Monday, March 30, 2015

Stop Expecting the Feeling to Be Like Something: Journal Notes #131

Notes from my February 2015 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa.

* My "do it my way, have to be right-ness" is my armor that is preventing me from learning. I won't make progress until I submit which means letting go of these deeply ingrained attitudes, beliefs, judgements.

* Question: About the mini-breathing squat, I can feel the inhale pressurize my lower abdomen on the rising part of the squat but I can't feel a depressurizing on the exhale. How can I feel an equal but opposite feeling?
Instructor: Lay on your back on the floor. Then one school brother is instructed to push down on my chest (to prevent chest breathing). Our instructor then leaned over me, his straight arm ending in a fist, pushed into my lower abdomen just above the pubic bone.

"Breathe out. Now, as you breathe in, push up against my fist. OK. Good. Now breathe out just a little and maintain that push against my fist and stop. And then a little more and stop... and a little more and stop." We repeated this until my breath was fully exhaled. "What did you notice?"

Me: The exhale was more like a stepwise lessening of the inhale/pressure. It felt like pressurizing in the other direction.

Instructor: Good! That's a big breakthrough for you! Now, stand up and do the mini-squat.

Me: (I do.)

Instructor: That looks more like mini-squats! What's different?

Me: I think I was expecting the exhale to have a certain strong feeling like the inhale but when it didn't, I couldn't feel what I thought I was looking for.

Instructor: Stop expecting the feeling to be like something. You'll never get it that way.

Instructor: Have you ever experienced a sunrise on top of Mount Tai?

Me: No, but I've seen pictures.

Instructor: And from pictures and others' descriptions you imagine a certain experience. But when  you experience it yourself for the first time, don't you say, "It's not what I imagined?"

Me: Yes, I've found this to be true in many other "first time" instances.

Instructor: The feeling of connection is like that. If you've never felt it, you really don't know what it feels like so stop wasting your time doing an exercise that you think is developing your "idea" of the feeling of connection. Just do the exercise and work to feel and notice a little more each time. One day the feeling will be there and you won't even know it because the feeling of connection is beyond what you can imagine. This is where a teacher is valuable - to notice for you! A teacher who has connection can see when you are demonstrating connection and say, "That's it! Practice that!"

* And stop saying, "I can't feel." This sets up and reinforces a pattern or neural pathway that keeps you locked in to not feeling. It would be better to say, "I can barely feel..." It would be even better to say, "I notice that I am feeling..." Notice whatever you notice. Build that pattern! Build that neuropathway!

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Preconceived Movement Patterns: Journal Notes #130
Next article in this series: An Rx for Progress?: Journal Notes #132

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wujifa West Coast Seminar 2015

For all the followers and readers of this blog, and for the many of you have written to me over the years expressing gratitude and appreciation for our very functional, keeping-it-real approach to internal gong-fu training, and for those of you new to this site... this is a rare and golden opportunity for you to experience for yourself what I have been blogging about since 2009!

If you're on the west coast, even if you have to travel a little ways to get there, do it! What's the benefit to you? Personalized attention in a small group setting! Explanations and answers to your questions in plain-English! Practical, functional steps based on where you are now to help you progress toward developing whole-body connected movement!

Announcing the Wujifa West Coast Seminar 2015

The Wujifa Method for Developing Internal Connection and Power

Whether you are a seasoned Wujifa practitioner or you're just getting started, this is a tremendous opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Wujifa principles in action by receiving focused and personal instruction from the founding professor of Wujifa.

This year's theme will focus on the three foundational principles of the basic Wujifa Triangle; Balance, Structure, and Relax as they relate to connection in movement and meditation. With these, one can come to build a practice that unlocks the deeper levels of training in Qigong, Zhan Zhuang, internal martial arts and various meditational practices.

Friday, April 17
7:00 - 9:30 PM

Saturday, April 18
Morning: 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Afternoon: 3:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Sunday - Private instruction offered. Please call or email for price and availability.

$60 for Friday, $120 for Saturday All-Day Session
$150 for both Friday and Saturday if you register by March 29th.

Location: Subud Santa Cruz, 3800 Old San Jose Road, Soquel, CA. 95073

Space is Limited

Wujifa west coast seminar advertisement 2015

There is no end to feeling, understanding and being aware!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Value and Uselessness of Dan-Tian Meditation

In the fields of internal martial arts, there are a wide variety of dan-tian (丹田) meditations available. Before choosing any practice you should first know your purpose. What do you want to achieve? Once you are clear about this, then it is important to understand the expected or desired results of the exercise you will engage. Let's look at a couple examples.

One of the old theories for practicing dan-tian meditation can be found in Douglas Wiles' book, Lost T’ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty. In this he says,
“This theory – taking the mind as fire (trigram Li 離) and body as water (trigram K’an 坎) – seeks to remedy body-mind disharmony by concentrating the mind in the tan-t’ien point in the lower abdomen (placing fire under water) and thereby restoring integration and producing ch’i.”
From this brief sentence we can glean three important points:
  1. Ancient Chinese practitioners also suffered from a kind of body-mind disassociation or "disconnect".
  2. Fundamentally, a method of restoring body-mind integration was to simply place awareness on the body. However, with the infusion of degenerate Daoist cosmology, one reason or the reason for focusing on the dan-tian was the belief that ch’i is produced when you focus on the dan-tian. (Placing fire under a pot of water produces steam; ch'i.) And this brings us to the third point…
  3. The so-called production of ch'i is a by-product of body-mind integration just as steam is a byproduct of boiling water.
Let's look at this for a moment. First, the practice of dan-tian meditation is rooted in an antiquated and colorful cosmology and in my opinion, is completely irrelevant and may even be a distraction to practitioners outside of that cosmology. Second, we can infer that something happens in the process of developing mindbody integration. Third, even though this brief passage doesn't get into the details of various mindbody integration exercises, the point to be understood is that after what may be many years of diligent inward focus on removing internal resistances and blockages, the body changes and the byproduct is ch'i flowing.

There was a study published in 2011 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine  that was titled: Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing Fosters Relaxed and Attentive Mind: A Randomized Controlled Neuro-Electrophysiological Study. Essentially, this study instructed participants to practice two forms of "Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing". One form was passive and the other active. The passive form consisted of simply observing the dan-tian region while breathing. The active form consisted of alternately tightening and relaxing the anal and abdominal muscles in coordination with the breathing. The results of the study suggested that Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing "facilitated the attainment of the coexisting states of relaxed and attentive mind, which made this breathing technique uniquely different from other more well-known breathing techniques."

From these two examples, we see apparently very different results! (The assumption is that the purpose of producing ch'i will have a different effect than the purpose of achieving a relaxed and attentive mind.) Now let's consider a third example, the Wujifa Mini Breathing Squat. In this exercise, the practitioner focuses on the belly area (between the diaphragm and mid-thigh) and practices coordinating a mini-squat with breathing into the lower abdomen. The intended result of this exercise is different again from the previous two examples.

Many people are disassociated from their body to some degree. As such, they are completely unaware of patterns of muscular tension and flaccidity in their own bodies. (This is true even for seasoned practitioners of qigong and the various "internal" martial arts!) Practicing a dan-tian exercise that is not designed to get you in touch with patterns of muscular tension and flaccidity may be very "enlightening" but it may not yield functional results.

Obviously the one example I gave from Wile's book is but one of many dan-tian meditations. And it should go without saying that modern technology has its limits in terms of measuring results of various qigong practices. The point that I'm trying to make here is that it is important to be keenly aware of both your purpose for practicing a dan-tian meditation and the results the particular exercise is designed to deliver. Be careful to not fall into the trap of expecting Result B from a dan-tian meditation that is designed to deliver Result A.

Happy practicing everyone!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Learning to Play the Wujifa Blues

Ever wonder how learning Wujifa is like learning to play blues guitar? No? Well, Check it out!

My all time favorite blues guitar instructor is Griff Hamlin over at Blues Guitar Unleashed. He's got great instructional materials and provides wonderful instructional tips on his blog. But the real gem for me as a Wujifa practitioner and as a guy learning to play blues guitar is Griff's member newsletters.

Now, what continually amazes me is that as I read his newsletters, I can't help but think that he's talking in code about martial arts and Wujifa. Why I do that? I don't know. Maybe I just see a connection...

Here's an example of what I'm talking about:
"But here's the thing... the blues is the blues - those 5 or 6 notes that make up the blues scales... and maybe you add one or 2 more in for flavor once in a while... that's pretty much it.

(Note: for those of you unfamiliar with music, there are 12 notes and so creating an entire sound and feel based on only 5-6 notes is really amazing!)

Going off and learning all kinds of modes and oddball sounds isn't going to make your blues playing sound more like blues - it's going to make your playing in general sound more like whatever sound you're incorporating.

I know that might sound simple and kind of, "well duh..."

But you'd be amazed how many years I searched for that "new sound" only to realize that when I was up on stage playing it was those same old notes that always sounded the best when I came back to them."

Well, gosh darn! Doesn't this sound familiar? Just like in learning to play blues guitar, learning Wujifa requires learning only a few notes of the entire Martial Arts Scale. Sure, you can learn all kinds of modes (martial arts styles) and oddball sounds (martial arts forms) but doing so isn't going to make your playing (your feeling of internal connection) sound more like blues. (Basically, you ain't gonna "get it" taking this route).

So, learning to play the Wujifa Blues... What do you really want to learn? If you want to develop internal connection, then stick to the few notes in the Wujifa Blues Scale. Learn them really well. Don't get distracted by all the other styles and sounds out there. In fact, the more you hone in on these few notes, the more you'll understand what others are doing with the notes they are using.

What sound are you looking for? The sound of internal connection? Then learn Wujifa.

What is the sound of internal connection? Wujifa!

Happy practicing everyone!