Journal Notes #116
Next article in this series: - Stay Tuned... I'm still in the game...

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