Monday, October 9, 2017

Practicing scales...

Many years ago in a class during my freshman year as a naturopathic medical student, one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Sherman, shared an important idea with us. I think many of us were feeling overwhelmed then with the shear volume of classes and information we had taken on. I don't recall the specifics of our semester course load, but I do remember that feeling of being inundated with so much to learn.

Dr. Sherman said that the more information one could expose themselves to, the greater the likelihood that you'd build unconscious neural connections that would provide answers to questions that didn't seem to have obvious answers at first blush. Since then, his statement has proven to be true many times in my clinical experience and otherwise. Seemingly out of nowhere, I've had clarity about questions that, at first glance, seemed difficult to know the answer to. I experienced an unexpected revelation last week while training.

However, this was a physical rather than intellectual epiphany. Five days a week we focus on Taijiquan Basic drills in the afternoon-stances, jumping, walking, coiling, and more. It was the solo coiling drill that got me. For more than a year, we have been doing Yang and Yin self-coiling drills, both stationary and moving. I understood what we were supposed to be doing, but it never quite felt right to me. Actually, I would sometimes wonder privately why we kept doing them. Not because I didn't intellectually value the drill--my body just didn't make sense of it. There was no connected flow between my intent and how my body moved.

To my surprise, last week Frank gave us some of the similar directions he's always given us--"Use the Dan Tian to make the movement; keep the torso upright, etc." Like magic, something shifted and I suddenly experienced this profound connection between my feet, through my legs and hips, up through my torso, my arms and hands, and I got IT! For the very first time since I started doing this drill, I KNEW what Frank was talking about because my body was moving fluidly and with clear purpose. I was profoundly elated and full of hope for all the work I've put in and will continue to devote myself to-not out of blind faith, but rather inspired faith knowing that the 'reward' for my efforts comes when I least look for it. Like Dr. Yang says his teacher told him, "Just put your head down and plow."

Tomorrow we begin our sixth week of this first semester in our second year here. Time is moving at an accelerated pace it seems. Each day is replete with drills, conditioning, and steady progress forward. We continue to refine the Taijiquan Long form, Yin-Yang Symbol partner sequence, Single and Double Push Hands, Applications, Qin Na, Taiji Ball, Taiji Saber sequence, Qi Mei Gun Staff sequence, Taiji Staff, and Qigong (Embryonic Breathing, 4 Seasons, 8 Pieces of Brocade, White Crane Soft, Small Circulation, and 5 Animal Sports).

My conditioning continues with the basics of White Crane Hard Qigong and, in addition to climbing the vertical rope 3 days weekly, I've now added traversing a horizontal rope (see picture and videos below). This 50 foot long rope is strung between two trees. One end is about 10 feet high and the opposite end is about 15 feet high. The rope is 1 and 1/2' thick. For now, we climb it twice weekly-forwards and backwards- using  our arms only. So far, I've only made it a third of the way across going forwards. Backwards, not so much... My goal is to make it from end to end without putting my feet on the ground. If not by semester's end, definitely sometime next semester.

I've also begun doing Panther Hops which are like moving forearm planks forward, backwards and side to side. More about those when I get better at it. Videos are coming...

In the meanwhile, I'll keep practicing my scales (a la John Coltrane and all the other masters)...

50' long rope strung horizontally
Photo credit: RJ Woodbine

Traversing the horizontal rope forwards
Video credit: Nona Ikeda

Traversing the horizontal rope backwards
Video credit: Nona Ikeda

The weather is rapidly shifting now. Most mornings are very cold with a promise to be even colder come November and January. At night, the temperature can drop 25-30 degrees from what it is during the day which now averages in the low 70's. The rainy season will begin next month.

The wild deer still come by regularly. Recently, we had to quarantine the hens because, most likely, a bobcat ate several of them. The hummingbirds are busy flitting about along with the wasps and bees.

The time seems to be moving at a faster pace than at this same juncture last year here. Each lesson is an invaluable one every day...

Wishing you well and appreciative of all your support!

Your tax-deductible PayPal DONATIONS made directly to the Retreat Center on my behalf are greatly appreciated. Please include a note indicating it is for: Dr. Woodbine 3-YP. Thank you, kindly!!!


All things are possible once you clearly see it, commit your every action to achieving it, and know that what appears to be a roadblock in your way or failure is just preparation for more than you even anticipated achieving. Don't give in, don't give up!