An aspect of fangsong.

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Roland Tepp
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An aspect of fangsong.

Post by Roland Tepp » Sun Jan 28, 2007 4:21 pm

I was talking with Linda the other day about some aspects of fangsong, inspired by the discussion in the thread zhanzhuang and nausea and Linda felt thet this discussion helped her a lot. So she (and prety much everybody else on that thread) asked me to post that on the forum so that everyone might benefit from it.

So, there it is - My thoughts on some aspects of fangsong:
Everybody who has ever done zhangzhuang feels pain.

So, if your back is cramping up after 10 minutes of zhangzhuang and your shoulders are aching (which is how it usually is), what should you do?

Drop your shoulders... And let go of the tension.

Easy to say, but often seems quite impossible to achieve.

I bet most of you already heard Laoshi telling you that many times and more... Life would be less painful if you paid better attention to our teacher ;)

I must say - my first times to do zhangzhuang by myself ended in about 5 minutes with my shoulders so sore I really didn't feel like continuing with form and solo practices. That was a whole lot of time ago though and I can now easily stand 15 minutes without any difficulty at all and 20..30 minutes, although not easiest thing in the world, are quite affordable result (I really should be practicing more, I know).

There is a trick in "letting go" of the tension that I only realized quite recently - we do it all the time. We just keep thinking of it as conscious movement and thus rule it out from fangsong.

Often I used to picture fangsong as something that just had to happen one day. Something, that when I wait patiently enough, just takes over and turns everything right... Well, actually, fangsong is much much simpler than that and something we use in our everyday life more often than we suspect...

An example of fangsong in your everyday life.
When you pick up something, say a cup of tea, you are using muscles of your hand to hold up that cup, so this is not very relaxed - depending on how hot is the tea and how big is the cup, you will most likely want to relax and you put down the cup.

Now when you put that cup of tea down, you are doing it by letting go the tension in the muscles that you used to hold up the cup.

You think of it as "moving your hand" or "putting down the cup".
And you are absolutely right.

While you are holding the cup, you are not expecting gravity to take over the control and pull down your cup of tea. (In case that happens, you'll usually end up with wet carpet, broken china and mild burns on your thighs - the kind of things you usually are trying to avoid)

So you are actually working against the gravity. So as long as you're holding up the cup it will never fall down. Same goes for your elbows while you are standing in zhangzhuang.

You need to stop thinking of fangsong as something magical that "just happens" (I know I did) - something the gravity has to do for you and start thinking of it as of things you need to adjust in your body structure.

As you "move" your hand to put down a cup of tea, you also need to "move" your elbow in a more favorable position.

That won't get rid of all the pain though - the pain just gets more focused around single points rather than whole body parts... And you'll find there will be less pain as well as you are now not working against yourself as much, so - 30 minutes .. is still good goal to achieve. but now it is much easier ;)
Roland

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Post by Linda Heenan » Sun Jan 28, 2007 10:40 pm

It seems very simple, but it did work for me. Also, the bit about using the mind to release tension, was very helpful. Yesterday, while working on a new piece of a form, I noticed that my elbow was sticking out during a push forward. This comes to my attention frequently, since Laoshi pointed it out a lot in our last seminar a couple of weeks ago. I had a really good excuse for him at the time :wink: which I won't write here ....

Anyway, during the form practise, I noticed that dropping a tense shoulder in the same way I was doing in zhan zhuang, made the elbow fall into position, the wrist naturally turn, so the hand wasn't forcing at an unnatural angle, and the push forward come up through the legs, waist, and finally into the hand. The difference between tense pushes that come from the arm, and correct ones that flow through the whole body, is another result of getting body structure correct, and developing fangsong in zhan zhuang. If the tension is still causing an excessive amount of pain, and resulting in stiff, sore back and shoulders during zhan zhuang, it is worth persevering to find the way through and develop better ways to release that tension.

All aspects of taijiquan build on one another. I expect that getting it right in zhan zhuang and form must result in better execution of strikes as well.

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Post by ynze » Fri Feb 09, 2007 1:58 am

I would like to thank Roland for his thoughts on fangsong.
I do my ZhanZhuang according to Master Lam Kam Chuen. The standing was never the issue, but after 5 minutes with my arms in the air I began to ache and ache and ...... After 10 minutes I had to lower my arms.
Now I can stand for 15 minutes holding my arms up and it hardly hurts. Next week I will try and stand for 20 minutes.
I tried everything like imagining balloons under my arms, arm pits etc but alas nothing worked.
Your article showed me the way. It has nothing to do with holding up my arms. Once they are there it's all about not holding up my arms but just leaving them there. Your cup of tea turns out to be my cup of tea too.
Now when I start to move again it feels great.:D Thanx!!

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Post by Juan Botero » Mon Feb 19, 2007 11:48 am

Roland wrote:
Often I used to picture fangsong as something that just had to happen one day. Something, that when I wait patiently enough, just takes over and turns everything right... Well, actually, fangsong is much much simpler than that and something we use in our everyday life more often than we suspect...

I read your comment a few times and started thinking that letting go of fear may be the same. Like letting go of the cup of tea in the table, just put fear aside and keep going without it... At least I had never tought about it that way before... Thanks.

Juan

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Post by Roland Tepp » Wed Feb 21, 2007 4:26 am

Juan Botero wrote:I read your comment a few times and started thinking that letting go of fear may be the same. Like letting go of the cup of tea in the table, just put fear aside and keep going without it... At least I had never tought about it that way before... Thanks.

Juan
I've never actually thought about that aspect of fangsong, but as you point out - fear is yet another tension that we need to let go of. But now instead of the physical tension, we need to set aside something in our mind, that is holding us back on or way to greater freedom, that fangsong is..

And this is not only fear that an be set aside this way. Same goes for pride, arrogance, greed, vanity and all other emotions that cause mental blocking or resistance of any kind...

The tricky part becomes seeing those things as they start to build up inside and impartially deciding to "let go" of those emotions as unnecessary tension...
Roland

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Post by detective » Tue Jul 24, 2007 3:21 am

I also have some thoughts about tihis issue. The book "There are no secrets" includes chapter about different types of massages. Specially good are massages for feet, kidneys and fingers. They help to move qi and increase sensitivity of body. When I first tried them, I couldn`t belive it works so well and so quickly. So, before standing or doing some other exercises, perform these massages and you feel great difference.
Also, people who have studied neigong, know "basic exercises". These have similar effect .
About massaging feet, it is understandable that it brings mind intent down to feet. But massaging fingers gives good and connected feeling to whole body and this is really mystic.

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re

Post by Tashi James » Tue Jul 24, 2007 6:49 pm

qt>>>ood and connected feeling to whole body and this is really mystic.

It is my feeling that while the efficacy of massage holds true, we should not mystify. What are natural physiological responses. It is more the case that we have possibly relied on being told by "Doctors" what is wrong with us. Carried to the point where we are are no longer connected to our own body enough to understand it. Let alone our mind or in the broader context nature itself.

with much kindness,
tashi
Last edited by Tashi James on Wed Jun 04, 2008 6:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by detective » Wed Jul 25, 2007 1:21 am

What I mean by "mystic" is that usually it is said that we should focus on our root, feet, waist etc. and not hands.

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Post by Dan Pasek » Fri Aug 03, 2007 12:00 pm

I am somewhat reluctant to post my ideas on this topic because I am not a physiologist and I essentially put the following together on my own rather that hearing them from an authoritative source, both of which may lead to inaccuracies. But I think that this topic is important for internal style martial artists, and perhaps my post could lead to further discussions and clarifications.

Zhanzhuang is a training exercise whose purpose is not simply to teach you to stand still longer, but uses the length of time that you can stand both as an indicator of development and a method of training proper muscle usage for the internal martial arts.

Since the mental aspects of standing zhanzhuang are similar to sitting meditation and since there are numerous books on this subject, let me instead focus on the physical aspects of standing zhanzhuang. Here is how I understand it. Holding a standing posture over time will fatigue the fast twitch muscles quicker than the slow twitch muscles. This is desirable because we want the slow muscles to be the ones responsible for holding the body shape so that more of the fast muscles can be relaxed so that they can be used more maximally (more efficiently) for movement (power generation as in explosive fajin movements; or indeed any movement, including slow but powerful ones). It is desirable when holding a zhanzhuang posture to fatigue the fast muscles in order to train the slow muscles to do this work instead. The fast muscles are forced to relax due to fatigue! Thus practice will automatically lead to improvements as long as the postures are held past this fast muscle fatiguing point, although I agree with the earlier posts that anything that helps the fast muscles to relax would be beneficial and speed and enhance this training. The more the fast muscles can be relaxed, the greater the number of fibers that can be used in a contraction in generating force and power during movement.

The goal, though, is not just to hold a posture for extended periods of time, but to transfer this muscle training into everything else that we do while moving. We want to develop ‘wiry’ efficiently trained strength. Some teachers advocate that one should occasionally practice the form by stopping for several minutes in postures before continuing to the next posture, in order to further examine this type of muscle training (rather than only using the ‘universal post’ or similar postures to do this training). Any posture from the form could be used for zhanzhuang if desired. Just maintain the postural principles that you have been taught for your form while holding the posture stationary.

Does the above presentation match with your experiences, understanding, and teaching?

A previous thread had discussed the position of the elbow during zhanzhuang. Since I believe that any form posture can be used for zhanzhuang, this complicates any simple ‘like this’ type of answer to that question. Different teachers even teach different ‘universal post’ type postures, e.g. with the hands at about forehead, shoulder, or abdominal levels; with the palms facing inwards, or facing downwards. Perhaps I could provide an underlying principle that may help to clarify this. The elbow, being the central joint of the arm, is important in linking the power at the point of application in the hands to the center of the body (and continuing down to the feet). The elbows should thus feel like they are connecting the arc of the arms to the body mass (more specifically the dantien and mingmen). Excessively raised elbows are fairly easy to feel being disconnected since the connection point of the arms are at the shoulder. But one should also not excessively lower the elbows such that they point too much towards the ground. There is a middle place that hopefully can be felt by a practitioner. This elbow connection is facilitated by relaxing/sinking the shoulders (or more specifically, the ‘shoulder well’ acupuncture points).

Dan

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Post by Roland Tepp » Fri Aug 03, 2007 2:57 pm

As I don't know almost anything about slow or fast muscles I can not comment on this view but offer my humble opinion. This talk about using zhangzuang to fatigue your muscles sounds to me somewhat misguided - tiring your muscles means using them and using your muscles can not be called fangsong. Even if the fatigue comes, then all you've achieved is increasing your stamina and next time you'll try this again you'll start all over again all muscles tense and working.

From what I know, the meaning of fangsong is translated literally to "letting go of the muscular tension". Instead of trying to tiring your muscles, you should strive to limit the use of muscle to bare necessary minimum. Just enough to keep the position and no more.

As you so rightly noted - the whole practice of taiji must be filled with this - not only zhangzhuang. If you have fangsong, you can stop your form at any moment and still feel no tension.

As to dropping the elbows - this was just to illustrate the point (and offer a medicine to one most common beginner mistakes), which is to show that "letting go" of the tension is and should be just as deliberate motion as putting down the cup of tea.
Roland

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Post by TCosta » Fri Aug 03, 2007 5:00 pm

I am very interested in hearing what Laoshi's experience tells us. I have heard of this distinction in musculature, before, and in zhan zhuang something must hold us up. Is alignment a big part of it, yes. Is not using "li" a big part of it, yes. But while our legs are bent, something holds us up. Absolutely no type of musculature action, in our legs, would leave us "collapsed", I feel, like when we don't respect the round integrity of our peng.

It seems to me that there are two verbal descriptions trying to explain the same function. In classic taiji verbage, we say that "we use strength that comes from the ligaments and sinews". The other explanation we are presented with talks about "fast (phasic) versus slow (postural) muscle". I think this is the first place I read about this: http://www.yiquan.org.uk/art-zz.html

I would be exceedingly interested in either Laoshi's or additional senior members' takes on this. No disrespect intended to you, Roland, and I very much like your analogy of putting the cup down.

-Trevor
Last edited by TCosta on Wed Aug 08, 2007 4:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by detective » Sat Aug 04, 2007 1:21 pm

My humble opinion is that body can not stand up or move without using muscles. But the keypoint is h o w to use them. So, lifting big weights by using hand muscles certainly does not help to develop fajing.
But we know that forms contain low postures. Also, at least one version of excercise "kick and stretch" includes sinking very low on one leg. This certainly gives muscular power to our legs.
While we do it, we improve our strcture, strenght, balance and qi on same time. And why to practise 30 or 50 kicks, when power is not needed?
I would say that taiji gives very specific type of strenght and ability to use our body.
Roland mentioned "necessary minimum". Standing in fixed position teaches how to use minimal force to keep posture. Some other exercises develop power. Both types are needed, but standning is more complicated and therefore it is aways more discussed.

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Post by Dan Pasek » Wed Aug 08, 2007 2:58 pm

Trevor,

Thanks for the link. That explanation seems much more authoritative and includes details that I was not aware of.

I am not knowledgeable enough to be able to speculate about the contributions of tendons, ligaments, fascia, etc. Too bad the link did not address these physiological aspects of zhanzhuang. Also not addressed is the concept of endurance/stamina (see below).

Roland,

Am I to conclude that you have not been directed to stand in zhanzhuang beyond the point that your muscles begin to fatigue, shake, or tremble? If so, then your instruction and training has been different than mine. Although I sometimes have been instructed in standing for shorter lengths of time, when this training was being emphasized I was typically instructed to stand longer, beyond the point of muscle fatigue. The link that Trevor provided does indicate, however, that the author understands that holding the posture beyond the point of fatigue is detrimental to the mental aspects of the training. I don’t know what is correct. How are other individuals on this forum taught to stand – to stop before fatiguing the muscles, or to stand longer than the onset of fatigue?

I am not knowledgeable enough to know what is involved in endurance/stamina. I doubt that endurance/stamina alters the rate at which lactic acid builds up in a tense muscle, and I doubt that one could train to remove that lactic acid buildup much quicker (though better blood circulation could possibly help?). I also doubt that it is a matter of increasing the muscle mass (number of muscle fibers). So, from my understanding, I do not see how someone increases their endurance/stamina by holding muscles tense longer. I would think that an increase in endurance/stamina would be related to releasing unneeded tension so that the muscles do not fatigue as quickly (i.e. relaxing muscles or fangsong).

As to the elbows, I was not referring to this thread where you mentioned the cup of tea…, but to the following thread: viewtopic.php?t=475.

Dan

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Post by Roland Tepp » Thu Aug 09, 2007 12:46 am

Dan Pasek wrote:Am I to conclude that you have not been directed to stand in zhanzhuang beyond the point that your muscles begin to fatigue, shake, or tremble?
Oh yes, I have, although it has never been for the sake of wearing down my muscles. In fact, we've been let to understand, that even in the situation where you are tense and tired and arms are pulling at you with a leaden weight filling your shoulders and back with pain, all you need to concentrate on is on letting go of these tensions.

In fact - since I understood this, the fatigue is just not coming. Not that fast at least. And now when it is coming, the tension and the pain has moved to new places. This means I have to work now on those groups of muscles, learning to let go of the extraneous tension there. Step after step, until I can let go of all the unneeded tension.

The focus of the zhangzhuang has never been explained for me as a way to strain my muscles beyond the point of fatigue. I can not see any use to this, as muscles worn out till they can not hold on no more can not move either. With no kind of speed - fast or slow...

I have always been taught that however stressful the situation, however hard and difficult it is, all I need to concentrate on, is fangsong. This applies to every situation, not only zhangzhuang. It is easy to have fangsong, when walking in park on a nice warm day, with not a trouble on your mind. Try letting go of your stress, when you are late on delivery and being shouted at by your boss. Or facing a mugger at a knifepoint. Or standing your arms outstretched, feeling every muscle in your body tense as a string on a harp. Just let go of all the stress and tension, is the way to go, not to wait and suffer until something snaps and you can't take it no longer...
Roland

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Post by Dan Pasek » Thu Aug 09, 2007 9:16 am

OK Roland, this is very similar to how I was taught. The sensations of fatigue or pain in the muscles is an indication that those muscles are being used improperly for what we desire, and the muscles that continue holding up the posture (without pain or fatigue) when we focus on relaxing those muscles that are fatiguing are what we are trying to train. I agree that the muscles feeling fatigue and pain should be the focus for relaxation and fangsong.

Dan

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