It's been six and half weeks since I arrived here and four weeks since my last post. It's Sunday--my day off from any formal training. Looking northward out my window, the trees are literally swaying in the high winds and heavy rain. It's been raining for the past two days and forecasted to continue through this coming Tuesday. Surprisingly, it isn't really cold though there is a chill in the air.
I'm told this is the type of weather to expect when winter finally arrives--high winds, constant rain, and cold. Fortunately, I'm used to at least the rain and damp coldness having lived in Portland, Oregon for eight years in the 90's. A couple of days ago, there was a momentary pause in the downpour- long enough for several of the hens to mill about the parking area outside my window. For some reason, they like to scrounge around the car tires. This is the same path where the deer (a family of buck, doe and three fawns) and wild turkeys (a family of at least six) walk. At any rate, it was a funny site to see them all scramble and cackle back to the henhouse when the rain suddenly resumed. I didn't know hens could move that quickly!
I had a powerful and interesting experience about two-three weeks ago. My body has been feeling exquisitely strong from the training; especially my legs. Except for Sunday, I'm doing two hundred squats daily in addition to the regular training that demands a lot of leg work. When I really thought about it one day, I realized that during Monday through Saturday, the only time we actually sit down is for an hour meditation in the morning, at lunch, at dinner, and when we sleep. Other than those times, we are always on our feet and moving.
Two weeks ago, I felt so good that the inspiration to run washed over me. You have to understand that I haven't run in any serious fashion since the mid eighties when I first began studying Qigong as a substitute for running and playing basketball. Back then, running was my primary love and basketball a close second. Even when I used to do the hill runs in St. Nicholas Park with my students several years ago, it was tempered by the constant pain I experienced in my right hip at that time.
Well, I followed the inspiration and ran two days in a row just about a half mile each time. I also included some hill runs along with my two hundred squats each day. I was so happy because I had absolutely no pain or discomfort and, for the first time in many years, I enjoyed the exhilaration of moving my body through space the way only running can for me! And then, it happened.
The third day after my runs, my left hip and lower back seemed to lock up with pain. This was reminiscent of my body periodically and unexpectedly experiencing this during the past 30 years or so. It was emotionally difficult for me to go through this again because (1) for the first time in fifty plus years, my right hip pain had been resolved with surgery three years ago, and (2) I had diligently prepared to be here to train consistently for the next three years. The prospect of having to try to do that while in pain reminded me of how limiting my training experiences had been up until the recent surgery. I was feeling despondent and afraid that perhaps I had blown my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get deep into training Taijiquan and Qigong...
Hence, my title for this blog entry- Zones of Discomfort. The adage, "The cobbler has no shoes" seemed to momentarily fit me. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do and if it were possible to get away from my pain yet maintain the daily demands of the training schedule here. As I began doing those things I typically recommend for others (Castor Oil pack, Far Infra Red Heat lamp therapy, Reflexology, taking Arnica 20c, hydrating, etc.), it dawned on me that I, in fact, had not screwed up, but that my body was adjusting to the demands of the training itself. Particularly, the intense focus on using the lower abdomen, hip girdle, and legs to generate the movements (rear wheel drive, as it were) of the upper extremities. I believe what affected me most was the correction on executing Grasp the Sparrow's Tail to the Left which, when done correctly, requires you have a root from which to turn the upper torso to the left before you move your rear (right foot) to kick. It's a subtle difference from what I used to do before Dr. Yang corrected me, but powerful enough to cause a shift in the patterning of the fascia and muscles in my lower back.
Additionally, there is the fascial restriction from internal scarring on the right from my emergency appendectomy as well as the right hip procedure. When I accepted those as my Zones of Discomfort being revealed precisely because of the deep training and remodeling of my body, I was able to let go of my fear emotionally. Physically, I still had to go through the process and the time to allow this body to reorganize itself. I still trained every day and did all those things (see above) to help the healing process. It took about ten to twelve days and I'm now feeling rather strong internally and externally. And, my body has radically changed; especially my back, legs and feet.
Prior to arriving here, I thought it would be sufficient to have prepared the way I did for the ten months prior. I could not have anticipated my recent experience and am so glad to have had it. It gives me a guage for how to continue henceforth to still accomplish my goals. Zones of Discomfort--those unexpected detours that are part of the territory you traverse that cannot be seen on the map when you lay out your plans to go on a journey...
Our teacher, Frank, is, simply put, a master teacher. We are steadily progressing on building blocks he's set out for us in the Taijiquan and Qigong practices. For Taijiquan, the emphasis has been on lower body stability (solo and partner stationary and stepping sequences with balance), power generation (solo and partner stationary and stepping drills using coiling [Yang and Yin]). We've begun exploring the very basics of weapons training (staff and sabre) as well as Qin Na (joint locks). He has a clear vision of how all this ties into actual application rather than just a focus on how to do the form. We just completed the first twenty-two movements of the form, but with mindful attention to all the inherent basics that one does not get from reading or studying the DVD's, as useful as those tools continue to be. We are going through what I like to call the 'John Coltrane Effect': paying rigorous attention to the scales and practicing them diligently so that improvisation later is not only possible, but automatic because of the tenacious and correct practice that forms the foundation for functional flights of creativity.
In Qigong, we have learned and practice daily the standing Eight Pieces of Brocade as well as the Four Seasons Qigong (the sequence for all seasons). Additionally, we are still learning the twelve patterns for White Crane Qigong which forms the basis for the internal mechanics Dr. Yang incorporates in his Taijiquan form. We do our daily one-hour morning sitting Embryonic Breathing meditation with recovery sequence. We are almost done reading, analyzing and discussing Dr. Yang's 30 year old book, The Root of Chinese Qigong. We meet with him twice weekly to discuss our questions and express/exchange our opinions. Our goal is to finish this book by early November and then proceed to focus on the Embryonic Breathing book and practice in more detail. We recently revamped our schedule to include a group practice period for Qigong with the hopes that it may evolve into a study group to research, document, and publish the affects of Qigong practice.
Now that most of us have acclimated to the written schedule and the other demands of living communally (cooking, chores, etc.), time seems to be moving faster. Although our winter break is nine weeks away and it seems like I've been here far longer than just six weeks, I feel that time approaching quickly. The next couple of months will continue to lay a foundation for how the three years will be. I still pinch myself when I realize how fortunate I am to be here. It's a Blessing!
Unfortunately, I'm unable to post photos for you in this blog. Our internet connection is tightly regulated and difficult to up/download at times. Last month, Dr. Yang's family came to visit him for several days and the senior students put on a demonstration for them. I'll either include photos next blog entry or send you a separate email directing you to where you can log into to just see photos and/or the video that was taken that day. Watching them perform was very inspiring for me to see such grace and control of body, mind, emotions, and spirit. We're told that somewhere along the way of our training in the 3-Year Program, we will be called upon to demonstrate our skills as well.