Note: Over the past year I've been dealing on and off with Achilles Tendonitis presumptively caused by sitting for extended periods of time (at work) in a new, but apparently ill-fitting chair. Self-diagnosing, I assumed that it would go away on its own. I ignored it until both ankles got much worse. I went to my physician in April, got an ultrasound done, and was diagnosed with severe bi-lateral Achilles tendonosis (more than 1 cm inflammation). I was referred to physical therapy. In April I was not in a good mood at all. I even wasted an entire class senselessly arguing with my instructor! Throughout May I focused on following the physical therapy regimen and the little bit of Wujifa practice I did do was the Mini-Breathing Squats.
* Question: How does my mini-breathing squats look?
Answer: You are using too much back and front muscle to get the feeling of the vertical stretch. You are looking to create a feeling (instead of doing the exercise and noticing what feeling reveals itself) and you are calibrating to this larger, artificial, faux-stretch when you should be calibrating to the horizontal kua movement. Relax and let the pelvis and torso go along for the ride.
(For the next two weeks until the next class, I practiced letting go of the top as much as I could while maintaining an upright structure and only using the legs to raise and lower my torso.)
* This class I was in a very argumentative mood. My body has served me faithfully for many years and when I get a "fail", however minor, I get really frustrated, or as we say, in a pissy mood. Consequently, I wasted valuable learning and training time.
(During the past week, I experienced a "letting-go" kind of feeling of my butt cheeks widening while at the bottom of the mini-breathing squat. And so I've been practicing trying to continue allowing this. (Sounds like a contradiction here.) I'm noticing that I have a tendency to "tuck under" about 3/4 way into the upswing, and near the top I lose the opening feeling. I'm trying to figure out how to maintain that "allow open" feeling into and at the top. Also, it's somehow easier to allow that feeling on the inhale - as if the inhale contributes to the spreading. I'm having a heck of a puzzle trying to keep that relatively open feeling on the downswing/exhale. The exhale seems contractive. I'm also trying to figure out how to stay open/spreading and exhale at the same time....)* Question: How does my mini-breathing squats look?
Answer: Now you're lifting with your back. (Pointing out my muscular pattern to my school brother...) You can see Mike's intention to lift with his back because all these muscles are firing. If his intention was to relax the top and push up with the legs, these muscles would not engage.
Me: I'm not feeling that I have that intention. I'm not feeling my back engaging.
Instructor: That's because it's what you are used to doing. Here. Put your hands on my back. (At this point he demonstrated the mini-breathing squats.) What do you see? What do you feel?
Me: Your back muscles remain soft throughout the entire up and down cycle.
Instructor: If your intention is to lift with your chest or lift with your back, this intention, however subtle it may be to you, engages the body differently than if your intention is to relax and allow the torso to raise (from a mini-squat) by pushing the knees back. Tension blocks connection! This is why it is so critical to relax the top and only use the legs to raise and lower the body.
* I got a deeper insight into seeing how one's intention is expressed in the body; by looking at which muscles remain relaxed or are engaged when they don't need to be engaged (either dynamically or chronically).
* Another school brother had a question about kicking. My instructor explained and demonstrated how the Mini-Breathing Squat is also the foundational exercise for executing "internal" kicks. Said another way, kicking, when performed internally, is a sophistication of Mini-Breathing Squats. You've got to do Mini-Breathing Squat correctly first before you begin practicing kicking.
* In this class we practiced a lot of Wujifa-hands (a.k.a. "push hands" Wujifa style). Lots of great tips and pointers! Radically different from the run-of-the-mill, popular form of push-hands! In fact I found that all the push-hands tricks I embodied over the years are an impediment to learning a more powerful way to play! The biggest problem is that I automatically/unconsciously do a trick. Thankfully my instructor can easily see these and tell me, "Stop doing that!" Nice.
* I need to keep practicing closing my kua further to get better connection through the kua. This was pointed out to me when my school brother held my leg in place as I tried to horizontally rotate my pelvis forward to the desired 45 degree angle. With him holding my femur, I could only move a few degrees! Oops! Still too much tension through the hips! The way I was doing this wrong was by arching/tensing my back and by moving my femur with the pelvis when I hit the point where chronic tension inhibited further independent movement.
Since this class I'm doing the following practice of keeping the femur held still while rotating the pelvis forward on the horizontal plain.
- Begin by standing with feet parallel about a foot's length apart.
- Shift weight to left. And then, without changing angle of pelvis in relation to left femur, I squat down a little on the left leg, step right foot forward placing heel just ahead of where toe was.
- Keeping my back relaxed/elongated, that is, without arching my back, and without moving my left femur, I move my pelvis forward on the horizontal plane until I feel a gentle stretch, and then back to the starting position.
- I do this several times on both sides.
- As a kind of temporary bio-feedback device, I "anchor" my greater trochanter against an immovable object like a round doorknob. This helps me aware-feel where my (stationary) femur is in relation to my (moving) pelvis.
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: An Rx for Progress?: Journal Notes #132
Make sure to visit Wujifa.com and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.