Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Intention to Roll Over: Journal Notes #124

Notes from my July 2014 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa.

* Reminder, I've been attending class every other week for many years. This is a very different training pattern than a weekly or more frequent attendance pattern. Due to this schedule and vacations, I only attended one class in July.

* My practice during this month has focused on doing the mini breathing squats for at least 20 minutes per day. On weekends I would add 40 minutes of zhan zhuang each day.

* I've noticed a contradiction in trying to maintain the knees forward when standing fully up. I've also noticed a tendency to pull the trochanters backward on a full stand up. To counter this, I've worked on maintaining knees forward through the entire range of sit back and down through full stand up.

* I demonstrated the mini squats I've been practicing and explained what I've noticed and how I'm working.
Instructor: You're using counteracting forces. You're clenching the front to counter the tension in your back to give you your feeling of knees forward. You're making this exercise much more difficult than it is. There's a huge difference between maintaining a still pelvis through clenching vs. through relaxing. You're still focused on compartmentalizing your movement. You see and explore the component parts of movement and as a result, your movement has the same kind of segmented quality. It's not about two ways of seeing or two ways of understanding moving, it's about two ways of moving!

* I had a very frank discussion with my instructor in which he said I was one of his worst students. So I asked, "What's the criteria to be a worst student?"
Instructor: How much do you train every day?

Me: Recently? Twenty minutes a day.

Instructor: And how many years have you been training?

Me: More than ten.

Instructor: There's your criteria. Theoretically it should only take one to three years for someone to develop this skillset who is truly open to learning and who follows instructions, trains two to three hours a day and does not resist or deviate. In your case, you've hit a glass ceiling which is at the point where someone who's trained seriously for one year should be.

Me: But I've got ten years of great notes! I've got a much clearer understanding now.

Instructor: Go back and look at your notes. How many ways have I said, "Relax and feel connection"? When are you going to simply "Relax and feel connection"?

Me: I don't know.

Instructor: There's your answer.
* All these various exercises are meant to purify and refine the intention. Ordinary people's intention is rather scattered. In Tai-chi they say to use the eye to lead the hand as a way to develop intention but this generally does not produce the level of results needed.

* Look at babies. When they want something, their intention is to reach for it and their entire body follows. Practice this exercise. Lie prone on your back on the floor. Pick up your left leg and reach it over your body to your right. Reach to the right with your left foot until your foot drags your body over onto your stomach. Use only your intention to reach. After you can do this, then try it using your arm. The arm is more difficult. Don't brace or push off with any part of your body. Keep the legs straight. Only use your intention of reaching to pull the body over.
Note: Watching my instructor do this was a bit disturbing to me. It looked like his body became some kind of amoebic-like creature being pulled along the ground by some invisible force. I don't know why, but I felt a bit put off by this. My school brother (whom I hadn't seen for months) said he could not do this at first but had been practicing and told me the trick is to relax and let the body stretch behind the intention of the leading foot or hand. In fact his demonstration which looked a bit stiffer didn't disturb me, rather, I found it fascinating.

When I tried, which I was resistant to trying, I could not do this. In fact I got quite argumentative about the exact details of what I should and should not be doing.
Here's a short video about a baby rolling over. Notice how soft is the baby. It looks like more intention than compartmentalized muscle movement is driving its rolling over.

* Per my school brother, another way to think of  "one part moves, all parts move" is to think of proportional movement. When one part moves, it doesn't mean that every part has to move at the same time and same speed. It's more like a sound wave. At twice the distance from the source the sound is not half as loud but rather a quarter a loud.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: The Self Delusion of Beginner's Mind: Journal Notes #123
Next article in this series: What's Sex Got To Do With It?: Journal Notes #125

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Self Delusion of Beginner's Mind: Journal Notes #123

Notes from my June 2014 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa.

* After class John and I moved a large rock (maybe weighed around 200 pounds?)  across our instructor's yard for landscaping. The three of us each had a different approach to moving this rock and determining how to place it for aesthetic appeal. Rick was more interested in exploring how different placements would feel from different viewpoints. John was more interested in getting to "good enough". I was more interested in getting the job done; forget about feeling. Each time one of us revealed a little bit of ourselves during this brief thirty minute project, our instructor chimed in, "And how does that show up in your practice?" Indeed! How you do anything is how you do everything!

* In the beginning of the month, my body was really stiff and tightened up, especially through the lower back. In class I was given a few exercises to help open the kua. I think of these as deconstructed components of the Wujifa side-to-side exercise which is actually a pretty advanced exercise.
  1. Lay in fetal position on the floor on your left side. Straighten the bottom (left) leg. Turn your head and torso to the right. Hold a few minutes. Repeat on the other side.
  2. Stand with feet parallel, shoulder width apart. Shift weight to the left. Pivot on the right heel so the right knee and foot moves from pointing front (kua closed) to pointing to the side (kua open). Return to pointing front. Repeat several times. Repeat on the other side.
  3. Stand with feet parallel, shoulder width apart. Shift weight to left. Slightly lift right foot off ground and pivoting on the left hip joint, turn the pelvis so the right knee crosses over left knee. Ensure the left knee does not move with movement of the pelvis! Touch the right foot to the floor outside of left foot. (Close the kua). Rotate on left hip join to return foot to starting position. (Open kua.) Repeat several times. Tip: Keep hips level. Do not drop the unweighted hip! Repeat on other side.
  4. Same exercise as "C" and now stand within an arm's length of a wall. Place one hand against the wall and apply a slight pressure to maintain the path between hand and foot while rotating on weighted hip joint. Practice with same hand-hip and opposite hand-hip. Focus is on developing range of motion in hip with the intention of maintaining groundpath.

* Question: I've been practicing exercise A through D for the last two weeks and it feels like I'm getting some pretty good movement. How's this look?
Answer: Let's take a couple pictures. (snap. snap.) Look. How much are your hips moving?

Me: Oh. Not much at all.

Instructor: You get nice movement on the unweighted leg so why can't you do it on the weighted leg?

Me: I don't know.

Instructor: You've got a lot of holding patterns to overcome. So practice it now. (Guiding my movement of opening and closing again...)

Me: (I practiced for ten minutes and focused on closing and opening the weighted kua.)

Instructor: Look! You've made more progress with ten minutes of correct practice than you've made with two weeks of wrong practice.
* I noticed that Trevor and John are making huge progress and I wonder, "Why not me?" We were all pretty much beating along at a similar pace, getting little insights here and there and suddenly I see them pulling way ahead. Why? What am I missing? Luckily I had an opportunity to ask these two guys, "What was it that changed for you? How did you come to accelerate your progress the way you have?"

John said he realized that modifying the simple exercises as provided in class actually slowed him down. 'It's amazing how sticking to doing simple exercises can get huge results.' Trevor said his training was not focused so he trained nothing but mini- breathing squats for four months and explored this very deeply.

Here's a short clip of John practicing. Looking good, John!

From their wise insights, I realized I was was making both those mistakes: I was practicing a wide variety of simple exercises not exploring any one deeply AND I was modifying these simple exercises according to my own understanding of exploring and experimenting. And so after reaching this realization, I felt a new surge of enthusiasm for practice and I committed to practicing every day and I committed to only doing the simple mini- breathing squats exercise and exploring this deeply.

* As a result of the mini-breathing squat practice, I noticed a by-product of knees forward, sit back and down; I could get a smooth upward while keeping the lengthening feeling in my quads but on the downward, it felt like a ratcheting feeling, not smooth. So in the next class...

Question: I've been practicing mini- breathing squats and I have questions about this.
Me: I focus my breathing deep into the lower abdomen and I feel like a balloon feeling filling the bowl with each in breath.

Instructor: That's the wrong path. Put your fingers on your kua and use your breath to push out your fingers.

Me: This feels different.

Instructor: Remember, breathing is a method. You can do the mini-squats with any pattern of breathing... later. (He demonstrated.) For now, breath in going up and breathe out going down. Feel the kua open when going up and close when going down.
Also, you're tucking on the downward part of the mini-squat. Don't tuck.

Me: When I focused on this, I couldn't notice it at first. When I finally noticed it, what I noticed was a muscle which is used for tucking was just beginning to engage. Very subtle to me but very obvious to my instructor and school brother. It took a few more squats with the intention to maintain down and back which kept this muscle from beginning to engage. Or in other words, I practiced to overcome the patterned movement and stay relaxed.

Instructor: You're not standing all the way up. Stand all the way up.

Me: When I did, I felt like a bubble-gum stretching kind of feeling. Very subtle.

Me: Squatting down feels like ratcheting.

Instructor: Use the imagery of a balloon slowly deflating.

Me: Ah. This helps.
* Question: Why do I have such difficulty letting go of the data? It's like data is primary to me.
Answer: You ego is tied to data. Remember! Experience precedes data. Data is the afterthought.
* I've come to the conclusion that I'm the one inhibiting my own progress but in a way I never noticed before. As much as I believe that I am open to learning, in fact, I'm not really. As I examine this more deeply, I discovered that there is a difference between saying and believing that I am open and willing to learn vs. approaching learning without filtering through previous experience and attitude. The insidious aspect is that I was not even aware of this layer of resistance in myself! I could see it in other students but I was not like them (exactly) so in my mind, I did not have this resistance.

I think I may have begun to learn what was mentioned in my July 23, 2012 "Training Submission: Journal Notes #101" post "If you don't begin training with submission, with surrendering, then you can't learn." At that time, I thought I was submitting, but now I see that it was according to my definition and understanding of submitting. At that time, I just couldn't see how I was resisting.

Now, after seeing the change in two of my school brothers, I had a "a-ha" moment and a new understanding and model of the behavior for submitting, yielding, surrendering (Beginner's Mind) and how this is manifested. I felt something shift inside.

I now realize that I used my self-belief of having a "Beginner's Mind" as a veil of self-delusion to conceal a deeper, internal resistance to learning; I will submit to your instruction (external perception) but only to this point (internal reality). In the end, that point became the point where I got stuck. Such is the level of subtlety at which internal gongfu is played!

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Resisting the Simple: Journal Notes #122
Next article in this series: The Intention to Roll Over: Journal Notes #124