The Distillery: Meeting Liang De Hua (2018)

(The Distillery are original posts written by me on any number of topics)

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From 12-14th of May, Liang De Hua gave a workshop here in Denmark, invited by my teacher Torben Bremann. This is a small review of my experience attending.

Liang is just beginning to give workshops outside Asia, and is probably best known from his own  youtube videos, his apperance on ” “The Martial Man” show or through word of mouth. Particularly Adam Mizner, one of Liang’s training partners, who he has also taught some of his Yang Shao Hou material.

“In lue of substance you frequently find formality” – Dan Harden

One of the first things to notice about Liang is his humble and down to earth manner of being (litterally! He trained in bare feet the entire first day) and plain old decency. While many, especially on the internal martial art scene, try to appear better than they are, Liang is opposite. No grandeur of being a master of anything, no “sir (or Mr.) this” or “sifu that”, no hiding of the art or himself in mystique and pretence. He spend some time of his youth picking locks he weren’t supposed to, loves to play video games and has a life outside the art, and has no problem admitting and showing that a given internal skill doesn’t apply in any situation, but depends on what the partner does. Most important of all though: he has sincerity and honesty in showing and passing on his skills.

You are freely allowed to be on the receiving end of any skill you want to see  or having your hands all over him while he demonstrates on another while telling you what you should try to notice under your hands. Despite basic and self-taught english he was able to get his points across, and a big grin spreads on his face when you (finally) get an exercise. No stern faces and frowns here.

“When I teach is when I am at my most vulnerable” – Sam Tam

A good teacher should be able to humble himself before a student. Otherwise the student can’t feel and can’t be shown what you are supposed to notice, embody and learn. If the teacher is afraid to lose face in front of a student

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Liang and Peter during partnerwork

(especially in front of others), afraid to let a student touch them repeatedly and getting the point – then the student will not develop optimally (if any). And the teacher unable to give up his power, afraid to seem vulnerable, probably won’t develop very much either. While several famous teachers never allow themselves to appear weak in front of students, Liang happily lets go of his status and lets you have success with the exercise while he feels what you are doing. Or laughs wholeheardetly and points out what happened if you genuinly catch him off guard in some manner.

The workshop covered classic aspects of most internal training, and they were presented in a very systematic manner:

1) Standing meditation (zhan zhuang):
In Liang’s Yang Shao Hou lineage they have 10+ different standing positions. We covered a couple of them including the seemingly universal “hold the balloon” position. It was refreshing to hear from Liang, not stories of wonderful bliss and energy experiences when standing, but of how Liang even now hates long standings and finds it difficult to dicipline himself. No pretence indeed.
liang

Liang made some good and essential points about fundamental internal work. If we want to have a feeling of sinking internally, then we have to to sink relative to something else. A water balloon lying on the floor is not sinking – it has just dropped and is spreading out everywhere. But if you suspend it from your hands in the air, it sinks. To have sinking, you must therefore pull something up. To have yin you must have yang. Intent and body tissues pulling in opposite directions are the fundamental principle behind many teachings and a vehicle for many internal attributes – sinking, stretching the tissues, connecting the body, etc. and this is explored and developed through standing first.

2) Solo exercises (neigong):
Liang covered 6 of his primary solo drills (he has many more) for training song, sinking the qi and making the body’s tissues connected and elastic. Many were familiar to us who trains under Torben, but Liang had some interesting details and cues guiding us through the exercises. One of the drills, from the outside, appears identical to one of master Huang’s basic exercises, but the yi and internal focus Liang had made it a very different experience than how many people practice it. Intent is everything in these exercises.liang

Liang gave a small lecture on “yao leading qua” explaining what it is and why it makes sense to him to move in this manner (including dantian rotations and movement beneath the skin) that I found both interesting and foreign to how I have been practicing up until now. His stories about why “the hand leads the root” and not the other way around was also especially interesting to me personally, the understanding of which (or lack thereof more likely) is something I will go over with Torben in our next lessons together.

3) Partnerwork:
We spend a long time on a couple of basic exercises used to practice sinking the qi and finding the partner’s root, capturering their frame and forcing them to reveal it or just a part of it (finding/capturing their shoulder). Most seemed familiar in principle to us already practicing under Torben, but it was interesting and useful to feel Liang’s approach and take on them as well as his corrections.

4) Taiji form
To put the pieces together, we sampled the first part of Liang’s form up until Single Whip. Key things stressed by Liang were using yi, partly through the use of the eyes, guiding the qi and peng in the body, which finally again made the body to move (hand, yao, kua and finally legs and root).
It seemedfocused on getting away from the tendency of being very ground focused when moving. While it may work, and entire styles are based upon it, it doesn’t seem like an advanced internal path to take in the long run. Good boxers and karatekas all learn to source power from the ground and their root. And while you can refine a groundpath to a very high level – ultimately, where is the internal in that when it is still basically what good external arts do as well? Liang, like Sam Tam, emphazised that the legs and ground take care of themselves when moving and the legs are just along for the ride.

All in all it was a very informative couple of days with many interesting experiences that I will need some time to fully digest and work through with the help of Torben. Apart from the above, I was on the receiving end of a no windup kick penetrating deeply into my thigh (a shocking experience, litterally) by Liang, heard him talk a bit about the “iron body” like qualities that develop from proper internal practice as well as walnut breaking fingerstrength…
He has obvious internal skills and is willing and able to demonstrate, explain and pass on what he knows – and doesn’t withold information when asked for it. He is also one of the few taiji people who practice how to fight with his internal skills. So if internals applied to fighting is your interest, then Liang is well worth the visit.

Liang og Torben
Torben Bremann & Liang De Hua. Good skills, good teachers and good persons, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reklamer

Lessons from the Masters (III): Taiji with master Sam Tam (2017)

Peter Munthe-Kaas:
Taiji with Master Sam Tam – January 2017

Learning

The first days of my stay were not all that easy. Sams comments on my practice were quite clear although not exactly what I wanted to hear:
– “You are leaning”
– “You are holding your breath”
– “You are using force”

In addition I again experienced how skilled Sam really is and again I found myself completely helpless in his hands, unable to move him at all, while he could throw me completely effortlessly from every position. However, after the initial humbling experience I found myself opening for learning.

“You would not come here to learn if you were better than me, so why do you experience it as a problem that you can do nothing against me?”

During my days with Sam I started noticing how I hold my frame with relatively stiff arms, holding myself up to be balanced. At the same time I hold my breath (just a little bit) to keep the position. I do this to stabilize myself, but I also lift myself in the process, ruining my grounding. I also found myself in many (many!) situations where I was leaning forward to brace myself from being pushed, which of course does absolutely no difference when you are in the hands of Sam. After some time I also started noticing how I have a tendency to use hand force to (try to) push my opponent when doing pushhands, something I now realize will be a constant struggle to let go in the coming times.

Yielding

Before I arrived Sam had asked what i wanted to focus on during my stay, and I asked for “the basics”. In practice this translated into learning how to yield.

Yielding is the foundation of everything in taiji and implies moving with and neutralizing the force that is moving towards you. Yielding is not “giving space” for the will of the other but rather recognizing that we are 2 in the space no matter what and putting yourself in the beneficial position of the relationship. Paradoxically you don’t do that by trying to move the other into a position which is beneficial to you, but rather wait for them to move and then yield until they have to adjust – and then you are in the beneficial situation without much effort. You don’t try to decide what the other person does, but allow them to do whatever they want without allowing them to “lean on you” or connect with your center.

As Sam says “If you have 1000 techniques, you will need to practice them all to be good. I only have one trick. Don’t let them lean on you.” If you are able to yield, you can move with whatever comes at you and you don’t have to think about what to do, you just allow your opponent to do whatever they want and then yield to their force.

Yielding implies that the body moves as a whole unit and that you do not make any unnecessary movement. To do that I need to let go of my premeditations of what is going to happen (how I am going to be pushed) in the attempt to react properly and instead relax and respond to whatever is actually there – in other words stop trying to control the situation, relax, and trust that I can yield to what is coming, or allow myself to be pushed.

When yielding you stick to your opponent from the moment he touches you and do not let go again. You keep the point of contact (what Sam calls “bone contact”). When they move, you move and fill out the gaps in the space between you.

Yielding is also the requirement of issuing (or “pushing” without using force). Without yielding you will meet force with force and the strongest (or fastest) will win. When doing pushhands I found myself struggling with not “coming out” or using force and thus revealing my intention and planned direction. Gradually i got a better hold on how to shift, sink and expand instead. Shifting implies moving the whole body as one unit. Sinking the chi implies expanding from the center which is not easy at all.

Thoughts and reflections

I have realized (again maybe?) that the biggest potential to develop my taiji practice is to stop cheating myself by not recognizing the mistakes I make, because it seems too much work to deal with them (a realization which connects to many other aspects of life than taiji I guess). The notion of “good enough” is holding me back from learning something new and improving. The taiji shortform in Sam Tams system felt quite short before I arrived. Now it feels very long. I think that is a good measure for how much I am learning while doing it.

“Practice means weeding out mistakes, not just repeating the same movements over and over again.”

If I knew what I should learn I wouldn’t need a teacher, but just practice. After visiting Sam I feel like I can improve my private practice, but I will also focus more on receiving guidance from my Danish teacher Torben Bremann.

My focus for the coming time will be to let go of my desire to use force (and to win). When doing the form some central elements (apart from the many many small and large corrections I have received) will be to work with “sinking the chi”, shifting and investigating how I can use less force to hold up my arms and hands and “use the chi instead” as Sam has adviced.

“Don’t let taiji run your life.”

Taiji is a philosophy meant to contribute to life, not dominate it and I was very pleased to hear master Sam talk about taiji as a practice meant to teach practitioners about life. When talking about how to practice at home Sam emphasizes that you should see taiji as an art and treat it that way – keeping it precious. For me the challenge will be to remember what I have learned during my stay in Vancouver and allow that to remind me on how to develop my practice.

(originally posted at: http://munthe-kaas.dk/taiji-with-master-sam-tam-january-2017/)

Blast from the Past (VI): Makko-ho

Diary Entry nr. 6 (2012): Makko-Ho
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 Makko-Ho Background
Makko Ho literally means “the way of facing (things/life/oneself) directly”.
in Japan during the mid 1900’s , at the age of 42, Wataru Nagai suffered a stroke that paralyzed the entire left side of his body. Told by doctors that he would probably never work again and would need constant care for the rest of his life, Nagai almost inadvertently discovered Makko Ho while seeking salvation in the teachings of Buddhism.
The bowing movements of seated and standing Buddhist prayer postures became the basis of the Makko Ho system of rejuvenation. Over time these prayer poses developed into four main exercises which are the core of Makkō-Hō . Within three years, Nagai had regained the entire use of his body.
The exercises themselves are probably familiar to students of Yoga or Japanese martial arts:
Mr. Nagai points out that if you can’t demonstrate full hip flexibility then you are, in a sense, out of shape.
The main benefits of this system are: increased flexibility, symmetrical skeletal alignment, nerve stimulation, improved circulation, overall good health, and even increased libido.
The basic rule is “Keep doing it right, and keep doing it daily”.

Makko-Ho exercises:
Perform makko-ho daily and hold each pose for about one minute.

  • Exercise one. Sit erect, heels together and aligned with knees, soles turned upward. In the ideal pose, knees should rest on the floor. Keeping spine straight, lean forward to the floor. Beginners may grab feet and pull upper body down while keeping the spine straight.
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  • Exercise two. Sit erect, legs extended in front, feet together and angled backward 60 degrees. Keeping spine straight, lean forward and rest chest on legs. Beginners may grab shins, ankles, or feet and pull upper body down while keeping the spine straight.
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  • Exercise three. Sit erect, legs extended toward sides, feet angled backward 60 degrees. The optimum spread between the legs is 160 degrees. Keeping spine straight, lean forward and rest chest on the floor. Beginners may grab shins, ankles, or feet and pull upper body down while keeping the spine straight.
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  • Exercise four. Kneel on the floor, toes pointed straight backward, and sit on the floor between feet. Keeping spine straight, lean backward until back is flat on the floor. Beginners may place hands behind on floor for support or sit on a cushion.
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Lessons from the Masters (II): Taiji with master Sam Tam (2015)

Peter is a fellow taiji student, my senior, and has written some interesting blog posts about his experiences staying and studying with Sam Tam – touching upon some of the core aspects of Sam Tam’s system.
He has some wonderfull observations about the challenges, obstacles and insights he encounters in the process of learning taiji, and describes some of the lessons learned in the process. Many of them applicable to learning and life in general.


PETER MUNTHE-KAAS:

TAIJI WITH MASTER SAM TAM – AUGUST 2015

For the last week I have stayed and practiced taiji with Master Sam Tam in Vancouver, Canada. Sam has been the “Sifu” of my Danish teacher Torben Bremann for about 10 years and before this trip I had only met him at a few workshops in Copenhagen. I have practiced taiji in the system of Master Sam Tam for around 6 years myself guided by Torben.

It has been quite a privilege to get more “hands on” experience with Master Tam. He has the ability to clearly and effortlessly to demonstrate what yielding, neutralizing and issuing is all about and embody the taiji principles like no one else I have met.

Sam is good. Very good. When pushing hands with him you never feel him using force of any kind – there is no resistance from his side when you push him, he just moves with whatever comes at him, but without collapsing, using whatever movement you make to get you out of balance. He has an amazing sensitivity and can explain in great detail (greater detail than what I am usually aware of myself) what your body is doing and he is happy to let you feel both his yielding and issuing ability.

The practice takes place in the basement of Sams home in Vancouver, which is simply furnished with what you need for taiji practice – basically empty floor space and a mattress on the wall for bouncing practice. Taiji sticks, swords, fans and other practice weapons lie strewn around the space that has a tea kitchen in one end and a couple of computers in the other. Sams house seems to be a bustling hub for taiji practitioners from all over the world. Several people came by the house during my stay and there was always someone new to practice with.

My experience

When I arrived Sam asked me what I wanted to practice while I was staying with him. After answering something rather incoherent I said something about improving my yielding and that is what we have mostly been working on. I have practiced the taiji form, done a bit of standing meditation, some mokabu and a lot of bouncing exercises and pushing hands.

Practicing form with Sam is a very giving experience. Apart from the fact that he himself can show how everything should look, he is very attentive and can demonstrate why it is supposed to look as it does. When teaching Sam will repeatedly demonstrate the practice by letting you touch him, which often results in you lying on the floor or thrown against the wall after a few seconds. But he also has the extraordinary ability to slow down to a pace where you can actually follow what is going on and notice every slight movement made, allowing you to become aware of still more imbalances and tensions.

After instructing us to practice on our own, Sam would do chores around the house, fiddle with his computers or just sit and watch in silence. Several times during my stay I was surprised by how aware he was of what was going on, even though he was doing something else.
– While I am practicing the form walking past me with the laundry basket he points out that the angle on my front hand in the single whip should be more than 90 degrees and quickly demonstrates how easy it is to push me if the angle is wrong.
– Or when he steps into the middle of me doing the form to very powerfully demonstrate why the back hand in single whip should be around a fist above shoulder height (so that you can hit the throat of the opponent, and then grab the collarbone).

I mentioned earlier on that Sam is good. Well he is. But to be honest his level exceeds my understanding as I feel completely defenseless when I am in his hands – and he only rarely opens up the bag to show his fighting skills. Most of the time we practice his taiji form, bouncing or pushing hands exercises, but once in a while he will demonstrate applications or just reveal a little bit of his fighting skill – and when he does, the experiences is that he could kill you in seconds if he wanted to.

“You are the mouse and I am the cat. How can you win? You need to transform yourself into a cat as I am telling you and maybe you can do something. You can gather 100 mice and throw a conference, and still you couldn’t do anything.” (Sam Tam)

Sam’t taiji philosophy is undogmatic. People have different bodies and different strengths and weaknesses and thus cannot perform taiji in the same way. Rather he refers to “the happy medium”, the personal place of comfort you can find while following the taiji principles.

Very patiently he repeats again and again that you should not react (reaction is something you do after the fact), but rather respond to whatever is coming at you and that the only way you can do this is to have no intention or idea of what you are going to do, but rather follow and yield. If you try to use technique or have a premeditated idea of what you are going to do, you will not be able to cope with change in the situation. My conceptualization is that Sam responds to what is actually there (in reality), rather than assuming that something is going on.

More than just a martial art

I was positively surprised about how much Sam focuses on the connection between your general being and behavior and the taiji practice. I had a lovely time chatting with Sam about politics, philosophy and life in general and really enjoyed his honest and firm approach to everything around him.

Taiji is about confronting the problem without confrontation. Many people tend to go for confrontation without confronting the problem. (Sam Tam)

Sam is also very focused on communicating the inner aspects of taiji (or “inner martial art” in general). Control in taiji is not about controlling the enemy, but about controlling yourself. You don’t want to do anything towards the other. You just follow and fill out the space that he is leaving, so that he has no exits.

Ironing out my bad habits

Sams teaching entails a lot of time spent “ironing out” the mistakes and bad habits of his students. His attempt is to not just deliver information to his students, but to actually allow them to learn and gain embodied knowledge.

We generally have a tendency of seeing other people’s mistakes while being blind to their own. If you can start to see your own mistakes more clearly you will learn more, so below are some of my notes on what to work with and improve in my own practice.

When pushing hands and bouncing
Sam defines yielding as “not allowing the opponent to lean on you”. To achieve this you cannot use force as that will give your opponent a “handle”, but neither “run away from the force” of the opponent and allow him to find your center of gravity. This balancing act is excruciatingly hard to perform in practice. I have a tendency of yielding “halfway” (to the place where I feel safe) instead of going until the end of the push. This habit is part of the reason that I often find myself in situations where the second attack is impossible to respond to.

Don’t do anything against the opponents will when you start to yield. Give him what he wants without giving him your center to push on. Don’t think or try to get your opponent and yield without the intent of getting his center – that will happen by itself. If you commit by having intention in your movement, it means that you have already lost. Intentional movement = force.

Let the whole body move when you yield – don’t isolate the arms. Always yield where there is more force. If the force is equal between the hands, yield the place closest to the body.

Another central point is that you don’t move by your own accord when yielding – only if your opponent moves. Personally I have a horrible tendency to start guessing what my practice partner will be doing next and move accordingly. This works in many cases, but while touching Sam and some of his other students I quickly realized that it was a dead end street, however hard it will be to let go of the habit.

Other points
– I should remember to keep my chin down when pushed backward, otherwise I have no chance to stay balanced.
– I have had a tendency to use my thumbs to push towards the ribcage of my practice partner. Sam thoroughly demonstrated why this was a bad idea.
– I have a tendency to collapse and thus allowing my practice partner to get me. Collapsing implies allowing the opponent to enter your circle, so a project for me is to keep my frame when pushing hands.
– I have a tendency of pushing down, where it would make sense to go more upward.
– I have a tendency of leaning forward with my upper body, both when I am receiving a push and when I am delivering it. If I keep straight my sensibility will improve.
– When pushing use the whole body and aim for a feeling of fullness. Keep the sensation of wholeness while practicing the form.
– Don’t retreat.

When doing the form
Sam keeps emphasizing that the form is about learning how to “sink the chi and shift the weight”, but for me there are other central points that should be remembered. A central sensation that I am taking with me is the idea that I should have fighting power in (and between) every position in the form. Otherwise I am not doing it right. This one is going to take a while to work through.

There is a subtle difference between focusing on the movements of the form and keeping awareness on the form practice. The first will lead to divided attention, while the second is a catalyst for flow. Sam would also express it as letting the chi move you rather than thinking about the movements.

Other points
– I have a tendency of looking down while I do the form which makes it harder for me to balance and according to Sam also generally weakens my movement.
– Remember to have a lot of airtime in the form to practice sinking, but also to give power to the legs and feet in the form.
– Lots and lots of corrections to specific movements that I won’t try to reference here.

Until next time

It has been truly great to experience a taiji master in action in this way and I feel that I have learned a lot. I hope that I will have the opportunity to study more under the guidance of Master Tam in the future, but for now I am looking forward to come back to Copenhagen and practice with Torben to see if I have actually improved.

(originally posted at: http://munthe-kaas.dk/taiji-with-master-sam-tam-august-2015/)

Blast from the Past (V): Nikolai Amosov

Diary Entry nr. 5 (2012): Nikolai Amosov and his Rejuvenation Routine
[photograph of Nikolai Amosov]

 

Some of you have probably heard of Nikolai Amosov (1913-2002), a Soviet and Ukranian doctor and health icon, and his rejuvenation routine through Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Super Joints. I found his overall philosophy and approach to health maintenance very interesting, so here is a little post on what I have been able to gather on him.

Amosov – theory behind his recommendations (From Pavel Tsatsouline)

According to Prof. Bayevsky, at any given moment, between 50 to 80% of all people are in the so-called donozoological state, or between health and illness.  According to Academician Nikolay Amosov, these people are only “statically healthy”—until the environment disrupts their fragile status quo.

Academician Amosov coined the term “the quantity of health”, or the sum of the reserve powers of the main functional systems.  These reserve powers are measured with the health reserve coefficient: the ratio of the system’s maximal ability to the everyday demands on it.

To improve your quantity of health, you need to increase the reserves of your functional systems, cardiovascular, pulmonary, muscular, etc.  There are over a hundred measurable health parameters.

A number of Soviet and Russian textbooks, from the 1970s until today, cite a study of young rodents undergoing an intense swimming regimen—one hour a day for ten weeks.  Their heart mass increased—while the mass of their kidneys and adrenal glands went noticeably down, and so did the number of the liver cells.  In other words, while the training increased the functional capacity of the heart, it simultaneously reduced the capacity of several inner organs!

If later the rodents from the study encountered significant physical loads, they would be better prepared to handle them and survive compared to their untrained peers.  If, on the other hand, the challenge were directed at the liver or kidneys (through a change of food, an increase of sodium intake, etc.), the hard training rats would be at a disadvantage compared to their lazy brothers and sisters. Another example is female machinery malfunctions typical in young girls who are high-level athletes in bodyweight sensitive sports like gymnastics.  Even worse, the muscles of a hard training and dieting young gymnast cannibalize some of the heart muscle to find some precious protein!

This phenomenon is called “the cost of adaptation”.  The cost can be exacted from the systems of the body directly loaded by the stressor—or from other system(s) not directly involved in dealing with the stressor

To mitigate the downsides or costs of specialisation:

  1. Start with a great foundation of GPP.
  2. Avoid early specialization. (Negative adaptation in organs and systems not directly challenged by specific training is especially pronounced in immature organisms)
  3. Do not force the rate of your progress.

If you choose health, do not reach for Olympic medals, avoid narrow specialization, and train in moderation.  Because high adaptation cost is experienced especially by specialist athletes and people who perform hard physical labor.

Soviet research teaches us that sport training and physical culture lead to a significant decrease in diseases overall and injuries.  Renown Soviet scientist Prof. Zimkin concluded, “It has been determined from animal experiments and observation of human subjects that muscular activity increases the organism’s non-specific resistance to many unfavorable stressors people are subjected to in modern conditions, e.g. hypoxia, some poisons, radioactive materials, infections, overheating, overcooling, etc.  A significant decrease in illnesses has been observed in people training for sport or practicing physical culture.”  He went on to add that “rational” training is what is needed to deliver such resilience.  Moderate physical loads stimulate the immune system.

Amosov’s Story:

In my early childhood I grew up alone and had no “program” of physical training. The manual labour made me stronger, but not adroit: I was not taught to swim, dance or ride bicycle. I used to run away from physical training classes both in my school and in my college.
In the war, I first went through radiculitis seizure, which was recurred again and again, evidently, due to long operation procedures.

In 1954 I was tortured by spinal pains and even some dorsal alterations were discovered.
Then I invented my system of physical exercises comprising of 10 exercises, 100 movements each. I started jogging in 1971, when a dog was purchased. In 1985 I had a heart blockage with a pulse rate of 40 beats per min. I stopped jogging and restricted myself to physical exercises. In 1986 after the implantation of a pacemaker I began to feel myself better and resumed jogging. In autumn 1993, my pacemaker failed to operate and it was replaced for a new one. In December, my eighty years anniversary was celebrated. I was awarded again with an order.
Soon after my jubilee, I realized, that it became harder for me to walk, though I continued my usual physical exercises: 1000 movements and 2 km jogging

I started feeling like I was aging in 1992 when I stopped practical surgery. I thought over the aging mechanism and made up my mind then to resist aging thought intensive physical exercises. I decided to make an experiment: I three times increased my physical exercises.

I started with 2500 physical exercises and later increased to 3000 movements, half of which were made with the dumb-bells up to 5 kg. I used to jog up to 5 km. And the aging receded. After half a year of such regimen, I looked ten years younger.

For two and a half year I felt very well. At that very time I wrote the book “Overcoming Aging “, as well as some brochures. I was fully aware of my decreased aorta activity, but hoped it would improve, but it never did. I developed stenocardia but I went on carefully with my experiment this time giving up the jogging. I had regular check-ups: my heart was getting enlarged. It was clear to me, that I had failed to deceive nature and that it was time to get ready to die. I accepted it in cold blood. I felt like having fulfilled all my life tasks. I even wrote my memoirs “Voices of Times”.

In Mai 1998, my daughter, a professor of cardiology and my pupils offered me to undergo surgery in Germany – such old men as me are not used to be operated in my own clinic.
Professor Korfer implanted an artificial mitral valve and put two shunts in the coronary arteries. The operation was a success, though it was followed by long but not very hard complications.

I resumed my physical exercises immediately after the operation: first, I increased the number of exercises up to 1000, then I resumed my one hour indoor and outdoor walking. But I gave up jogging and dumb-bells.
Rehabilitation went on slowly. There were a lot of minor complications: headaches and instability of movements but I was patient.
I made up my mind to resume experiment. To my usual physical exercises I added dumb-bells-exercises and increased the walking time.

Only in summer 1999 it turned loose: the aging seemed to step back. I felt at once ease by walking. In the course of winter 1999-2000 I increased the number of exercises [repititions] up to 3000 (1200 of them were dumb-bell-exercises)and walked for 1 hour daily. As for jogging, I did it carefully and no more than 1-2 km per day, mostly downhill. Soon I doubled jogging time andrate. My physical exercises, jogging and walking take 3 hours.

Amosov’s recommendations:

My recommendations for everybody is the same:

– 30-45 minutes of physical exercises/1000-1500 movements [repititions]. 500 of those exercises [repititions] with 5 kg- dumb-bells
– one hour of intensive walking, but 2-3 km. jogging is still better.
– Very important to have command of one’s mind: the number of illnesses provoked by stress is far larger than those provoked by other factors. (This piece of good advice is as much important as it is useless-it is being hardly followed ). In this respect, it is very good to learn auto-training or meditation.

I am sure, that if a heart is strong, intensive regimen would provide an active life up to 90 years.

Amosov’s program (according to Pavel Tsatsouline in Super Joints):

His original 1,000 Movements were 100 repetitions each of these ten exercises:
– Squats
– Trunk Twists
– Side Bends
– Roman Chair Sit-ups
– Pushups
– Leg Raises bringing knees to head
– Forward Bends
– Shoulder Reaches (raise arms to shoulder height and throw them behind your back to touch each palm to the opposite shoulder blade)
– Arm Circles
– Knee Lifts to chest

Amosov later replaced the shoulder reaches and knee lifts in his original complex with four activities—One-Legged Jumps; Bringing the Elbows Back (pretend you are doing a dumbell BP negative); the “Birch Tree” (Shoulderstand from yoga)” and Sucking in the Stomach (what it sounds like; another variation is exhaling all the air and expanding the rib cage [vacuum])—and he altered the number of repetitions slightly to keep the total at 1,000.

Academician Amosov emphasizes a maximal range of motion in his exercises. This is the simple the key to the effectiveness of his youth-restoring calisthenics. Other, even more complicated routines generally do not pay attention to this vital advice. Rotating a joint through its anatomically complete range of motion —or trying to approach that ROM if the joint is damaged—smoothes out the joint surfaces and lubricates them. This contributes greatly to the joint’s health. A full range of motion is gained or maintained.

Amosov’s Program (according to Tom Kurz)

In the beginning professor Amosov performed 10 repetitions of each exercise, but his back pain persisted.
So he kept increasing gradually the number of repetitions of each exercise, and when each was done for 100 reps, the back pain was gone. Professor Amosov stated that for young people, up to the age of 30, whose joints function well, it should be enough do only 20 repetitions of each exercise. When joint aches appear around age 40, the number of repetitions should be increased to 50 or even 100. When a joint hurts, it should be exercised more: 200 to 300 repetitions. To physicians’ objections that this is too much, the professor responds that these high repetitions are needed to compensate for the unnaturally immobile lifestyle of most workers.

Since 1954 the complex changed very little–some exercises were replaced by more effective ones, but the total number of exercises, the recommended number of repetitions, and the time to perform the complex stayed the same. Professor Amosov warns that for joints health, the added resistance cannot make up for the lower number of repetitions. So repetitions with weights have to be done in addition to the 1,000 repetitions without, not instead of them.
Similar-to-Amosov-program (From Tom Kurz)

Russian geophysicist V. M. Khudyakov, has a herniated disc in his lumbar spine. He describes his experience in a letter to Fizkultura i Sport (number 10, 2002), a popular health and fitness magazine in Russia.

In 1994, Khudyakov spent a whole month in hospital because of the herniated lumbar disc. His pain subsided somewhat after the hospital stay. Self-administration of electroacupuncture also helped him, but he was still far from good health. (I do not go into details of this electroacupuncture treatment as such description would take me off the subject of this article, and besides, I do not give medical advice.) To fully recover, Khudyakov needed to strengthen the muscles supporting his spine. Eventually, he started to exercise when he was able. After a while his daily program looked like this:

5:00 a.m. sauna and bath in ice water followed by 40 to 45 minutes of exercise.

100 back extensions on the floor
100 forward bends, knees straight, putting hands on the floor
100 hip twists to the left and 100 to the right while sitting on a rotating wheel and keeping trunk immobile
100 trunk twists to the left and 100 to the right while keeping hips immobile
100 clockwise circles with the head and 100 counterclockwise circles
20 push-ups after each exercise

This program very quickly made him feel good, practically healthy, but his pain would return occasionally after prolonged work in bent posture while gold digging. (He had to go deep into the taiga to dig gold because he could not find a job in his town, his wife was laid off, and they had two little children.) Final recovery came later, he thinks because of increasing the number of repetitions in each exercise from 100 to 200 and the total number of push-ups on fingers to 180–200. Now he feels better than before his spine was injured.

Khudyakov does all these exercises in the morning, and in the evening he does 500 to 600 squats or alternates back extensions on the floor with leg lifts 300 times.

 

 

Lessons from the Masters (I): Zhan Zhuang

This will be the first in a series, Lessons from the Masters, which will contain reposts of particulary useful og insightful articles/blogs/commentaries/hints from other practitionerns of internal martial arts.

This first contribution is from my own teacher, Torben Bremann, on standing meditation (Zhan Zhuang). A practice that is often presented as fundamental to internal work,  yet at the same time often shrouded in mystery, confusion, misunderstanding and misguidance.

Torben Bremann:
STANDING MEDITATION – ZHAN ZHUANG
(Originally posted at: https://exploringtaiji.com/standing-meditation-zhan-zhuang/)

In this blogpost I will write a bit about standing meditation – which is the foundation of my own daily training, and also the main reason I started learning from Master Sam Tam 12 years ago. In my book “Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Standing Meditation”, standing meditation is covered from many different angles, and I give a lot of advices for what to look out for as you progress in your practice. Therefore standing meditation represents a cornerstone and is a red thread through the book. As you probably know, I have had different teachers representing different schools and systems over the years, and as a natural consequence of that I have been exposed to different views and approaches to standing meditation.

Standing
  to grow roots
Most of my teachers in the master Huang system focused on standing, with the exception of Patrick Kelly.  If you wish to learn how to develop roots – have a good contact to the ground and understand “emptying” the upper body and filling the lower the body – standing on one leg is a good exercise.  In various Taiji forms, you differentiate between different weight distributions: for example 51/49, 60/40 – and the most common: 70/30. In reality, none of them are correct. Apart from the beginning and the end, the form mainly consists of positions and weight shifts close to 100% on one leg.

Therefore, to practice you can take 3 to 5 minutes in the morning and again in the evening where you stand with all your weight on one leg and the other leg out in front of you. You can place your index and middle finger on a table in front of you until your body has calmed down. Once settled, move your hands off the table and stand in the position for as long as you can, without moving. All the time trying to relax and release muscle tension – from the top of the head all the way down to the feet. Like melting. This exercise is to be trained on both sides, of course.  Once you are stable in these positions, you can train the raise hands and play guitar positions instead. Both positions offer a very good opportunity to train stability and letting go of upper body tension. You can also use single whip, a position that opens the joints well.


Master Huang Xiangxian and standing
Through the natural course of having a lifelong pursuit, development and change took place, depending on where master Huang was in his life. I have had the privilege to both learn from and work and train with several of his top students – both the “old school” ones and those from the last 20 years of his life.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when he still had a strong focus on the self-defence aspect of Taiji, standing was a regular part of his teaching. Positions from the form such as raise hands, cross hands, play guitar among others, as well as hold the ball and standing from the White Crane system (the system he mastered before Taiji) were included in his teaching and training. Pupils frequently stood for 20-30 minutes at a time in deep positions with all of their weight on one leg as in raise hands. To test whether they kept all their weight on one leg – in this case the back leg – he kicked their front leg.

Standing
  functional
If we move more in the direction that I have been taught in Master Sam Tam’s system, I will begin by looking at standing as a source of movement.  Standing can also be called functional training, because everything you learn and do in your standing should be present when you begin to move. Therefore, it is real functional training, and not the very popular but misleading term often used in regards to all possible and impossible exercises in the fitness industry. Here for example are exercises with dumbbells where you sit on an exercise ball, or you throw around with kettlebells in this and that direction under the guise that it is functional training and something special. This is of course nonsense, and many people injure themselves with this type of exercises.  Functional training is simply training aimed precisely at making you better at performing the sport you enjoy – Taiji for instance.

A significant part of standing is to focus your attention on achieving a beneficial body-posture. Your back should be as straight and vertical as possible, because it simultaneously increases your awareness around being both centered and vertically balanced.  You stand on your feet, and your feet and legs are the foundation that – integrated with your torso – creates the three main movements of your centerline:

Your hips makes rotation around your center line possible, your knees together with your hips and ankles allows up and down movement along your centerline, and your ankles allow for a horizontal shift forwards and backwards of your centerline.

Let us start from the bottom: You must stand with parallel feet, approximately shoulder width apart, and your weight evenly distributed between and on them. Then imagine that your head is hanging by a string from the ceiling or sky. This string does not go down to the top of the head the way it is usually described. It goes down to a point located where two lines meet. One line going from ear to ear and the other going from between the eyes to the back of the skull. It is in literature sometimes referred to as “the secret” spot in the brain. You will most likely have to pull the ears (and thus head) backwards and let the jaw and chin fall to hit the correct position.

If you imagine that the head and neck are pulling upward, then the lower part of your spine does exactly the opposite. Imagine that the sacrum and coccyx drop down. Your pelvis will tilt slightly backwards, and the spine will be slightly straighter and longer.  It is often referred to as one of the methods by which you sink the energy. If you do it correctly, your torso will become integrated, making it possible for it to function as a whole.

Next, you need to have your arms up in a position that resembles embracing a big ball or balloon. Round your shoulders slightly. You do this by first pushing your shoulders out to the side – by attempting to push your collarbones out to the side – and then rounding 10-15 degrees forward from the area between the shoulder blades, not from the shoulder joints themselves. This brings your elbows slightly forward.  Now turn your forearms so that your palms are facing your body, and lift them up until they are at the level of your shoulders – as if you were holding a large balloon or ball.

The rounded shape of the shoulder girdle together with the straight back makes your body fully integrated. From the feet touching the ground all the way up to your fingertips. The straight or vertical spine represents the vertical circle, rounding the shoulders and the embrace of the ball represent the horizontal circle.  At the same time, the open position around the chest allows free and unrestricted breathing.

It would not be wrong to say that the level and quality of your standing give an idea of what you can expect to achieve from the rest of your training. If you’re not able to integrate your body when you’re standing still, then it is close to impossible to achieve in movement. You must learn to integrate the body in standing; then you can take this integration, attention and awareness with you into your movements.

When you move, your movements should always be circular. The two primary circular motions are vertical and horizontal. The horizontal circle is obtained through a rotation of the centreline. The vertical circle can be obtained through either an up and down movement, or as a combination of the vertical and horizontal circle e.g. moving back and forth in a bow position, where you first sink downward (vertical) and then move forward (horizontal).

In standing you surrender to the forces of gravity, but you do not let go of your structure. You can think of your bones as a hanger, and your muscles like a coat hanging on it. Imagine length in your spine with space between the vertebrae – both in front of, behind of and to the sides. Relax the lower part of the body by allowing the lower part of the spine to drop. Drop your shoulder blades – imagine that they slide down the back – and open the chest to stretch the upper (costal) region of the spine.

The duration of your standing sessions can vary. The traditional training was originally 40-45 minutes if your goal was to build good health, and an hour or more if there was also a focus on developing self-defence skills.  For those who are old or have many old injuries, the duration should be increased gradually. Start with just a few minutes.  There is great variation in how long different individuals can stand in the positions. Some give up at the slightest sign of discomfort; others are more stubborn and choose to stand for 45 minutes from day one, no matter the pain (that was me in the old days). Neither path leads to great development, and the latter type will never learn to let go.

When you reach a point in your standing where you want to stop, there is an opportunity for development, if you can continue just a little longer. Let’s say you feel discomfort in your shoulders. If you stay in the position for a little longer, you send a message to your brain that it hurts. Your brain will then send a message to the region to let go, which in turn will trigger a relaxation response. It is not uncommon to experience this as the joints releasing and creating more room and space. Then you can just lower your arms and leave the standing.

The elastic frame
When we are exposed to a threat or shock, the body has two ways to respond generally speaking: either tensing up and stiffening the tissues, or collapsing. Between these two extremes of involuntary response, we have the opportunity to train the elastic frame; what Sam Tam calls “your happy medium” – a relaxed body yet having structure.  In standing and the internal martial arts, we attempt to make this more appropriate response, the relaxed and elastic structure, our new and natural response.

Heaviness or lightness?
Both in the first section of my book “Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Standing Meditation”,in my on line teaching program exploringtaiji.com and my face-to-face teacher’s program in the beginning the focus is on master Huang’s system, and all of the exercises and the form piece, even the standing positions, focus on building a stable and strong base, to empty the upper body and fill the lower body, and that all movements are running to and from the feet.  Through my many years of only focusing on versions of the master Huang system and the Zheng Manqing system, I was taught to build this strong base.  When I became a student of Master Sam Tam, things became different, and my focus shifted from experiencing heaviness to lightness.

Sinking versus dropping the energy
When I began learning from Master Sam Tam, I had been dropping the energy in all positions and movements for many years. First to my feet, and then return it through my body and hands. Like a compressed spring returning to its starting point.

Master Sam Tam told me to forget about my feet and instead imagine that I lowered the energy to my center (dantian). There were two reasons for this: First, there was a risk of damaging my ankles and knees over the long term if I had too much downward heaviness. (I actually had problems with my knees and knew several others with both knee and ankle problems). Secondly, he said, it was too slow in regards to the self-defence aspect of Taiji, one of his major areas of competence. I were to practice sinking the energy to dantian and then expand in all six directions at the same time. Up/down, forward/backward and to the sides. Like an inflating ball; and standing is a great training tool in this regard.  In relation to self-defence and pushhands it is much faster and more efficient. However, first you must learn to relax, integrate the entire body and open your joints.

Standing and reverse breathing
Standing is very good for practicing reverse breathing,  When you can stand and be physically and mentally connected, let go of all excess tension and are able to expand in all directions at once and understand what it means to open your joints, then you can train reverse breathing in your standing.  When you exhale, expand in all directions at once – the six directions – from your center: up and down, back and forth, left and right side.  As you expand forward from your center, you balance it with an expansion of the lower back. While you find yourself sinking down toward your feet, you will expand in the other direction and into your arms. When you exhale, you are expanding your chest out towards the sides.

When you breathe in, the opposite movement happens: You go from the six directions towards your center.  There are several levels to go from here, but they will not make sense before the first part is trained, understood and developed.  Before being able to work with and develop reverse breathing, it is a prerequisite that your abdominal muscles are relaxed and that your spine is long and straight. Having the ability to create power from your center, is not the same thing as being able to release and deliver that power. If you’re not able to maintain your “frame” – and mind you, an elastic one – it will be very difficult to focus your force in a precise direction towards your opponent.


Balls and balloons
In your standing you will use visualizations of embracing balls or balloons. In addition, it is not uncommon to also imagine sitting on them, having a ball between the knees (to prevent the knees from collapsing inward), perhaps a ball between the instep and shin, a ball in each armpit between the thorax and the arms and between the chin and the top of the chest. Sometimes we imagine that the balloons are filled with helium to experience lightness. At other times, we imagine that we embrace a wooden – or iron ball to ensure that the arms do not move forward (you do not want to drop an iron ball on your feet!). In other words, you employ all sorts of images and visualizations that can help you improve and develop the quality of your standing and help you maintain the correct positions.


The six directions
In standing your visualizations matter. In the beginning, they increase body awareness and the ability to let go, and later on they are useful when you train very specific things in your standing. At an even later stage in your development, using visualizations doesn’t matter as much anymore.  When you practice standing, you can imagine that there are strings pulling in opposite directions at the same time: to the sides, up and down, back and forth. The six directions. Pulling equally in each direction, you will appear to be standing motionless from the outside.

Another variation of the six directions – slightly later in your development – involves imagining the body becoming longer, deeper and broader when pulled in the six directions. You expand, and the body gives in to the pulling.  At first it might be easiest to achieve this feeling, if you only focus on two directions. For example imagine pulling on each end of your spine. Later, you can train all six directions at once.  Imagining different things in the same positions, makes your training and experiences almost as diverse as if you were playing golf or football.


Structure and relaxation
Soon after you begin your standing training, you will run into the immediate paradox: maintaining structure yet letting go.  If on one hand, you are very devoted to “holding” your structure or position, there is a risk that you end up building layer after layer of tension. Moreover, you will certainly not approach that which is most important: an increased awareness of yourself, your body and the ability to let go.  On the other hand, if you have too great a focus on letting go, there is a risk of collapsing your body and structure.  So what do you do?  You take your position and then let go from the position. Sounds simple, right? It is actually quite difficult! Keep the goal in mind:  “The standing is there to serve you; you are not there to serve the standing.”

There is huge difference between using just enough muscle activity to maintain a position – and using too much, resulting in your awareness and feelings of letting go shutting down. Your standing is supposed to peel tension off, layer by layer; like peeling away the layers of an onion. Do not force it or have too much focus on how long you can stand in the positions. You risk losing awareness of what is going on in yourself and your body. And thereby doing everything wrong.  It can be difficult to distinguish between good and bad tension, and this is where a competent teacher comes into play to guide and mentor you.

In the old days, the traditional way of teaching was that you shouldn’t ask questions. You just had to stand in a particular position for an hour or more. After some time, when both tension and pain dominates the experience, there is only one alternative: Letting go.  I myself have been taught from that model from some of my teachers, and it’s no fun! Furthermore, there is a huge risk that the side effects of extra tension over time, will cause you to drop standing altogether. This approach requires will and tenacity to be successful.   If you are young, have a strong body and no injuries, it is possible that this method will work for you. Are you older, it most certainly won’t!

The most important thing when you stand is to let go. Obviously not at the expense of your structure collapsing, but to let go of muscle tension.  Although the positions are important, remember that that they are guidelines. The guiding principles behind are ultimately what is important. Like in nature, where the branches of a tree can grow in different directions. Of course, the trunk often grows vertically, but even here you see different variations. The same is true for standing.

The sooner you accept that you are not perfect, and instead make adjustments relative to your balances and imbalances, the sooner and faster your development take place.  In addition, your body is always seeking balance. This means, that as you let go of any unnecessary tension, your body will over time find its own balance. Your body always seeks to heal itself, and there is an innate bodily intelligence that you can trust.

It takes courage to stand. You are confronted with the worst of all enemies: yourself.


Signs that your standing training is moving in the right direction
One of the hardest things in regards to standing is to know whether you are on the right track. Hopefully you have a teacher who corrects you now and then, but since most of your training will be on your own, it’s nice with some instructions and signs along the way.

One of the classic questions a teacher gets is: “How long should I stand?”  And one of the classic – and cryptic – answers is: “One minute is better than an hour – if you do it right.”  And nothing could be more true. But what is right then, and what signs should you be aware of?

First of all, I assume that you are now aware of how to stand and correct yourself at the physical level. And you know that it is very much about increasing your awareness, at first of your body and yourself. You know that it is about integrating the body itself and about integrating body and mind. You also know that it is about freeing the breath and letting it become deep yet unforced. And you know that your mental state should be “half awake, half asleep.”  First you learn to sink the energy to the dantian by lowering the shoulders and gradually letting your breath deepen. You sink on an exhalation. It is absolutely impossible to learn to sink the energy if you have not yet learned to sense it, have a balanced and vertical body with a long spine, and drop your shoulders.


Which signs can further indicate that you are on the right path?

First of all that you feel it has become easier to stand in your positions, meaning that you are more relaxed. Your muscles are your main focus in the first long period, which can range from five to six months to several years.

Relaxation
An experience of greater relaxation in the positions and greater ease in “settling in” to the correct positions.

Connectedness

A sense of being connected from head to toe. Most often in the upper body to begin with, the arms connected to the shoulder girdle experienced as one unit. Later on, legs connected to the body (torso) through the pelvis.  And even later all throughout the body, arms and legs, from feet to fingertips.

Heat

An experience of heat – only a few places at first such as a hand, a shoulder, a foot etc. Later as a more general feeling of warmth throughout the body. The first signs are typically that you suddenly feel a single place where it feels like a warm liquid poured through. It often indicates that a blockage is dissolving.  At a later stage, you will sense heat in and around your center, which can spread to the back and chest.

Lightness

A feeling of lightness in the arms (perhaps together with a little sore shoulders!) comes in two versions. The first sensation of lightness is just a sign of not letting go. A tense muscle will always feel light – and in a standing it will hurt after some time. Register it and accept it for a while.

Heaviness
Your arms feel heavy and it feels as if they will pull you down to the ground and make your body structure collapse. It is a good sign! You are starting to let go. Stay in the positions and maintain the structure of the body. It is often at this stage that the shoulders have dropped. (It is not uncommon that I describe this phase to students, as the phase of “separating the flesh from the bones”)

Lightness and expansion
Your arms feel light again. And this time it is as if they are expanding in several directions at once. When the Qi starts coming up from the center and out in the body, the arms feel both light and heavy, and the body begins to expand in all directions on an exhalation. First the Qi is lowered to dantian, and from here it starts entering the bones.  You can have experiences of being huge, being filled with helium or like a bicycle tire inflated with air. It is a good sign: Your Qi is starting to come up from the center.

“Becoming even”
During your standing sessions you experience the feeling of being even. The amount of tension is the same in the whole body. Your awareness is even and everywhere. You are not just embracing an invisible ball – you are the ball

Become full from inside out
Your whole body becomes full from inside out (which also mean you are even). You experience the feeling of being inflated – just like a balloon.

Standing Checklist

  1. In most standings the weight is equally distributed between and on the feet. The outside edges of the feet are parallel and spaced either narrower than hip width, hip width or shoulder width apart.
  2. Sit down from the hip, not the knee
  3. Shoot the kneecaps forward.
  4. Hold an imaginary ball between the knees
  5. Long spine; over time reducing the arch in the lower back through a downward release of the tail bone.
  6. 15-degree curvature in the shoulders.
  7. Imagine a stick going through the ears that you pivot around, thereby freeing up the neck.
  8. The bones just above the ear going straight up in a vertical line and then following the skull and connect at bauhui.
  9. In health- and basic standing, where you hold the imaginary ball, there is a distance of 3 fists between the hands, and there is a distance of 3 fists from left shoulder out to the left hand and vice versa.
  10. If eyes open: See infinitely far into the distance without focusing; “half awake/ half asleep”. If eyes closed: Let the eyes drop into the eye sockets
  11. Six directions: head up, tailbone down, elbows out to the side (thorax), arms forward (center), back backwards (Mingmen – a location in the lower back behind the center).
  12. The higher the arms/elbows, the more energy.
  13. First relax, then six directions, then expand in all directions at the same time.
  14. In standings focused on the self-defence aspect, the arms are occasionally kept higher to prepare for the release of Fajin – relaxed strength. But the thumbs are never kept higher than the eyebrows.

A word about the horizontal and vertical circle in relation to the learning process
You have previously been presented with the two main circles, the vertical and the horizontal, in relation to standing meditation and of course it goes for the Taijiform(s) as well. In relation to your development, the horizontal circle describes the phase where there is an interest in learning as many Forms and movements as possible. The vertical circle describes the point where it is immersion, which is important, and some of the outer movements and forms are omitted.

I have learned many Forms, many exercises – and I’ve let go of almost as many.

In the first years of my Taiji training, I was very focused on learning new movements. Later, I sought immersion. Later on, I became frustrated and felt reluctant if I had to go through another Form with a new teacher. Just until I started seeing it from a different perspective one day: Had I been a concert pianist, maybe I might have a lot of focus on practicing and playing Bach where in other periods maybe Beethoven or Mozart might be my main focus … The piano would be my instrument that I would use and utilize according to the different circumstances. In Taiji, my body and mind are my instruments. Different teachers have different Forms and movements, just like the composer has different nodes, combinations and compositions. But the instrument is the same.

The Taiji teacher uses the form to convey the essence of his system, and my body and mind are just my instruments that I use to learn and understand the things I’m taught. From that day and on, I have no longer giving it a thought or been bothered by it when I had to learn new Forms and movements with new teachers. Or be annoyed when I could no longer remember Forms or movements that had already filled their role in a learning process.

 

Blast from the Past (IV): Breathwork

Fjerde dagbogsindlæg (2012) – Breathwork
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Some Benefits of Breath Holding Exercises:
A higher CO2 tolerance:
– The Buteyko method from Russia (which supposedly is a part of the medical education over there) basically states, that the higher your chronic co2 conentration is, the better your health. This is due to co2 expanding your blood vessels and allowing o2 to be released from the hemoglobin to the body’s organs and tissue. Chronic hyperventilation will expell co2 and predispose to pretty much all lifestyle diseases, organ damage and depression/stress/anxiety. A co2 concentration below 3% in the small alveoli results in death. Usually it is 5% for regular healthy people. For optimal health it should be between 5,5-6,5%. If you can hold your breath on almost empty lungs comfortably for 40-60 sec. you have a co2 concentration in the optimal range.
Dr. Buteyko couldn’t find a single person with co2 levels in the optimal range with any lifestyle disease(!).

– Co2 levels has an effect on the tissue quality in the body: Lower levels of co2 = vasoconstriction = less oxynation of tissue. This may cause tissues to feel stif and increase levels of resting tension. Tissue manipulation in the form of mobilitiy/flexibility work won’t work optimally, and results may have difficulty ”sticking” and quickly revert back to where they were.

Increased EPO production: an increase in the production of EPO in the kidneys over time due to low oxygen saturation of the blood. The increase in EPO levels causes red blood cells to be produced, with a corresponding increase in hemoglobin and hematocrit (assuming essential nutrients including iron are present). The increase in hemoglobin and hematocrit increase the total oxygen storage capacity of the blood.
– There is evidence from the freediving world that you can increase your hematocrit to over 60% by doing breathholding alone (no cardio).
– Danish research on the yogi pranayama (breathing exercise) Nadi Shodan (with a breathing ratio of 1:4:2 seconds for inhalation:breatholding:exhalation at high levels (20:80:40) for 15 min. has shown that the oxygen saturation in the blood lowers to 88%, similar to the levels of elite athlethes during a maximum performance.

•  Increased Growth Hormone production: Altering your breathing pattern alone, without any additional exercise, may affect secretions of growth hormone. Either hyperventilation or breath holding by themselves cause a 1.5- to 5.5-fold increase of growth hormone secretions (Djarova et al. 1986).

• Breatholding, especially on empty lungs, will give an immediate increase of red blood cells in the body due to the spleen contracting and releasing its storage of red blood cells. This has implications for recovery/healing etc.

Freediver Erik Fattah has some interesting observations regarding the benefits of pranayama (from yoga) and Zhan Zhuang (“standing meditation”, a form of qigong) on the practice of freediving:

A comparison of the most powerful exercise of each discipline [Qigong and Yoga), i.e. zhan zhuang vs. pranayama. From MY OWN experience and does not necessarily apply to others:

Benefits of pranayama (if practiced at > 10:40:20 for > 30min per day):
– Increased vital capacity with and without packing (This, for some extremely strange reason, stretches my chest/lungs way more than pack stretches or more traditional exercises.)
– Decreased residual volume (i.e. deeper equalizing)
– Increased CO2 tolerance
– increases hemoglobin (if done hard enough).
– Moderately improved breath-hold ability
– Improved immune system (this is the main benefit)
– Decreased mental noise (i.e. meditation effect)
– Pranayama (for me) produces a drastic increase in exercise capacity (both aerobic and anaerobic)
– Possible negative effect: blood pressure decreases significantly after extended practice, which further increases static apnea but might cause premature blackouts in the ocean
– Benefits begin only days after you start
– Maximum benefit requires praticing with back straight, sitting in half-lotus or lotus position

Benefits of chi-gong (zhan-zhuang) (if practiced for > 45 min per day, with 15min warm up and 15 min cool down)
– No effect on lung capacity, residual volume or CO2 tolerance
– Massive decrease in neuromuscular tension (i.e. muscles at rest are more relaxed and consume less O2)
– Increased dive times, increased breath-holds, especially if breath-holding or diving is done within 24 hours of zhan-zhuang
– Struggle phase of breath-hold feels much more enjoyable
– Improved immune system
– Massively decreased mental noise
– Must be done outside for real benefit
– Can’t sleep well if done in evening
– Benefits can take up to 2 months to start showing up

I woul say standing meditation is psychologically easier to perform, because to get the same results with pranayama requires very excruciating cycle times and tremendous concentration.