Monday, August 29, 2011

Don't Do Stance, Just Stand: Journal Notes #54

Notes from my April 2008 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.)

* Question: How does stance relate to everyday life?
Answer: Mr. 20/20 says, "Play where it doesn't matter." Stance work is playing where it doesn't matter. The result shows up in everyday life as a natural powerful you.

* Question: Stance work for developing internal strength seems to be more than simply developing a physical skill. What's really going on here?
Answer: What we do here is analogous to sword making. Take crappy old slag, put it in the fire, pound on it, refine it, repeat over and over beating out the impurities.

(The crappy old slag is me, the beginner. The fire is zhan zhuang and other specific exercises. The pounding is the structural adjustments and the daily training. The impurities are the muscular tensions, blockages, sticky points, habitual patterns. It is this process of repeating the same simple activities over and over that refines the crappy old slag into a fine sword.)

* Question: I'm seeing so much more in stance now. How to keep track of it all?
Answer: Look at an aquarium. What do you see? Americans see components: fish, seaweed, rocks. Chinese see a piece of the ocean. They see an extract, a representation. Shift your focus off the components to the whole.

(I'm learning just how ingrained my component view really is! Even though I've experienced 'the feeling' both through adjustments and "on my own" with coaching, I am reluctantly working on developing 'the feeling'. Why do I say "reluctantly" when that's what I've said I want? Read on... )

* Question: I've been practicing stance a really long time. Maybe I'm a slow learner? How long should it take?
Answer: You want to hold onto your patterns. We talked about this years ago. You're holding yourself back. If you were more open to change, it takes a couple years to develop the sense of feel.

* Question: I'm finding I get tired in stance. I'm noticing now there's so much more tension. What's going on?
Answer: The energy you devote to critical thinking is draining you. Yes, as you feel more, you will notice more, but you do not have to think more. Relax the thinking. Focus on balance and relax and relax all of you while maintaining structure.

* Question: So then, what's the right way to do stance?
Answer: Don't do stance and all its rules, just stand.

* Note: We had a long discussion about Allowing vs. Controlling. For example:
D: If I open my hand, I'm controlling that.
R: Yes, but if you are reaching for a glass of water, you allow your hand to open. It's a matter of intention.

(Unfortunately, this is the only note I have on this discussion. For me, the whole concept of "letting go" and "allowing" contradicted my concepts about learning and making progress which centered on "grasping" and "controlling".

I've learned that the intention to feel connectedness is
like reaching for the glass of water. The feeling of connectedness is not something that can be learned and acquired through the normal means of learning, but rather is something that shows up when I learn how to allow myself to let go and notice and feel. The intention of Intention.)

* Question: When I do side-to-side, am I pushing from the weighted leg or pulling from the empty leg to shift the weight?
Answer: Neither. Your focus is wrong. You're using force. Remember, when doing side to side, turn on the hip and ankle. Keep the knee neutral. Demonstration:
  1. The intention on closing the kua will pull you from full side to empty side.
  2. The intention on opening the kua will push from full side to empty side.
(To read this probably makes no logical sense. But when you see how this is done, then it is completely clear. The "seeing" of course is the caveat - you must have relaxed your own body enough to have developed the "vision" to see tension and holding in others. Learning how to power the shifting from the kua is completely different from "muscularly" forcing the shift as many people do.

I still can't do it right but at least now I know how I'm doing it wrong.)

* Question: So it looks like moving from the kua involves more than simply creating an inguinal crease by whatever means?
Answer: In Wujifa, the inguinal crease extends much further than is typically thought of. In Wujifa, the kua extends from around the perineum to the area a little beyond between the top outside ridge of the pelvic iliac crest and the greater trochanter.

After the beginner starts to get some awareness and movement in that area, she/he will notice the kua as what is normally thought of as the inguinal crease. As the person progress, she/he will notice the feeling of the fold go much deeper and longer. An intermediate person will notice that vertical and horizontal movements can occur independently when opening or closing each kua. A more advanced person will notice a twining or spiraling effect through multiple fascial connections throughout the hip joint and then it is no longer thought of in terms of a "crease" or "kua" folding. The idea of "kua" is there as a method to help people develop internal connection and can be let go of once that is understood.

* Question: I had a strong emotional feeling arise which I blocked from expressing. I felt it come up from the belly and went to my voice but I held back verbally expressing this feeling. I then felt it move to head where I ran an internal dialogue and then it moved into my shoulders as stress.
Answer: This is probably one of your patterns you are just now noticing. Here's some ways to work with this. (We then worked on this but too much happened that I couldn't remember it all to write it down.)

* Question: What is silk reeling?
Answer: Silk reeling is the feeling of fascia moving.

(Silk reeling is not the popularized pattern drills called "silk reeling". My understanding is that silk reeling exercises are meant to be simple patterns that when performed correctly, can help develop the feeling of connectedness, which initially shows up as a feeling of "twining".

I've found that the popularized "Silk Reeling" exercises are too complicated to be of any functional utility. They are too much like extracts of the Tai Chi form. By having an exercise that looks like Tai Chi, my tendency was to play silk reeling like I played my Tai Chi forms. And I completely missed the purpose of the exercise!

As one who has attended silk reeling seminars, and with the hindsight I now have, I think seminars that focus on doling out multiple silk reeling forms do not benefit the beginner.

Wujifa has other, even less complicated exercises that in my opinion, helps the beginner focus the mind better on the purpose of the exercise.

A more logical progression for someone wanting to develop internal strength might be to start with Wujifa exercises to first get a feel for the feeling of connectedness and then work on maintaining that feeling as you shift into something like the popularized silk reeling exercises.)

* Note: The Bagua Golden Chicken exercise. Focus on feeling the twining under under the skin as you do this.

* Note: When testing your internal strength, if you feel strong muscularly then you are doing it wrong, not using internal strength. So one key when practicing is to look for areas where you feel you are relying on muscle and relax that. Relaxing will build better connection. A good training partner is indispensable for developing internal connectedness.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Contradictions: Journal Notes #53
Next article in this series: Backlash: Journal Notes #55

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Contradictions: Journal Notes #53

Notes from my March 2008 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.)

* Question: Why teach by contradictions?
Answer: Because what we want to describe cannot be described. If we said "x", then the mind would gravitate to it's definition or concept of "x" which would be wrong. So it is more correct to say it is not this nor that like the Buddhist teaching of No. No. No. No. No. Eventually the mind exhausts its logical conceptual efforts and the answer/feeling becomes clear and then you understand that the feeling cannot be described and you wonder why you didn't "get it" sooner. This is the process of your natural unwinding.

(And if you're really wedded to your logical thought processes like me, it could take a long time to unwind. This is where dogged perseverance will help you to eventually get it.)

* Question: In the last class, you explained the differences between mystical, functional and mechanical. Where can I get more information and examples of functional thinking?
Answer: Functional thinking is a term coined by the late psychologist Wilhelm Reich. A good definition of functionalism might be: Look for differences and among those differences find similarities.

* Question: I've been experiencing "sleepy eyes" recently. Like I just don't want to open my eyes. It's easier to keep them closed. Any ideas? Have you ever experienced this yourself?
Answer: It may be due to season changes from winter/kidney to spring/liver. It may be due to energetically switching from being data-ish to being more functional. Wanting to keep the eyes closed could represent wanting to avoid what you are opening to seeing.

* Notes on teaching:
  • The teacher must calibrate to each student and not simply make the same gross muscular adjustment to each student so the students all look the same. Each student is different, has a different structuring, responds to kinesthetic suggestions differently.
  • One method will not work with everyone. Also, methods can change and do change to adjust to you as you change and mature in the practice. A method is really just a way to get you to the next step and is largely dependent on what your body is/is not doing.
  • With each adjustment, ask, "How does that feel?" Get feedback. Also, prompting for feedback anchors the feeling for the student.
  • Audio (speaking/listening) and kinesthetic (touching) works great in making stance adjustments.
(Adjustments to zhan zhuang posture may start out at the gross muscular level in the beginner like keeping the heels and toes on parallel lines, but at advanced levels, adjustments get into the milli-micro-meter range where from one perspective it doesn't even feel like there was an adjustment but at another level, that little adjustment, which can feel more like an adjustment in the application of intention, results in a huge shift in the level of connectedness.)

* Question: What's wrong with wanting to label a feeling, even conceptually as "this" or "that" feeling? This is what I do so I can recreate "that" feeling at home when I practice.
Answer: Stop labeling. The moment you name or label, then you lose presence, feeling, and connection. For example when you believe you know what a tree is, because you have a concept of a tree, then you dismiss the experience and reality of that unique tree. No two trees are exactly the same. The feeling is never exactly the same.

If you try to compare a new feeling/experience to a previous experience, if you try to categorize the new based on the previous, if you try to define or name the new using established concepts, you will get confused. What you are aiming for is completely different from what you think you are aiming for. Get the feeling of what you experience now and invent a new language.

* Question: I learn here, I make progress here as do my classmates. Where can I verify where I am in my progress outside of class?
Answer: It's best to enter competitions to seek validation. If you go to others' workshops or seminars, the danger is that each teacher has his own system and whatever you do will not be correct in that system.

For example, the terms grounding, centering, rooting, etc... each martial art or qi-gong school can use the same words but could have different meanings that are true in their system. Comparing and trying to synthesize terms from different disciplines can confuse rather than contribute to your practice.

* Question: My shin bone muscle hurts. What's going on?
Answer: I stood and Dan and Rick worked on adjusting my posture which helped bring more of my awareness to more details of how and where I was dropping my weight on the inside vs outside of my heel. They also noticed a counter-twist across my calf and thigh the torque of which I was noticing across my shin bone.

(This is one of many examples of what happens in the body in the process of letting go. As one area relaxes or lets go, if a corresponding area is still tense or tight, then "problems" arise. It's then that you begin to notice other areas that need to relax as well.

I've discovered that this process of incrementally letting go has reached into the core of my personality - how locked in I am vs. how willing I am to really let go. Looking back, it was easy to
mimic the gross motor mechanics of learning forms and techniques. As it turns out, that was the low level stuff. Now, getting into the finer and more subtle levels where intention intersects micro-kinesthetic response and behavior, well, this can bring up some interesting insights.)

* Question: In the Tai-chi classics, it says to round the back. Does that refer to not having the scapulas wing out?
Answer: The scapula is not important to focus on. The focus point is on relaxing and dropping the chest. The shoulder adjustment (rolling the shoulder back) is to help open the chest. The other half of that classic says sink the chest. When people do this, they roll the shoulders forward and hunch which is wrong.

(For me, my particular problem was that I hunched. My scapulas did not wing out. There were other students in class that did have their scapulas wing out. For them, the scapula was important to focus on.)

* Question: Does the burning sensation in the legs ever go away?
Answer: It can and you can bring it back at anytime.

* Question: Will the feeling of weight in the legs continue to grow as I continue to relax the upper more at more finer layers or not?
Answer: Feeling the weight in the legs is a method. It is one of the basic "sub-feelings". You can leave it and come back to it any time.

(The main feeling we are looking for is the feeling of connectedness.)

* Question: If I tilt my pelvis back slightly, I feel the entire back "activated". If I tilt my pelvis forward slightly, I feel the entire front "activated". Should I practice and develop this now that I've notice it, now that I've become aware of this feeling?
Answer: What you're noticing in the front and back are external feelings. Go deeper internally. Just relax. Stop using so much force. Stop trying to "muscle it". Drop through the center. Relax is primary. What is important is when and how these show up in training. Using these feelings will become important later in combat stance.

* Question: You always ask about purpose, "What's your purpose?" Why is this so important?
Answer: The more clearly you understand your purpose, then the more clearly you will understand how to use the methods and which methods you can use to get you there.

* Question: The first Wujifa triangle has: Structure, Relax, Balance. What if I only focused on one? What's the result?
  • Structure alone leads to brace.
  • Balance alone leads to teetering.
  • Relax alone leads to the limp noodle.

* Question: How do I get stronger legs doing high stances like we do? Shouldn't we also do lower stances?
Answer: People don't use their hip as a hip joint. The purpose of lower stance is to open the hip but people think that lower stance is itself the purpose or they think the purpose is to develop strong legs. You will develop strong legs in high stance when you open the hips and unlock the held tension in the upper body. To help open the hips you can do stretches like downward dog and the cat stretch.

* Question: Yi Quan is a newer art. Why are there different "schools" already?
Answer: When a person discovers what worked for him/her based on his/her character structure and particular muscular patterns, and then teaches that, you see how many schools arise. Schools form around methods. The method is not the truth.

* Question: Regarding making adjustments to Dan's combat stance... You always say to start adjustments with the feet. Why are you starting with the arms?
Answer: In combat stance, if you set up the legs first, they may burn out before you get the arms set up. So set up the arms first, get that feeling and practice then drop into the legs.

* Question: Shouldn't the head be like hanging from a string like this (demonstrating)? How's this look?
Answer: In raising the head, do not push up from the neck. Keep the neck relaxed. Push up from the feet. Use the whole body to raise the head.

(Again, because I tended to hunch, the method of pushing up from the feet helped to straighten out my hunching without focusing on "Don't hunch!" With other classmates who did not hunch, it was raise the head by "pushing up" from the neck. The method depends on the structure being addressed.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Follow the Feeling: Journal Notes #52
Next article in this series: Don't Do Stance, Just Stand: Journal Notes #54

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chinese Martial Arts Without The Qi

As I was reading the book "A Brief History of Qi", I realized a broader and deeper "a-ha" understanding of Qi. I realized that:
  • There is no single, one-size-fits-all English translation for Qi.
  • Trying to figure out and understand or feel Qi is a waste of time.
  • I don't need to "get" qi to excel in Chinese martial arts.
Let me explain.

First, I both liked and didn't like "A Brief History of Qi". What I liked was it was an attempt to explain Qi in broader terms of its linguistic, historical and cultural nativity. (Many other books I've read merely offer a simple, ungrounded translation.) What I didn't like was its complete lack of adherence to academic standards: no footnotes, no citations. There is a one page bibliography.

Second, I found the book seemed to "go deeper" in the chapters on literature, philosophy, and art but "got shallow" in the chapters on qi-gong and martial arts. This may be due to my having read a lot about qi-gong and martial arts and not so much about literature and art. So, with this in mind...

Qi is an element of the Chinese worldview. References to Qi appear in philosophy, literature, calligraphy, art, medicine, exercise and martial arts as well as in daily life and colloquial sayings. There are many contexts in which this word is used and so, the word has many nuances of meaning.

Trying to compress a fundamental and widely used element of an entire cultural worldview into a single foreign word or phrase (that also carries its own cultural meanings), results in an abysmal gap in understanding and quaint and erroneous translations. Life force, spiritual energy, energy, air, or breath may be somewhat correct in one context but ridiculously wrong in another.

Here's a for instance...

Consider our English word, "weather" which in Chinese is, tiān qì ( 天氣 or 天气 ) which translates as sky or heaven (tiān;天) and xxx (qì;气)

Chinese think of weather as Sky"Qi". This combination of "sky" and "qi" understands "Qi" at play in the sky. An American understanding of the word "weather" may think in terms of warm and cold fronts or high and low pressure systems. We don't have it in our cultural worldview to think of weather as sky "qi".

And when I asked my Chinese source if Chinese think of tiān qì as the "breath of heaven" (honest to God, this is one translation I saw), she wrinkled up her nose and said, "No. Breath (qì xī ; 氣息 or 气息) has nothing to do with weather."

And the list of Chinese words that include the word "qi" goes on and on and on...

In the New World Encyclopedia entry for "Qi", the section titled, "Similar Concepts in Other Cultures" prefaces the list with the following (italics added for emphasis):
The concept of a life-energy inherent in all living beings seems to be a fairly universal archetype, and appears in numerous religious and metaphysical systems. As always, these similarities represent points of correspondence (not identity) and should be thoughtfully evaluated in their own contexts before using them as a basis for any essentialistic conclusions.

The Chinese include Qi in their worldview and Americans do not and that's OK. It is a huge chasm in worldviews and that's OK. In my opinion at this time, this is one chasm that does not need to be bridged and for us enthusiasts of the Chinese martial arts, we are better off not laboring to figure out our own understanding of Qi.

We do not need to learn the Qi aspect of the Chinese worldview to develop higher level skills. I say this from experience of wasting years in this pursuit.

We do however need to look at the body functionally. What are the Chinese martial art masters physically doing? How do you understand and explain that physical function in your own worldview? How do you replicate that physical skill in your own body?

For an example of a system that has a functional understanding of the internal strength skill set and uses plain American English to explain how to develop this skill set, I encourage you to visit the site and read through the articles at the Wujifa Liangong Blog.

So the next time someone asks, "What is qi?", tell 'em, "Qi is qi."

Happy practicing everyone!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Follow the Feeling: Journal Notes #52

Notes from my February 2008 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.)

* Note: In one class this month after adjustments, I noticed a very different kind of feeling through the soles of my feet, ankles and up through my legs when the arch was either collapsed or pulled up. I have no words to describe this feeling so how can I say I had "x" feeling? It's as if I want to force a feeling into a word and if a word does not exist to describe it, then it's almost like the feeling doesn't exist.
(The way I see it, a problematic aspect of "internal" work is the lack of a concise language that describes the various kinesthetic feelings or phases one progresses through from beginner to master.

A word like "feeling" is so vague and ambiguous that a beginner and master and everyone in-between can use the same word and be talking about completely different kinesthetic experiences.

The only way to really know the skill level of someone who talks-the-talk is to touch hands with them for a few seconds.)

* Note: Two of our sensory systems function in a very limited bandwidth of the entire energy spectrum. Hearing (auditory) is limited to the 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz range. Seeing (visual) is limited to the spectrum of "visible" light, about 380 mm/s (violet color) to 750 mm/s (red color). Oddly, the sensory system of touch/feeling (kinesthetic) has no defined frequency range.

* Note: Allow each sensory facility to be used for its function. Don't try to force a sensory function to be used in a way it was not designed for. If you haven't developed your kinesthetic to the same level as visual and auditory, you may try to use your strength instead of developing your weakness. Think of feeling your internal kinesthetics as a new playground to explore.

* "Listen" to your body. It's wisdom is superior to any thought you may think. Learn its "language". Feel.

* Question: Have you met any of the teachers featured in the book "Nei Jia Quan: Internal Martial Arts Teachers of Tai Ji Quan, Xing Yi Quan, and Ba Gua Zhang" (2004)?
Answer: Not directly but possibly their students. Mike Sigman helped popularized a functional understanding of what internal strength means. Many of these teachers may be riding on his coat-tails. You should visit any of his remaining web sites and old email strings (from the 1990s). You'll see he was saying all this then.

* Note: In my early Tai chi days, I recall Tai chi teachers saying, "Move as if moving through water." But if I have chronic tensions I have not let go of and I am not relaxed, then imagining alone will not yield the desired result.
(Imagining doesn't make the chronic muscular tension go away. If anything, developing an imaginary 'sense' of moving through a viscous fluid further embedded my tensions because I layered another pattern over an existing pattern. I got stuck on imagining how I was moving and didn't feel how I was actually moving.

It wasn't until I took a more functional approach to letting go of chronic muscular tensions (through Rolfing and stance) that I began to notice on rare occasions a feeling that could be described as like moving through water.

I think different masters have different ways to try to describe the quality of the feeling.

I learned it's better to focus on doing seemingly unrelated yet functional exercises which ultimately result in that movement quality "naturally" showing up rather than pretending that movement quality.)

* Note: You can however use imagination as an isolated "medicine" to introduce the feeling of intention. For example, with your arms relaxed and hanging at your side, "Imagine your fingers are extending down without muscularly extending the fingers." The purpose is not to extend the fingers but to stretch the tightness out of the arm.

* Mind-body is all about where you set the dividing line. For example:
Mike's brain - Spinal column - nerves - finger - skin - table - Dan's skin - finger - nerves - spinal column - brain. When Mike's mind has a thought to tap the table and Dan feels the tap through his finger on the same table, where does Mike's mind and body end and Dan's body and mind begin?

* Note: Attention is noticing. Intention is expanding. Need to balance these two in stance. An imbalance leads to "stance dance".
(I have heard: Stance practice should be 50% noticing, 50% peng.)

* Question: You say, "The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method." So when I ask, "What is the feeling?" that question is self limiting because my practice today opens opportunities to feel more and deeper tomorrow. So there is no single be-all-and-end-all goal, no single, "the feeling". Rather, the saying should be more like, "Once you begin feeling, follow that feeling." Is this thought process on the right track?
Answer: Yes. You finally got it! Big breakthrough!

(When I read this old note now and the excitement I penned, I remember how much and how long I was struggling with trying to understand "The method is not the truth" phrase. This re-phrasing made so much more sense to me and was the key to my understanding what this phrase was pointing to.

I think the main thing I got stuck on was that I just couldn't understand how various exercises were "methods" and what methods had to do with feeling and what feeling had to do with developing internal strength. It was all very confusing for a very long time.

Thankfully, I have greater clarity now; more clear on the process and more clear on what my current "road blocks" are to further development and why I maintain these road blocks.)

* (Read these together)
Old Question: Isn't "the feeling" another word for "global awareness"?
Old Answer: No.
New Question: Isn't "the feeling" another word for "global awareness"?
New Answer: Yes.
(Even though the words of the question were the same, my teacher knew that my original understanding of "global awareness" was an intellectualization and not an attempt to describe a functional kinesthetic feeling and so answering "Yes" at that time would have led me in the wrong direction.

This is a good example demonstrating how knowing where your students are and speaking to where they are provides more valuable guidance rather than simply speaking the truth as you know it where you are as a teacher.)

* Question: Are all stances the same?
Answer: Yes, all stances will help you stand.

* Question: Are internal and external stances the same?
Answer: They look the same but are done differently.

(As I understand it, the difference is in how the mind is engaged, for what purpose and what is or is not happening under the skin.)

* Question: Is there an evolution to stance practice?
Answer: Yes, get the basic relax first in zhan zhuang. Then move into combat stances.

* Question: Some famous teachers (I've seen on the internet videos) mention changing stance every five minutes. Why? This doesn't seem to give you enough time to get into it.
Answer: These teachers may be catering to Americans.

(At the time I asked this question, I actually thought the "famous teacher" knew something better or more than my "not famous teacher". Looking back I understand this answer so much clearer now.

The American tendency toward action as I know it, is a stumbling block in this practice. If you want to make money teaching stance, then to get paying students, you have to keep them entertained. What better entertainment than changing positions every five minutes!

If you want to make real progress, you're better to only stand in Wujifa Zhan Zhuang for extended periods of time. The more illogical and boring the better!)

* Note on mystical, functional, mechanical:
  • Mystical - Places responsibility outside of self.
  • Functional - Looks for similarities, unifying principles.
  • Mechanical - Loses sight of the whole picture. Sees only the details.

* Note: Shoulders are tougher than elbows. Kuas are tougher than knees. "Tougher" means difficult to feel into, difficult to change established habitual patterns.
(Yes indeed. Shoulders and kua are difficult to feel into and to change!)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Noticing To Help You Notice: Journal Notes #51
Next article in this series: Contradictions: Journal Notes #53

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Noticing To Help You Notice: Journal Notes #51

Notes from my January 2008 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.)

* Question: What is the biggest problem in learning zhan zhuang?
Answer: The biggest problem is that people want to force relax, to make the body go where it is not ready to go. Just relax where you are and allow the "let go" to grow naturally.

* Question: What are you looking for when you make adjustments?
Answer: When adjusting stance, you need to give an adjustment the person can get into their brain to be able to reproduce in their practice. If an adjustment makes no sense, then it can't be reproduced.

For example, if the goal is to open the chest but the shoulder is locked, then moving the elbow back will move the shoulder back which opens the chest. You can remember and reproduce "move the elbow back" but you wouldn't remember or be able to reproduce the intricate adjustments I make to help open the chest.

Use this method until the shoulder opens and can move back on its own.

* Question: Is breath work an internal or external practice?
Answer: To an external stylist, breathing is an internal practice. To an internal stylist, breathing is an external practice in relation to the rest of his practice.

* Question: If the goal to stand for one hour a day is met, then what?
Answer: Then appreciate the choice and enjoy the space or set new goals within that time or, notice, play with, experiment. The best place to play is strong noticing.

* Question: What's feeling got to do with mystical, functional and mechanistic?
  • Mysticism: Everything is One. Lost in the feeling of Oneness.
  • Functional: Awake to various feelings. Can distinguish different feelings.
  • Mechanistic: Not feeling. Focused on data and information.

* Note: Today, bio work for a school brother - repeated loud, long ahhhh, kind of like yelling. We can hear when his throat pinches the yell and when it is open but he can't hear the subtle difference. By physically noticing for him and pointing out the differences, he began to feel what we heard. This creates a growth opportunity because now he knows something other than his normal everyday pattern.

* Note: Corrections are noticing for the person. The instructor's noticing helps you notice so you can begin to notice for yourself to begin to make your own corrections. Encourage people to work on their own, see what they find and bring it back, contribute.

* Note: I was amazed at a comment Dan made which was something like: If I can feel tension or relaxation in one part of my body, then I know I can feel it in other parts.

* Question: Is what I'm feeling in my shoulders/chest when I relax, is that tension or is it more like a stretched rubber band tension kind of feeling?
Answer: Think of hot peppers. Black, Jalapeno, Red, Thai, Green, Italian. All different flavors of hot yet they are all peppers. You are now noticing pepper but you don't yet have the language to describe the different flavors. Get a feel for the flavors.

Say these two sentences emphasizing the italicized word in each:

You know how peppers taste.
You know how peppers taste.
When you emphasize "peppers", then your underlying intention is likely data driven.

When you emphasize "taste", then your underlying intention is likely sense-feeling driven.

Notice the different feeling in each way of saying the same sentence. Putting the emphasis on "taste" introduces so much more sensuality - sense feeling.

* Here's an exercise to help you notice the difference between a mechanical approach and a feeling approach:
  1. Write the word "feeling" ten times.
  2. Spell the word "feeling" ten times.
  3. Draw each letter in the word "feeling" ten times.
  4. Now express different feelings in writing or drawing the entire word as an expression of that feeling. Play with the letters and the word and feel the feeling writing the word you are creating painting that feeling.
#1 is your normal, everyday mode.
#2 focuses more on the mechanical/data aspect of writing.
#3 focuses even more on the details of the mechanical/data aspect of writing.

Going from one to three helps you gain insight into the detail, however, you also lose the feeling of the word.

#4 shifts focus from the mechanical details to an emphasis on playing/experimenting with different feelings.

Now compare the result of #1 with #4. What has changed?

(I'm really good at doing Step #2 and Step #3 but where I get stuck is Step #4. This is also my pattern in learning zhan zhuang. I crave the data details and in so doing, miss the feeling.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: You Can't Force Relax: Journal Notes #50
Next article in this series: Follow the Feeling: Journal Notes #52

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.

Monday, August 1, 2011

You Can't Force Relax: Journal Notes #50

Notes from my December 2007 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. My notes skip from August to December. There were no entries for September, October, November. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* Question: Sometimes I feel like I'm not making any progress. You know? It's not like when I'm learning new forms or applications and I can see the progress. What's happening?
Answer: Plateaus. We all get them. Feels like no progress, no changes. This can be a place to relax after hard progress and in relaxing, preparation for what is ahead. Keep practicing.

* Question: If the key is to relax, how can I make myself relax faster?
Answer: You can't force relax. You can't make yourself relax. Just relax and the body will relax at it's own pace. Enjoy the journey of watching your body change.

(I found that the wanting to rush it, force it, make it happen actually creates more tension. The wanting has to be balanced with relax.

An analogy of trying to relax might be driving to Disneyland.
If I drive as fast as the car will go and never stop, I probably won't get there. If I drive the posted speed limit and take rests along the way, I'll probably arrive there safely, enjoy the trip and maybe even learn something I can share with other drivers. In both cases, I have the intention to drive to Disneyland.

Maintain the intention and relax.)

* Note: The problem with this work is that I tend to use stiffness and tension to try to achieve the result that can only be achieved through relaxing.
(This tendency or pattern continues to show up as I work at deeper and more subtle layers. I'll practice something on my own between classes. I think I've got this great feeling of connectedness going and when I demonstrate it at class for validation, then I'm told I'm using too much tension and not enough relax.

I think this pattern is a function of the way I process sense information. I tend to filter sense information as "data". I've got to see and understand what I'm seeing before I notice the feeling in myself. This pattern makes the data seem counter-intuitive, contradictory, a frustrating puzzle. But once I notice and understand the feeling, then the data is completely intuitive and understandable.

This pattern contributes to slow my progress because I do in my body what my data is telling me how to do it. However, this pattern also gives me great data to share as I work through figuring out the feeling from a data perspective.

That said, and from what I understand, others can filter or process sense information more directly kinesthetically. They may feel-notice what the master's body is doing and feel-notice their body is not doing the same. They then set their body to work to figure out how to get the same kinesthetic feeling they feeling-noticed. This way of processing sense information can get quicker results but may generate less data in the process of developing the result.

From what I currently understand, how one processes sense information is more a habituated pattern than a voluntary decision... at least in the beginning. It may take a while for your teacher or you to discover your pattern. And then how to work it to your advantage.)

* Question: Is the feeling like this or more like this (demonstrating)?
Answer: Your language reveals your thought process which reveals your lack of connection to feeling. When you use polarity (yin-yang, either-or), you avoid committing to a position other than your either-or and in so doing, you create limitations. In your example, "Is it this or that?" the answer might be, "Maybe it is neither or both or something else." So your thinking is restricted and not open to possibility.

* Question: I know you had me write poetry for a while as an exercise to break out of data-mode. Was this another reason?
Answer: Writing poetry helps to develop the feeling "channel". Feeling will allow writing of poetry.

* Question: What's the big deal about my shoulders being rolled forward a little bit?
Answer: If shoulders (deltoids) are rolled/tilted forward, are not vertical, this is due to tension in front, an imbalance. Strategy is to seek balance. To resolve this, big inhale and lift the chest military style which will roll the shoulders back, then, exhale and drop the chest without moving the shoulders.

(From my personal experience and from what I've seen in class, it can be tricky and may take a long time to get the desired results of this seemingly simple exercise!

Sometimes the muscles are so stuck that on the exhale and dropping the chest, the shoulders can't stay back in place and roll forward with the chest dropping.

Sometimes the back muscles engage to forcefully hold the shoulders back in place on the exhale but after a few breaths, the back muscles give out the shoulders roll forward again.

Sometimes, there is so much tension in the upper back and shoulders that this prevents the shoulders from rolling back as far as they need to go.

Sometimes the desired results of this exercise can only be achieved after lengthy attention and practice and/or therapeutic intervention.)

* Question: What is functional thinking?
Answer: Functional thinking looks for connections, unifying principles. It's O.K. to look at a problem but don't get stuck there.

* Question: How do you read books about internal gong fu written by others?
Answer: There are two ways to interpret the writings of other masters:
  1. The author/master knows the "secret" and you put a lot of authority on him for this.

  2. Read what the author writes and say, "I think this means...." and then seek validation for what you think it means.
(I remember John brought a writing to Wujifa class one time (maybe the last August class?) and we went through it line by line interpreting what we thought that author meant.

This was an interesting exercise because I think we all learned there are different ways to describe the same internal phenomena and your level of understanding at the time can mislead your interpretation of what the author is describing.

I wish these masters would write books journaling their progress from their first day of class. I think this would provide much better guidance to beginning and intermediate practitioners who read their works.

You can't begin working at the level the master achieved which made him publishable!)

* Question: Why do you adjust our hands in stance?
Answer: The position of the fingers and hand opens or closes certain channels for certain purposes.

* Question: Sometimes I feel more 'push up' when I practice sitting stance. Why?
Answer: If you feel more uplift in sitting than in standing, this is likely due to breaks in the feeling through the legs. The upward energy is not going through the legs.

* Note: If you ain't got inguinal crease, you ain't got crap! If you can't feel and engage the inguinal crease, then the movement of the arms in "silk reeling" means nothing.
(I think what this note means is that the inguinal crease is a function of the femur heads rolling forward which is a function of having achieved a basic level of relaxation of the lower back. Due to the strategic location of the lower back - connecting the legs and the upper torso - if this area is still locked with chronic tension, then there is no "connection" between the legs and upper torso and so there is no "silk" to "reel". Relaxing and opening the lower back allows both the inguinal crease and a feeling of "twining" to show up which is part of silk reeling.

When I used muscular force instead of relax to create the inguinal crease, 1. I was doing it wrong. 2. I couldn't get as deep a "crease" as I could get through relax. 3. I couldn't feel as deeply as I could through relax. and 4. My lower back did not open and I did not feel the "twining" feeling, the "reeling silk" feeling.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Appreciation and Thankfulness: Journal Notes #49
Next article in this series: Noticing To Help You Notice: Journal Notes #51

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.