Archive for May, 2009
In my previous post, I made a promise I did not keep. I talked about our addiction to relaxation triggers, but..
I did not mention the infinite onion
In this post, I will rectify my transgression. I will deliver.
I’m going to tell you a really cool thing.
You may or may not have experienced it yet. If you haven’t don’t worry, it’s not like telling you how the Sixth Sense ends. I can’t possibly ruin it for you, because when it does happen to you, it’ll be something so cool that nothing I could say could possibly ruin it for you.
So… you’ll be practising your taijiquan form, or your standing meditation, you’re slipping into the zone, everything is becoming crystal clear, it’s all slowing down, and then…
Some part of you lets go
You’re not sure what’s let go, but you know something has, all by itself, has loosened its limpet grip on some other part of you.
And it feel soooo good
You’ll have passed through one level of tension, let go of it and moved down into the next, deeper level of tension where you’ll go through that really cool process all over again.
It’s like an onion you see. You have many layers of tension.
But here’s the nub of it. The miracle of nature that is you has more dimensions to it than simply the physical.
Tension manifests in the physical, mental and emotional
Bear with me, I’m not being deliberately metaphysical. To justify that statement, I have prepared a little case study.
You’ve had a hard day at work and you’re getting ready for bed.
Argh, my back’s stiff and so are my shoulders.
Yup, so many hours at the desk slaving away with the mouse in one hand has stiffened you up, all that not moving around and you’ve got a back that’s stiff and shoulders that won’t roll. It’s the stuff that we’re all familiar with all that physical tension of locked and tight muscles.
You get into bed anyway, turn out the light..
And lie awake blinking at the ceiling. Your brain is whizzing
That presentation wasn’t up to scratch, you were pissed off with the boss when you put it together. It was sub-par and he’s not going to be happy. Oh, and there’s the shopping list you need to make. Do we need more milk? Doesn’t the lawn that needs mowing and little Alice needs new shoes, and Byron has to be taken to swimming lessons tomorrow. Must take a look at that really cool Taijiquan site. What was it called? Something-pedia?
The brain, is still clinging to all that, and it’s creating mental tension, constant chatter in the head is the mind’s way of manifesting that tension. It’s not going to be a physical sensation.
No matter, sooner or later you’ll get so tired that you’ll fall asleep right?
OH MY GOD! That presentation I sent to the boss!
You were bored, upset and feeling undervalued, so for a laugh you replaced every instance of “Gross Domestic Product” with the childish and inane word “farting”. You meant to change it back but forgot due to the unfair amount of stress and pressure.
You can already see your boss spitting venom, his portly frame resonating like a lava lamp to the sound of his baying for blood.
You’re feeling stressed.
That’s emotional tension getting its hooks into you. That “AAARRGHH!” emotional response is the beginnings of this tension, and anyone who is a chronic worrier, will know that it can go on for extended periods of time.
So.. if I’ve convinced you that tension can manifest in three dimensions, it’s time to introduce the “infinity” bit.
The human body is in a constant state of flux
Your body is constantly changing, physically, mentally and emotionally. With all these changes happening, you’re constantly letting go of tension, and building tension in these three dimensions.
So whenever you peel off one layer of tension, another will always await you beneath, because there are other ways you have been storing tension, and when you let go that bit, there’s the tension underneath that layer and so on. There are an infinite number of layers.
There you go.. relaxation is like an infinite onion
What regular practise of taijiquan helps you do is constantly let go of tension in whichever dimension you’re building it up on. Think about it as a maintenance on your tension valves. As tension builds up in the physical realm, you relieve it, and then if emotional tension builds up, you can help let go of that too.
You already know the next bit of the Taijiquan form. After having done Part The Wild Horse’s Mane for the first time, you repeat it twice more so that you end up with your left leg forward. This bit is a fairly straightforward bit of the Yang Taiji 24, as you have done all of the movements already, but we put it in so that you could have a video to “join the dots” on your Taijiquan instruction.
If you’ve started doing some standing meditation as part of your taijiquan practise, you might be finding that there are some interesting, and possibly alarming things happening to you. Hot and cold flushes, shaking, all manner of weird things can happen.
We’re here to tell you that, weird though they may be, they’re all completely normal. It’s just stuff the body does to deal with tension and it’s all part of the process of relaxation and more importantly, healing, both things that we’re trying to get out of our taijiquan practise.
One of the things that standing meditation gives your body is a chance to be itself. We’re always telling the body to do this or that, be this or that. When you just stand and be still, the body gets a chance to do its own thing, and, like one of those stressed out personal assistants, starts to get down to all the things that it should be doing, like healing that bad back that it’s not had a chance to do in years, let more blood circulate in those aching shoulders.
The thing is, we’re not typically used to feeling our body do this, mainly because when it is trying to do it, we’re probably doing something else like watching TV or playing World of Warcraft. So, when it starts happening and our attention has nowhere else to go, it feels really, really weird.
But it’s totally normal.
First, an apology.. this was supposed to head up the video log posts on This Week’s Big Idea (It’s relaxation) and I got my knickers in a bit of a twist and posted the standing meditation one first.
No matter, tension is an ongoing problem in the practise of Taijiquan, and will probably continue to be so for your entire Taijiquan career. If you’d like to know why, check out part 2 of why relaxation is an infinite onion.
In this post, we’ll give you some tips on ideas you can use for standing practise beyond the very simple (but still very effective) exercise that we’re going through in the Standing Meditation lessons.
It’s been a bad day at work, your boss is being a jerk and it’s all gone wrong.
All you want to do is bang your head against a wall (repeating as necessary)
I need to relax, you might say.
So what you do is go home, have a stiff drink or go for that cigarette. Maybe you stick some Vangelis on and run a hot bath. All those aromatherapy oils and soothing music will work the tension out of your system.
They’re all relaxation triggers, and we’re addicted to them
We’re relaxation trigger junkies. We depend on things external to ourselves to help us relax. Problems always arise when things go to hell in a handbag and we don’t have access to them. There will be no steamy bath with Vangelis and extract of jojoba with the boss dumping on you. You can’t reach for that beer if you’re driving home after a difficult business meeting and believe you me, a cigarette will be the last thing on your mind if little Timmy’s just crawled out a 3rd floor window to retrieve his Action Man.
When these relaxation triggers aren’t there, we kinda go through a strange sort of cold turkey process where we turn into stress bunnies, lose the capacity for rational thinking. Sometimes we lose it and have what the English quaintly call “a Benny”. We’re dependent on our relaxation triggers, we need them to relax.
I’m here to tell you that it IS possible to kick the habit and learn how to relax
People have known this for hundreds of years, we just forgot it recently. If you think about it how else did our forefathers chill out in the ages before Vangelis and jojoba?
It’s by using things within us to help us relax.
If this is starting to sound a bit self-help, I’m not referring to anything metaphysical and I’m not going to say that within every stress bunny is a chilled out person waiting to get out.
No, it’s even simpler than that.
It’s as simple as breathing. Sigh, go on, I dare you. Sigh. The body’s got it’s own reflexive relaxation mechanism, and breathing is part of it. If you can learn to regulate your breathing, you can help yourself relax. In fact, some military schools teach their troops to breathe when under combat stress. As situations come they don’t get more stressful than bullets whizzing past your head.
But wait.. there’s another bit to it.
I want you to get back into the habit
Rather than being a relaxation-trigger junkie, I want you to become a relaxation junkie. Yeah, just take out the “trigger”.
Learning to relax is just like learning to ride a bike. Seriously, once you learn how to do it (without props) you’ll be able to do it wherever you are, or whatever you’re doing.
Now, the best way to learn how to relax, is to become aware of how it happens, and the best way to do that, is to do standing meditation. It’s simple, it’s easy and anyone can do it. Just 10 minutes a day is more than enough. Once you know what it feels like to relax by yourself, you can then just do it whenever you need to. Incidentally once you’re into the relaxation habit, you can do it just before you start your form.. and how much more relaxed will that form be?
And it really IS that simple
I appear to have waxed lyrical about being a relaxation trigger junkie, but have shamelessly omitted the bit about infinite onions (that’s why you were reading this in the first place right?). That will be in part 2.. I promise.
As This Week’s Big Idea is relaxation, we thought we’d post a video on one of the most simple (yet powerful) relaxation exercises, standing meditation. It’s also known by a few other names, Zhan Zhuang, Wuji, Tadasana, Standing Post. They’re all names that describe the principle of standing in a fixed position and relaxing into the posture.
The posture demonstrated, this “Standing like a tree” is named as such because someone thought that standing upright with your hands in front of you either made you resemble a tree or because you looked like you were hugging one.
If you’ve not done much standing before, start with 2-3 minutes, and gradually work it up to 10. When you begin Standing Like A Tree, you’re really going to feel like a tree as the tension starts to come out of your body.
Try not to judge the process, all the time you spend doing standing meditation is time well spent, there is no such thing as a “good” session or a “bad” session. The standing practise sessions are just different, as the myriad of things you experience will vary from day to day. It’s perhaps the only practise where you get immediate benefit from (even if you may not be aware of it straight away) as there is practically no learning curve. You just have to GOYA* and do it.
Standing meditation is beneficial to your Taiji practise because it starts off the process of relaxation. You may be Standing Like A Tree, but you’re actually more like an onion. There’s layers and layers to it. As you let go of tension and reach one layer of relaxation, another one awaits you beneath it. As your practise progresses, you’ll peel away more and more layers, and standing meditation is the most effective way to kickstart the process.
This is the one single exercise that made the most difference to Tannage’s back and Greeny’s knee. It was standing meditation that allowed our joints to relax, and start healing themselves, so if you have joint problems or a bad back, you might do well to do this practise, 5-10 minutes a day, every day. Regular practise is far more effective than sporadic long practise sessions. Think of rolling a snowball, the longer you roll it, the bigger it gets, but you can’t stop or it’ll stop rolling, and you’ll have to put all that effort into getting it going again. Tannage did standing like a tree for years, just 5-10 minutes a day, every day almost without fail.
Don’t worry if you’re not as um.. militant about it as Tannage is, he’s got a back to keep in good shape and wants to avoid middle-age agony. Try to do standing menditation every day but if you hit maybe every other day you’re doing pretty well and it’ll give you a lot of benefit.
Although there are lots of other postures, Standing Like A Tree is a good one to start with. If you never learnt any other standing postures, then this posture will serve you very well. It’ll build internal power, and also strengthen you (did I mention it can fix your back and also heal bad knees?)
The next lesson is all about things you might experience when doing standing meditation.
* Get Off Your Ass – I credit Naomi Dunford of Ittybiz.com for coining this phrase.
Most students feel somewhat self-conscious when they start practising Taiji, thinking that they’re not very good and you can see it sometimes gets to them. The good news is that it’s ok to “suck”, it’s ok to be terrible at something. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and in this vlog post we introduce the idea of the “heierarchy of suckage”, which is something both depressing and inspirational for everyone out there practising Taiji.
Finishing off this.. er.. last week’s big idea on purpose, here’s a few more ideas on what you could do to focus your purpose. Any principle from the Tai Chi classics can be a purpose you can practise, and we introduce the idea of “psychic bandwidth” to help you with your practise.
Books are good places to find out about the classics of Tai Chi. Online articles are also easily found when you go google “tai chi online classics”.
This lesson joins up postures 1 and 2 of the Yang Taiji 24 together. Here’s how to link the Opening and Parting The Wild Horse’s Mane together to complete the first two postures of the Taijiquan form.
We suggest you look at this bit when you’re confident with the first two posture of the Taijiquan form individually. Then you can try to string them together.