Friday, August 17, 2012

Emotions and the somatic practice of Wujifa

It’s not unusual that at some point different emotions may arise while practicing Wujifa. This is not generally the case, and for most people the day to day practice will be an attentive meditation that helps build body awareness and fascial connection. Understanding that, our emotions and attitudes are also connected with our bodies and are reflected in how we carry ourselves. As we work on adopting a functional support structure and posture, old patterns of holding can be encountered which may at times bring up various emotions which are tied into these patterns of holding. Normally, people do not notice these emotional patterns in daily life and they are often simply hidden from our basic awareness.  As we expand our awareness and connections within ourselves, this heightened state of awareness can sometimes lead us to notice these obscured emotional patterns.
Encountering emotional issues is fairly common in many practices including martial arts, although it is not often spoken of directly. This seems to be most commonly illustrated, for example, in many martial arts stories when the person who has practiced all of the sudden comes face to face with their frustrations, fears, or believed limitations and faces a long, dark night of the soul, to emerge on the other side a better practitioner for exploring these complexities.
As a simple example, when people first start practicing Wujifa standing meditation sometimes they want to jump out of their skin when just standing for a few minutes. What we’re suggesting here is that these kind of emotions would be worth noticing and exploring. Also, there may be times when a seemingly seasoned martial artist may start to experience deeper emotions while practicing stance. For example, they may start to feel sadness and then when asked later the reason for the tears will say, “I don’t know... I just felt sad and allowed myself to cry while continuing to practice, and I feel so much more connected now.”
The point is, If these things show up occasionally it’s okay to go with them. By “going with it” we mean continuing to stand or practice and allowing the emotional expression to simply flow through. The practice of Wujifa is learning to connect with our intention, our purpose and our body. In the beginning, this starts with developing body awareness and then developing fascial connection. The emotional aspect, as we mentioned here, is just something that can occur. It should not be thought as strange if it should show up occasionally in one’s practice.

Connections to our heart?

The parts of our heart that are hidden away tug on the body in ways that are beyond full comprehension. Joy, anger, sadness and fear: these emotions simply serve as a natural way to respond to different situations like a bird singing in the woods. They sing one way when a fox is nearby, or another way when looking for a mate. Why does the bird sing? Maya Angelou said that “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” So many people want to pretend that they are above these kind of feelings, when they are simply a natural part of who we are.  Even the Buddha and other highly evolved spiritual leaders have all expressed emotion. The key is a functional expression in accordance with the situation that aims at simply expressing one’s heartfelt reaction, which can often be very helpful in connecting with yourself and with others.
At the same time, during practice the emotions that come up may not be in line with the situation, but may be part of other contributing factors hidden for so long that they may be beyond our normal understanding.. In this case, the functional response is to allow them to flow within the structure of the practice so that in later real life situations their influence will not contribute to dysfunction. Better to understand that allowing these emotions to flow when they arise within the practice is creating space for the process of your heart opening and unfolding and of becoming a more functional and connected human being. Creating space is like emptying your cup.

Making progress or steering us away?

Another emotional aspect that could be addressed, as long as we’re on the topic, is how emotions can work against making progress. The reason I’m saying that is that it’s not the emotions directly in themselves, but rather the blocking of emotions, or the subconscious control exerted by those emotions that can influence people and their actions.
It is a fairly common occurrence, and why we are addressing it, is that as one practices Wujifa that one’s emotional baggage will aim to steer one away from one’s intention. What we mean by that is that not wanting to address, feel, explore or face their emotional feelings when, for example, feeling frustrated in how their practice is going and looking for opportunities to make improvement. In trying to protect themselves from feeling the frustration, they may just find themselves forgetting to practice. This is an example that is often seen with Wujifa practitioners just before they are about to make a step up or progress in their training. They feel the frustration and choose to stop training or just “conveniently” forget to train some aspect.
It is also possible that as one begins to change one’s posture that the new position and way of supporting oneself will feel different, and this difference may be uncomfortable. It is possible that this discomfort may be experienced as a desire (subconscious or conscious) to return to old ways of being, and may even be accompanied by any number of feelings. This is how emotions can steer one away from one’s intention and can work against making progress. At these times, it is important to just allow these feelings to exist and pass without focusing on them too specifically or trying to hide away from them as you adjust to the experience of the new ways of being supported.
Also, sometimes people use too much emotion to distract themselves from the actual process of training. When we talk about emotions flowing, there’s also a level of noticing that should be developed. At times, people will have a pattern of emotion which will distract them from noticing, which truly can happen to all of us. When it happens continuously, without maintaining or learning to develop the capacity to notice, sometimes the emotions serve to distract the practitioner from actually making progressive gains. At this particular place, sometimes it’s better to step back, and focus more on the function of training, relaxing, or even some of the technical aspects of 1234, 1234 and Wujifa principles. If, for some reason, people run into problems beyond the normal emotional expression of life that takes place in human beings when they are functional, expressive, and alive, it may be useful for them to consult with a therapist adept at dealing issues of somatic psychology.

The deeper unfolding is all about connecting

The key to understanding our character and the role emotions play in our practice comes back to one word, which is “heart”. Cultivating heart or the spirit of one’s practice is learning to keep an eye towards your heart as it unfolds. Learning to open to the possibilities that a Wujifa practice can bring is about heart: about opening, and about discovery. Connecting to one’s heart and soul is a very deep and powerful practice, and it can take many years to understand deeply what it means.
One of the most amazing things is as people train together, whether they do manual labor, are doctors or lawyers, or regardless of their walks of life, they discover the connections of their school brothers and sisters that they may have never noticed out in their external world. As they start to discover more about what “heart” means, through their individual practice and from working and training with their school brothers and sisters, this opening of heart, this understanding, passion and compassion and these friendships and bonds also start to connect and carry forth into all their lives.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Somatic aspects to the second set of the Wujifa Zhan Zhuang structural alignment method

The Somatic aspects to the second set of the Wujifa Zhan Zhuang structural alignment method 1234, 1234. 
The First 1234, of course, is feet parallel and about shoulder-width apart (approx. 10 inches), knees over the feet , hips over the feet, shoulders over the hips.
The Second 1234 is inguinal crease (kua) in, lower back (Sacrum) down, chest (Sternum) down, and head up/back.
There are Somatic aspects to all of Wujifa, and here we will address the somatic aspect to the second set of the Wujifa Zhan Zhuang structural alignment method 1234, 1234, as it is related to the process of learning. Somatic simply means dealing with the mind, body, and emotions as a unified system, and there are whole fields of study dedicated to this subject.
When learning anything, one must first be nonresistant, amenable, and receptive. In other words, surrender to the information and corrections coming in. As one learns, one needs to develop confidence, courage, and strength to stand up to challenges as they begin to process and investigate and understand the lessons and information received. 
As we perceive the lessons and develop the courage and confidence, there’s a spirit, whole-heartedness and authenticity that inspires the progression and development of the practice. 
Finally, the level-headedness to think for oneself, to see the outcome and trust one’s intuition. These skills are fundamental to learning as well as in sparring or push hands: being able to receive the threat or attack, and having the courage to respond with authenticity that is both intuitive and level-headed.

Now we’ll break it down in the steps of the second set of 1234, 1234. Again, the second 1234 is inguinal crease (kua) in, lower back (Sacrum) down, chest (Sternum) down, and head up/back.
1. Inguinal crease (kua) in. A method for beginners to start to get the feeling of the inguinal crease folding in is by arching the lower back and sticking the butt out. This method creates a kinesthetic for what the inguinal crease in means, although one would not stand or practice in what can be seen as a submissive posture. When the pelvis is relaxed and the kua is in, this allows the body to respond to outward forces and allowing freedom of movement. Another way of describing this is being nonresistant, amenable and receptive. The Kua is all about surrendering to the information coming in so that the corrections can be made accordingly. Surrendering means to be receptive, and not rigid or stiff: to be able to have space to receive the possibilities that will allow more freedom of movement and discovery.
2. Lower Back (Sacrum) Down. The next step after inguinal crease (kua) in is to relax and allow the lower back to drop. Notice how the first step and allowing shows up in the second step, for letting the lower back to relax and drop. When the lower back is in a relaxed and dropped position, this helps build our foundation and development of what some people call “having a backbone”. The experience of having a backbone is a level of confidence, courage, and having the strength to stand up, as we said, to the challenges that we are investigating. Having a backbone also gives us strength to hold true to tough decisions.
3. Chest (sternum) down. While keeping the sacrum in a relaxed, dropped position and the spine in a straight, relaxed posture, the next step is to drop the chest without dropping or hunching from the lower back. As we've talked in other postings, this comes from "allowing" the rib heads to loosen, that gives space for the sternum to sink as the rib heads rotate. These areas on both sides of the chest are sometimes called the front and back door of the heart. Having an open heart continues through the exploration of courage and confidence to creating a spirit of whole-heartedness and authenticity that inspires responsiveness that only can come from this deeper place.
4. Head up/back. This is the next stage of this set of 1234 that builds upon the spirit and authenticity bringing a level head and a clear mind into play. With this one can follow one’s intention, and see clearly and intuitively in understanding the possible outcomes and their realization. This is where the art of Wujifa practice truly comes to full expression.
When all four processes are built upon each other, it creates the opportunity for individual expression. To get the set of 1234 in alignment takes time. There is the rare occasion that somebody just understands and opens up, both physically and mentally.  The truth is, for most people, opening the body will take some time, and the psychological habits will taken even more time and work. The reason it will take time for mental changes is that old habits die hard, and fight to exist. It takes due diligence, keen awareness and conscious attention to discover this growth unfolding.
The wonderful thing is neuroplasticity allows for us to grow and change and develop new patterns.  When one begins to discover the receptiveness, courage, authenticity, and intuitive awareness that develop alongside the physical practices of Wujifa as the body opens and connects, this mental synergy builds among these foundational skills, creating great opportunities in one’s expression and abilities.

Also check out: Zhan Zhuang Alignment