Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Art of Focus (11): Centering Oneself

/// This post has been updated on 11.18.2015 at 11:18am.

One cannot learn or perform anything strategic if he or she is not consciously centered to the present moment. Any acts of assessing, positioning or influencing would be a waste of time and a waste of effect.  

There are those who believed that they can think their way or read their way to a state of centering or a state of enlightenment. They do not have an idea what they are talking about in reference to not mindfully understanding the singularity of the situation. Some claimed that it is a preferential situation where different strokes are for different folks.   

However, there is a psychological deficiency to the neophyte's perspective.  Reflect on your past strategic experience. That should tell you whether it is effective for you.

By spending some time assessing the outside world. he or she would realized that this act of grinding it out in a high stake, high reward realm does not work especially in a "time and resources-finite" situation.

Psychologically, the utilization of a checklist of quotes and operational steps to stay focused, might only help them for a short timeline.  But gaining the feeling of staying focused through the practice of principles is the challenge for many competitors.

Some people centering themselves through food, drinks, yoga or a prayer. Others do it through sports or internal martial arts (IMA).

The Internal Martial Art Solution
Feeling relax.  Feeling  grounded.  Feeling center.  Feeling calm.  Feeling whole. Practicing those principles simulataneously usually enables one to become mindfully steady and ready for anything. 

In our cases, most of us "center" ourselves by practicing those five principles through our Yi Quan exercises and some variation of the various Taijiquan systems or other internal martial art systems.

Click here of an item written by Rick Matz and his Cook Ding's Kitchen associates on the practice of Yi Quan.  

Yi Quan: Use your intent not your physical strength.
The Positives of YiQuan
 YiQuan teaches the practitioner to relax regardless of the surroundings. As you become more relaxed, you accrue many common-sense health benefits. Nothing needs to be more complex than that.

The first thing you might notice is that you sleep better. When you sleep well, you feel better, are more alert, your body works better, you have more energy, and so on. You become more sensitive about what your body feels: the effects of what you eat and drink and your environment. As you relax, you have less of a need to eat to relieve stress, for example, and other nervous compulsions seem to drop away.

You create 'space' around you. In this space, the stresses of life become somewhat diffused, so you have less stress and can look at things more objectively. You become less worried about time. What is considered important becomes more refined. You will find it easier to drop things that don't add something positive to your life.

You'll find that your reaction time becomes quicker. With the quicker reaction time and the psychological space, you can better respond to what happens around you, rather than just reacting.

A result of all of this is that you become … more relaxed and so set up a cycle of positive feedback, improving your physical and mental health.

YiQuan practice doesn't require a special space, such as a training mat or special equipment. You can practice wherever you are. While partner practice is of huge benefit, you'll spend most of your time training on your own so you don't have to depend on the availability of someone else.

YiQuan training falls into one of the following seven categories (with the first three discussed later in greater detail):
  • Standing like a stake (zhan zhuang)
  • Gathering strength (mo jin)
  • Testing strength (shi li)
  • Walking exercise (mocabu)
  • Push hands (tui shou)
  • Issuing force (fa jin)
  • Combat (san shou)
The foundational root of YiQuan training can be found in its mother art, XingYiQuan, and in the other internal martial arts, BaGuaZhang and TaijiQuan. Like these other martial arts, YiQuan puts a premium on relaxation and connected, whole-body movement.

Unlike the other internal martial art systems, YiQuan does not rely on the use of the Qi theory as a basis for teaching; but in no way does it contradict that theory.

Zhan Zhuang, The Basic Exercise (The Objective of Developing Mindfulness)
The first fundamental YiQuan training exercise is stake standing or "zhan zhuang." The principal focus of this practice is learning how to relax to promote both good health and martial ability. After a good understanding of "relax" is reached, then you can work with visualizations. Learning "how to relax" is the common first step in all internal martial arts. Once this level of relaxation has been reached, the next step is to proceed toward advanced exercises.

During this standing practice, wherever tension is felt, just let it go. It'll probably come right back in a microsecond, but that's okay. The tension will be noticed and you will counter by just releasing it. Let it go again and again. Eventually that tension will subside and you'll notice tension somewhere else. Repeat the process. As long as you are alive, it will never end.

The more you train and learn to relax, the more sensitive you'll become to noticing tension. You'll find that you notice how poorly other people are standing. They are reflections of you, past and present. Pay attention and let the tension go throughout the day. Constantly relax and let go.

As you progress, you will be able to feel any specific tension in you body with finer resolution. You will be able to identify individual muscles. The more relaxed you become, the more you can feel and become more relaxed. It's positive feedback. Relaxing the tension is similar to that of the action of peeling the layers of an onion.

The interesting thing about the process of concentrating on coming relaxed is that once you get into a very relaxed state, your structure becomes very sound. It must be sound in order you to be relaxed.  When you are truly relaxed, you'll feel as though you were expanding in all directions.

Being relaxed, balanced, and so on, isn't some fixed point. It's a dynamic point that's always moving. When you stand, you're basically physically still, but because this point is always moving around, you are intent with it and you always have the possibility of movement. You could support a mountain, but if a fly landed on you, you'd be in instant motion. You have the potential to be still or move.

How you train is a strategy. Think about what you are doing, how you are approaching it, and why. If you are not getting results, you are doing something wrong. Back up and examine your methods; then try again.

As mentioned previously, the basic purpose of standing was to learn to relax. That is the gateway to learning how to use the visualizations.

YiQuan (YQ) uses vivid imagery to train the body to respond to the mind's intention. Once the novice practitioners have learned how to relax, they will begin to focus on specific visualizations. With each incremental sequence of specific visualization, the muscles of the body will begin to respond in the development of a coordinated frame of whole-body strength.

The essential points of this stake exercise are to focus attention, relax the body, and breathe naturally.

Mo Jin, Gathering Strength
The next level of stance and visualization practice is called Gathering Strength or "mo jin."

Where previously the student used very basic stances and visualizations, during mo jin, a fighting stance is used and the imagery has to do with manipulating heavy objects at a distance. The purpose is to train the mind to project the intent away from the body.

Shi Li, Testing Strength
During the practice of both zhan zhuang and mo jin, the student remained motionless or very nearly still. Through the Shi Li exercises the student learns to move while keeping the characteristics learned during the practice of zhan zhuang and mo jin—the collective practice of whole-body movement using visualizations of "overcoming heavy springs" or "strong currents."

The student pushes forward and pulls back against them. The goal is to have coordinated movement with no breaks or gaps. At each instant, if stopped, the position would be balanced, centered, and relaxed.

"Producing a feeling with a fixed method
Giving up the method after getting the feeling
Letting the feeling follow into everything
Personal feeling leads to complete awareness"   —   Han Jing Yu

Nothing in YiQuan training is done without a reason. YiQuan is meant to be pursued on a "scientific basis." Practice, understand what you are practicing and why. Look at your results. If you aren't getting the results you should be getting, examine what you are doing, your expectations, why you are doing it, and make adjustments.

There is an unity point in YiQuan training. Once your practice has matured, whenever you practice any part of YiQuan, you are practicing all of it. Like a hologram, each part of YiQuan carries the image of the whole.

During the practice of any YiQuan exercise, the four words that any serious YiQuan practitioner must remember are:  Song Huo Yuan Zhang. 

Song means Relaxation, Huo means Flexibility in movement, Yuan means Circle, and Zhang means Whole Body. 

This set of words encompasses the principles that define all of the exercises in YiQuan. Any move that is executed must have these four particulars to be correct.  Other YiQuan principles will be elaborated in future articles.

My previous YiQuan mentor used to tell me that " … Daoism is a pragmatic way of looking at the world, but YiQuan is a pragmatic way of training one's own being to be internal."

A rule of thumb is that 50% of your time should be spent on the basic standing practice, known as zhan zhuang, and the other 50% on everything else. 

When in doubt, err on the side of spending a little more time in zhan zhuang. Standing for relatively lengthy periods regularly is helpful. If you only have a little time, invest it in zhan zhuang for most of your training.

The use of visualizations is the signature of Yiquan training. With the visualizations, you can practice YiQuan virtually anytime, anywhere.

An example of eight different YiQuan Health-Enhancing postures performed by Yi Quan master HanXingYuen.

Click here for a better copy.

More Points
The emphasis of real internal martial arts is the attributes of centering, relaxing, sinking, and complete body alignment. Details on those attributes will covered in future articles. After each YiQuan exercise, the practitioner becomes more relaxed.

The focus of YiQuan is about releasing tension through the practice of proper internal principles and visualization.  It is a good starting point for those who study other internal marital arts training.  Currently, much of the internal martial arts teaching does not focus on the practice of relaxation through "still" posturing.  YiQuan is a technical return to that necessity.

From the constant practice of "Never stop relaxing", my physical balance got better. My concentration was enhanced.  My health improved dramatically.  If there were other better reasons to practice YiQuan and other internal marital arts, I do not know.

My previous YiQuan mentor also used to remind me, "…Wherever you are at. … Whatever you are doing, … always relax. …"

Questions and Answers
Sometimes people asked me the following questions:
  • What do I do after learning YiQuan exercises?
  • How do I keep up with my training?
Many of us are in the business where we spend much of our time on our feet. In most cases, we do not spend enough time practicing our YiQuan exercises.

After some research, we were able to continue our training of YiQuan through the use of standing tables.

Regardless of the work, we are almost always standing while practicing the YiQuan principles of Song Huo Yuan Zhang.
  • Song means relaxation
  • Huo means flexibility in movement
  • Yuan means circle
  • Zhang means whole body
This set of words encompasses the principles that define all of the exercises in YiQuan. Any move that is executed must have these four principles to be correct.

Fundamental Practice
Stand still.  Center yourself to the ground by concentrating all of your weight to the ground.. Connect the body to the ground. Focus your attention to the ground. Relax by dropping your shoulders and your wrists.  Choose a posture.  Be still for a minimum of 30 minutes.  Focus on the action of slowing down your breathing, and stabilizing your balance while centering your body rhythm to a zero state. Let your swallowed breath ripple down to your heels and beyond. 

Inhale by stimulating the quiet action of swallowing. Then exhale by stimulating the action of spitting. Sink your weight to the ground. This will physically calm you down.  Slow and deep inhale and slower and shallow exhale is another practice principle. (The phrasing sounds better in Mandarin Chinese.)  The process of feeling of each and every inch of your body begins.

After awhile, you might become aware of the following five meta-physical states in your standing practice:

  • the relaxation state; 
  • the 'connective' grounded state;
  • the center state;
  • the calm state; and 
  • the whole state. 
The practice of the mentioned steps usually enable one to be focused on that one task while being mindfully ready for anything around you.   Unlike what the other "mind over matter"gurus have espoused to you, we can guarantee that Yi Quan will not resolve all of your spiritual conflicts.

There are more detailed steps, specific drills and unique variations off this basic set of steps.  We will dwell deeply on this specific topic in our future posts.

If those eight postures do not work for you, start with the next picture.  It is a simple posture of standing while positioning both hands downward.  Study the visual specifics carefully.

Sun Lu Tang's Wuji Posture  

# The Standing Table Practice
(This material has been updated.)

Mission Desk from Standupdesk.com
Regardless of the range of space in your cubicle, use a proper elevated table with a cleared desktop as a "centerpoint" for standing, strategizing, planning, producing and resting. 

Start by  fasting for a minimum of six hours.  Log off from your desktop unit and your mobile phone.  Wear a solid color, wool baseball cap or a hooded sweatshirt to keep the head warm and/or a headset to insure that there is no noise.  De-activate any electronic devices. Turn off any white noise.  Check  the temperature in that room is between 68* and 72* degrees.

Take a long sip of "room temperature" water.  If you really need the feel of space, either position the table many feet away from you.

Another Famous Follower of The Standing Table Practice .

You can also choose one of the following eight different YiQuan health-enhancing postures performed by YiQuan master Han Xing Yuen. (Look at the previous set of pictures.)
This Yiquan posture works those need to de-stressing themselves. 
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When standing, we felt that we were able to quickly devise plans, becoming more innovative and taking more initiative than our professional counterparts.

Standing up while working has improved our health and productivity. From our personal experience, it's true. Before our practice of standing, each one of us used to suffer lower back pain. Since our practice, there has been immediate relief to our lower backs.

Some of our ailing associates learned some of the YiQuan postures and tried using the standing tables exercise and now no longer suffer from backaches, leg cramps, and poor digestion. They also reported a dramatic increase in their productivity. There is also less fatigue at the end of the day as a result of improved circulation and exercise.

The Compass Principles of Centering
  1. The quality of your standing is proportional to the quality of focus.
  2. The quality of your focus is proportional to the quality of assessing, positioning and influencing.
  3. One's ability to assess a situation has nothing to do with one's skill to position and influence.
  4. It is important to be moderately rested and hydrated before proceeding to the practice of Centering 
  5. Skills and strategies are irrelevant if one cannot stay focused to the current objective.  
  6. When in doubt, look at rule #1.
Another Macro Practice Pointers
Start by being slow in your practice.  After awhile, the practice of the steps will become automatic.  Slow is smooth  Smooth become fast.   Fast is good.   Your practice will slowly evolve to a state of quiet and quick.

Beside the practice of the YiQuan postures, we also recommend the standing postures from Taiji, Bagua Zhang, and Xing YiQuan.

The great Renaissance man Zheng Manqing (aka Cheng Man Ching) (one of the greatest Yang Taiji players was the master of the "Five Excellences" of painting, poetry, calligraphy, medicine, and martial arts) performed most of his drawings while standing.

Other users of the standing tables were: Mozart, Hemingway and Churchill.  Of course, none of them have ever studied internal martial arts.

As players of YiQuan and other internal martial arts, we have always believed in the importance of standing. To most beginners, it is quite boring. Some of our practice time is spent just standing in front of a table working.

If you want to be productive in your work, we recommended the combination of practicing YiQuan standing exercises while using stand-up desks. It will increase and improve your health and productivity. Our personal experience supports that point.

From our constant practice of "never stop relaxing," our physical balance, concentration, and health improved. Many internal martial arts instructors that we have met, constantly advise the following: "Wherever you are at, whatever you do, always relax."   

The other advice is, “When your attention goes, the energy flows.”

Some experienced YQ players preferred the advice of always being in the metaphysical state of relax, ground, center,  calm and whole.  Attaining it on a 24/7 basis is the challenge. Do you have the time and the patience to achieve this level?

Hint: There is a subtle positive to this practice.  Those who properly do it consistently, usually understand the full benefit of being well-centered. 

  • yiquan.chinamartialarts.net/
  • www.yiquan.com  Popular sources for YiQuan articles, history, links, etc.
  • The Way of Energy, Lam Kam Chuen
  • The Way of Power, Lam Kam Chuen

Other Favorite Internal Martial Arts (IMA) Websites
English translation on the various IMA training pointers and notes can be found at Smiling Tiger.net.

Videos of YiQuan exercises, Taiji Quan, BaguaZhang, Xing YiQuan, and other Chinese martial art systems can be found at ChinafromInside.com and Plum Publications.

Minor Jottings
We are not martial artists.   Those who are interested in this topic, can find more tangible information at Cook Ding's Kitchen.   Remember that one can only learn or perform anything strategic if he or she is consciously centered to that present moment.  Therefore, the act of assessing, positioning or influencing, is quite possible.

Rick Matz is a practitioner of YiQuan and other forms of internal martial arts systems. He runs the Cook Ding's Kitchen.

This item  was originally published at Jade Dragon  (Part #1  and Part # 2 )  and was conceptually updated for this blog.

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