14 November 2013
daily effort, daily practice, energy, personal work, tai chi
Sometimes, not necessarily today, the voice of my teacher comes back to me as I’m doing tai chi in the morning. I hear him talking across the miles, and listen to him explaining the martial origins of each move. Some of them are a little disturbing.
This move is called “box ears with fists”. First you slam the sides of your hands into the ears. You’re not using your fists, but the sides of them, so you don’t break your fingers on the hard bones of the skull. Instead you want to crack them squarely on the ears, at that point you can let go and move into “roll back”, or you can keep going against the same opponent, into “bounce the baby”. The purpose of this is to convert your side-hitting fists back into hands, like so. Grab the opponent’s ears, and than ram their face into your upward-rising knee, as though you were bouncing a head on your knee instead of a baby…
And they’re all like this. We shouldn’t forget that this didn’t start out as casual exercise for people who don’t like to move much. It started out as a way for the unarmed to win advantage over the armed and unarmed alike. And all of these powers are at work in me, as I do my morning practice. I’m aware of the martial work, even though I’ve never had to use it, and I hope I won’t have to.
During today’s practice, my teacher’s voice came back to me, though. “your greatest opponent is the self. To do tai chi, you must defeat that, the ultimate opponent, every day,”
I’m trying, teacher, I’m trying.
13 November 2013
daily practice, energetic movement, energy, martial arts, moving qi, slowing down, tai chi, tai chi chuan
Hotta day I felt my qi for the first time in a long time. When I first started out, I felt it every day. It was the rush of energy that comes from highly-oxygenated blood flowing through too-tight arteries and veins, perhaps. But it came across to me as heat and light flowing along my arms and legs. Then, gradually, as my body worked up to potential, the sensation of qi flowing daily diminished.
I knew it was happening — but it became a background sensation rather than the main event. The qi flow, which had been so prominent at the start — so centrally located in my awareness, in fact, that sometimes I couldn’t finish the form — now became a secondary sensation, and the physical movements themselves became primary. And I gradually schooled myself to perform the form, rather than becoming distracted by the flow of qi.
And then the flow of qi became so normal that I tuned out the sense of it occurring, it ceased to be part of my regular experience: losing myself in the experience of the flow of qi. It just happened, without my willing it or thinking about it.
Today, I was moving at just the right speed, apparently. Or with just the right amount of force. Or both. Or neither. In any case, my chi is flowing quite nicely this morning. My energy rose and spread out like st. Elmo’s fire along my limbs, and subsided at final close, regulated and regular and manageable.
25 October 2013
daily practice, energy, pain, personal work. Tightness, tai chi, work
I have a pain in my right leg. It’s actually a line of pain, which extends from behind the right knee down to a place just behind or below the gluteus max. It hurts. Not horribly, but on that 10-point scale, it’s maybe a 2-3. Bearable but out of sorts. I may have pulled something.
Taichi today was also a bit subdued as a result. It’s hard to do a great job when you’re aware at something doesn’t feel quite right from yesterday. It’s a feeling more achey and tender than a sharp This is broken pain. I think it comes from sitting down too much.
Also, there were technical difficulties with yesterday’s Thirty Days of Making post. It got written, and posted as a draft. Then apparently,I re-posted the draft. I’ll figure it out latertodayand re-post it.
19 October 2013
cold feet, daily practice, daily work, energy, ily practice, personal work, tai chi
And I don’t mean in the sense of “I don’t want to do tai chi today.” No, I mean, literally cold. I woke up around 7:30 and went outside in just a t-shirt and pants, and did tai chi out on the lawn. And my feet are now exceptionally cold. I think we may have had a bit of a frost last night, and the result is that the grass is wet and cold, but the air is relatively warm.
It’s hard to do your best work, when your form demands that your feet be in touch with the ground, and your feet don’t want to be in touch with the ground. It was not the best practice; I was much focused on how cold my toes were. But I think this is sort of the point. The more we practice, in the more different kinds of environments and conditions, the more broad our definition of ‘normal conditions’ becomes. And the more functional we become.
So yes, my toes are cold. And someday perhaps they’ll be too hot from doing tai chi on a beach in midsummer. But this is how we get better — by broadening the range of conditions and environments in which we can function.
24 August 2013
chi, daily practice, energy, heaviness, qi gong, tai chi, work of earth
Yesterday’s post felt like an ending of sorts, as if I was going to stop writing posts about my tai chi practice. I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to write today, not because I didn’t want to, but because the post and the sense of my day yesterday felt so finalized — as if I was done writing about tai chi.
But I don’t think that’s how daily practices work; you do them, and you come to a stopping place, and then you start the next chapter. And maybe today is the beginning of a new chapter.Maybe it isn’t, too, but that’s part of the point, too: just because we humans like to divide time and space up into chapters and events and scenes, doesn’t mean that time and space are actually divvied up that way. Which is weird, too, because tai chi is taught in postures and positions and movements — but it isn’t really any of those things in and of itself. It’s something more and less than that.
That said, what does one say about the practice?
Touching on my wish to modify my qi gong practice, I’m now doing eight repetitions of each item in the sequence of Five Golden Coins, rather than 16. This is because I’m also doing eight repetitions of the sequence Eight Pieces of Silk. My sense is that while these practices are best done with 16 repetitions if done on their own, they build up too much energy in the wrong places if done in conjunction with one another; they were originally designed as standalone practices, done by one person, rather than two combined works; thus, I’m choosing to halve them for a while, and see if things improve.
I continue to do the tai chi form that I know every day. Today I am feeling heavy; I’ve been doing a lot of work in my Druidic practice connected with the Work of Earth, and I’m feeling heavy; I’m not just feeling heavy, I am heavy. I’ve accumulated five pounds beyond what I normally weigh, and I feel sluggish and overborne. If this is what I feel like when I’m working primarily with one element, I’m hoping that things will balance out a bit when I’m doing the Works of Water, Air and Fire. But the current practices are making me feel very heavy on my feet, and sluggish and slow. I feel strong, but also rooted, as I do tai chi these days.
31 July 2013
chi, daily practice, daily work, energy, energy work, mental-health, personal work, qi gong, tai chi
I didn’t feel wholly present in my body when I did tai chi early this morning. In fact, I felt so much outside my body and unrooted in myself, that I did it again this afternoon. It didn’t help. I still don’t feel present in my body. It’s a very strange feeling, as though I was a spirit-body going through these motions, these patterns in space-and-time, rather than a physical body.
The feeling has not eased. In part, it’s caused by not eating today. I knew I was going to have a dental appointment a little after 1pm. And eating before dentistry, for me, always seems to leave me queasy. It makes it more likely for the novacaine to wear off early in me, for some reason, and I’ve known this since I was young. So I don’t eat before dentistry.
But. I hadn’t counted on not being able to eat after dentistry. Because I’m wearing a temporary crown, I should avoid most food and drink until the novacaine has mostly-completely worn off. (I can drink fluids, but my lips are numb enough that one side of the glass, the right side, is real and wholly present to my mouth. But the left side feels nothing: it is though I am holding half of a cylinder or tube of glass to my mouth, and letting liquid disobey all normal rules of physics to flow into the right-side of my mouth alone. My tongue is starting to tingle, so it may be another hour or so, but I’ve gone through two hunger cycles, and come out the other side definitively not-hungry for now, even though I’m going to want to eat eventually.
It still made tai chi today a very alien experience. We’re human beings. We do these exercises in muscle and sinew, in bone and cartilage, as well as in energy. To move through space and time doing tai chi without feeling present in the body was like watching a character in a first-person martial arts video game. In the training sequence in the first level. Boring.
On the other hand, I was able to run this level reasonably well. Maybe I’m about to hit a save point, and advance to level 2.
22 July 2013
bounce, daily practice, energy, movement, personal work, tai chi
I’ve started today’s entry several times, but not made much progress. I guess I wasn’t really in a writing mood. Alas. It’s a terrible thing to not want to write when one has an obligation to do so (even a self-imposed one).
This morning I was able to do tai chi as normal, but there was an unusual springiness in my movements. I think that the transference of motion from muscles and gravity to tense gritty a little white ago is starting to pay some dividends. Also, as part of my birthday program, I took some time to rehearse my fire-spinning skills with a contact staff. I must admit, I wasn’t very good, and I bopped myself in the nose and on the head more than once.but my teacher Aaron said to me, when I was learning, “hey, if you’re saying OW! often enough, that’s good. it means you’re practicing!”
And so it is with tai chi. If your knees hurt a little at the beginning, that’s good. It means you’re practicing. If you’re tired and you feel unbalanced after a few weeks of practice, that’s good. It means you’re practicing. If you’re springing and bouncing after a year and a third, that’s good, it means you’re practicing.
21 July 2013
Birthday, daily practice, energy, personal work, tai chi, work
Today the tightness in my back loosened up, and I was able to do my normal daily practice. I feel blessed and lucky to be able to work my own issues out in their own way, in their own sweet time. I’m also hugely grateful that it was a muscle issue and not a spinal or sinew-al issue.It’s the nature of daily practices, done in a reasonable way and not taken to extremes, that causes me to become fitter and healthier.
Today marks my 43rd Solar Return. My birthday. Yesterday I was considerably dressed down from what I usually wear, and someone asked if I’d lost a lot of weight. “Nope,” I said. “just shifted around what it’s made of.” I’ve got considerably less fat on my body than I did a year-and-a-third ago, even though the scale says the same, and even though I’ve been experimenting with Intermittent Fasting.
A bit of a review: a few weeks ago, a commentator brought up issues of tensegrity — the idea that the body is a tower made of of dynamic tension systems holding rigid structures (bones) in a framework of sinews or Fasciae, operated by an elaborate system of pulleys and solenoid switches (joints and muscles).
I’ve found this insight enormously helpful. It means, when I stretch out my arm and expand my plan and fingers into a fan, that there will be tension felt at each of the joints from my index fingertip all the way to the shoulder and pectoral. Not much. But enough. But the arm doesn’t want to be in that position; it wants to contract. And that contraction, and release of tension, can be used to do work: it can strengthen the muscles along the arm; it can be used to create attacking or defensive motions; and it carries a tremendous amount of force.
That connective tissue — from shoulder to finger-tip — can be used in each posture to move the body only slightly and yet with enormous overall impact. I think I’ve only just begun to understand this. But it’s exciting.