The Eight Brocades: a nifty little exercise

July 26th, 2016 No comments

On a 2007 trip to China, we were introduced to a little exercise called “The Eight Brocades,” “Eight Pieces of Brocade,” or baduanjin. Our instructor was a tall, beautiful dancer and Kung Fu expert whom we nicknamed “Jade.” She was one of those people who could stand on one leg and slowly extend her other leg up until it touched her head. No hands. Geeez.

Baduanjin is a little qigong (Chi Gong, Chi Kung) exercise that can be done whenever you want. It’s meant to be done slowly and with awareness of all your parts’ working together.

Dr. Shin Lin, a clever researcher (and good guy) at University of California Irvine has studied qigong since the sixties. He, and others have said that to be a qigong exercise, a moving exercise requires three elements:

  1. movement (duh)
  2. breathing
  3. intention

I know what you’re saying: “standing practice can’t be qigong, because you don’t move.” Well, zhan zhuang is referred to as standing qigong. Do it for a while, and that will make sense.

Back to the three elements: baduanjin is based on movement, but requires the other two in order to become more than just a gentle calisthenic. We need to synchronize our breathing with our movements, always keeping it deep, but gentle. Check out this little animation to help slow down your breathing.

There’s a standing and sitting baduanjin set, but I, like most people, do a standing set. However, I do it in a slightly different order from that of the set described on Wikipedia. Instead, I do the sections in the order taught to us by Jade:

  1. Hands Hold up the Heavens
    • I keep the arms round, not too close to the chest. I keep them slightly bent at the ends of the motion.
  2. Separate Heaven and Earth
    • I turn palms out relative to the sternum: palms up when above it, palms down when below it.
  3. Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Eagle / Hawk / Vulture
    • Breathe in when the arms come in, out when they go out.
  4. Wise Owl Gazes Backwards or Look Back
    • relax in order to maintain your balance.
    • See if you tend to shift to one side or the other, and gently compensate so you stay balanced.
  5. Sway the Head and Shake the Tail
  6. Two Hands Hold the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist
  7. Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely (or Angrily)
  8. Bouncing on the Toes

But you may ask: “what does this do? What’s the point?” Good question! Qigong practitioners make a lot of specific claims that seem pretty odd to westerners, but because they require some sensitive and complex navigation (well, I think so) I’ll have to tackle them in another post.

Caveat: to me, it’s not a stretching exercise. If you do it as a stretch, you’re doing a stretch, not qigong, in my opinion. By all means, stretch, but do it in addition to a non-stretching qigong version. By “qigong version,” I mean that as we do the exercise, we need to be sensitive to our feeling of physical unity and our physical energy. The energy feeling is pretty subtle, and can be misinterpreted pretty easily. I’ll go into my impressions of it later.

If you look for examples on the web, you’ll find a few different ways of doing the exercise. When I find a video that matches what I do, I’ll link to it. If you do start, pick a method (or order) that seems right to you. However, you should be prepared to change over time as you discover what actions feel best to you. I’ll write about my progress.

Right now, let’s just say that if it’s done slowly, with synched breathing and awareness of the feeling of how the body’s parts integrate, all parts moving and stopping together, the exercise helps me get going and focus in the morning. More to come.


One example of baduanjin. . If the left column were numbered down 1,2,3,4, and the left column were 5,6,7,8, I would follow this diagram in the order 1, 2, 3, 6, 4, 7, 5, 8, just because that’s the way I learned it.

Categories: chi (qi), physical health Tags:

Squash: Eye on the ball or eye on the wall?

July 5th, 2016 No comments

Eye on the ball!

I’ve noticed that a lot of squash players at my level, after we hit a shot, we tend to fix our gaze on the front wall, effectively presenting our lovely backside to our opponent.

Why do we do this? Well, I think that we want to see where the ball hits the front wall so we can react to it in time. We know that the ball has to hit the front wall to stay live: if it misses the front wall, it’s dead, we’ve won the point, and it’s no longer our concern. So staring at the front seems to be a percentage play, no?

Speaking for myself, I’ve thought that if I didn’t stare at the front wall after my shot, but instead watched my shot go back to the opponent (now called the “striker”), I’d have to swing my gaze from the striker to the front wall, and there would be some kind of delay as I oriented my gaze to the front wall.

This is not so.

There are at least two advantages to keeping our eye on the ball, and following it all the time:

  • we know where the ball is, and don’t have to “re-acquire” it. If we fix our gaze on the front wall before the ball is actually there, we do not know where the ball is, and we need to re-orient ourselves to the ball as it enters our front-gazing view. This re-orienting delays our response to the ball.
  • we now have some information on how the striker will hit the ball. We can see the angles of the feet, where the striker is looking, what kind of backswing is being used … all of that. Sure, a good striker can still fool us, but if we’re staring at the wall, the striker can do anything and doesn’t have to camouflage their intent.

So. As the books and coaches say: eye on the ball. Watch the striker.

Now, this counts when you’re the striker as well. Sure, you must watch the ball, but if you can, send an eye over to the opponent. Where are they? Are they committing one way or the other? Where are they not? That information can inform your shot, yes?

Just to put a bit of nuance on this … we want to watch the ball and the other player. I wonder if the balance of what to watch is weighed differently, depending on whether you’re the striker or not?  Say, as the striker, you watch the ball more than the opponent, and when you’re the opponent, you watch the striker more than the ball? Discuss.

Image credit: The Racket Shop
(By the way: friggin’ wear safety glasses! Squash balls fit quite well into eye sockets!)

Categories: squash Tags:

Wow. Four years!

July 5th, 2016 No comments

A friend said that it’s not a good idea to have so much time between log entries, because it would cause me to lose readers.


Yes, I meant to write (heard that before?) but after, oh, a year, I thought that I’d need to come back with a newly-designed theme, new categories, new ideas, new point of view … but all that at once. RnR reboot!

Well, that didn’t really work out, with work, university and all. So, probably in line with the theme of the blog, I’m not going to hold off any longer and wait until I can make a perfect, big-deal reentry into the blogging world. Instead, I’m just going to start writing again, make the changes as I go, and hopefully give you some brand-new insights into psychology, music and obsecure martial arts.

Off we go.


Categories: Admin Tags:

Repeat after me …

August 14th, 2012 No comments

Every now and then, I repeat what I hear on television as I hear it and try to keep up with the speaker. It’s the same kind of thing a UN translator would do, except I do it in the same language as the speaker. It’s kind of fun, and it might also be a good way of keeping that part of my brain working.

Just a thought.

My drug of choice …

August 4th, 2012 1 comment

pu-erh… is Pu-Erh tea. I drink a cup, and I become productive. I’m not antsy or nervous, just calmly productive. I just do what needs to be done.

Sure, it’s gotta be the caffeine, but it must be modulated well-enough to clear the mental fuzz without driving me nuts, and there seems to be no crash or anxiety associated with it. In the evening, I have a cup of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime (Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!) or Chamomile tea, and I’m good. The ups and downs are mild enough to be unnoticed. I don’t do this every day, just when I’m out of whack either way: too up or too down.

I suppose that the more natural the source of the stimulant or relaxant, the less disruptive it may be to the system; and the more human intervention in the substance, such as the addition of chemical additives, the more disruptive the substance. This leads us to something worth pondering: if we ingest a natural substance that is safe to ingest (not a poisonous mushroom, for example), and it has an effect, is the desired effect the restoration of homeostasis?

In other words, if we’re all hyped-up, or if we’re logy, is it healthy to ingest a natural substance that (respectively) calms us down or wakes us up? I believe so, based on the assumption that we are beings of nature and natrual substances can help maintain and restore our natural functioning. But I think that this is necessary: we need to know our bodies well enough to know when we’re out of whack; to know when we’re too wired or too fuzzy. This comes with experience, paying attention, and a knowledge of where our baseline is when we’re healthy. Only then can we make an accurate assessment of when we’re not quite right. If we’re generally in a state of poor health, our knowledge of our baseline is skewed. So we need to get healthy first, then maintain and improve. Refine and Repeat.

(Of course, your mileage may vary, and I’m just Some Guy on the Internet.)

Time for another cuppa.

Categories: East meets West, modern life, nutrition Tags:

Stretching and relaxing

August 2nd, 2012 No comments

I can touch my toes now. With straight legs.

This is a bit of a big deal for me, having had stiff (or short) hamstrings since youth. However, in recent years, I’ve slowly stretched, bit by bit, until I could touch my toes with slightly bent legs. (yes, I know that stretching is the point, not toe-touching) But then I had a revelation: shift my weight slightly to my heels.

Why? I’ve found that I need to stretch with relaxed muscles. If I’m stretching something, it doesn’t make sense to tense it at the same time, so stretching the same stuff I’m using to hold myself up (by tensing) is counterproductive, isn’t it? Specifically, if I had my weight on the balls of my feet, I’d be using my calf muscles to hold me up more than I would if I had my weight towards my heels, so releasing the calf muscles should make them more flexible, or less resistant.

(While doing Zhan Zhuang, I found the role of the thighs and calves in the weight shift. It may be obvious to students of body mechanics, but not to schlubs like me.)

So. When touching my toes, I shift the weight more towards my heels, my calves relax, and the whole superficial back line (SBL) is relaxed just a bit more, and I can get a bit more length out of myself and get a better stretch. When the legs are straight, the entire SBL gets stretched, and not just the back, according to Myers (the author of Anatomy Trains).

More stretching? More stretching.


Categories: fitness Tags:

Falling off the wagon

July 1st, 2012 1 comment

Well, after all my talk, or writing, I’m just like everybody else. Or most people. In the last year, I’ve gained back ten pounds.

I was sitting quite nicely at 162, but now I’m back up to 172. How did it happen? No surprise:
– I went to the gym much less frequently.
– I ate out more.

Basically, that’s it. Because I’ve become busier due to my courses (teaching and taking), I’ve felt that I didn’t have the time or physical/cognitive resources to also go to the gym. No time — got to study. Well, all of us know those people WITH KIDS who make it happen. They have the resources. So suck it up, Steve. As for the eating, I’ve found that the more I eat out, the more I gain weight. Portions are bigger and I tend to eat stuff that makes me feel good. This may be normal or odd, but I’d rather eat a salad at home than at a restaurant … unless it’s a great Cobb salad,, such as the one at Prohibition on Queen. But I digress.

So, let’s see how it goes. We’re going back to the gym for the usual mix of cardio, stretching and weights: nothing new, no P90X, no plyometrics, just running, squash and mostly body-weight exercises. Of course, we’ll still do Zhan Zhuang, since that helps us sense what’s going on inside pretty well. As for the food, no fancy diets, except for this: less bread, brown-bag when at school, and “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. We want this to be sustainable.

The motivator is to study Chen style Tai Chi at the end of July. Sure, we could sign up now and start classes (instant gratification?), but we don’t want to feel we have to stay with a routine because we paid for it — that hasn’t worked in the past. Instead, since we want to do Chen, we’re treating it as a reward for staying with a routine, rather than a motivation to create one.

We’ll let you know.

Categories: fitness, weight loss Tags:

An RnR camera?

May 1st, 2012 2 comments

I like useful cameras. I miss my old Pentax K2 (it was stolen), but I still have my old Contax RTS that replaced it. But it uses film, which is rather inconvenient nowadays, so naturally, I went digital like everybody else. I haven’t gone digital SLR just yet, not wanting to go halfway, having been spoiled by the RTS which was tip-top back in the day, so I’m saving up for something special.

But until then, if I were to recommend a camera, it would be a Canon PowerShot point & shoot. They have a great wide lens, they focus really close, and they are compatible with iPhoto and whatever Windows uses, as far as I’ve seen. I think we’ve had the SD800 for seven years or so, and the SD960 for about half that. Reliable, dependable, compatible.

No, I don’t work for Canon, but in a seminar last week, we used a little Sony camera to capture video, but it wouldn’t transfer files to the mix of Macs and PCs in the group, and it used proprietary cards, which to me, is a sin. Standards! Anyway, my little SD800 saved the day. Done.

I can’t speak for what Canon is offering today, but give them a look. If you find something better, great, but watch out for compatibility issues, which might not be apparent in the camera store.

What does this have to do with RnR? Well, the camera is reliable, and if I use technology, I want it to be reliable, since technology should serve us, not the other way around. That’s part of the RnR way.

Here’s a link to the SD960 on canon’s site, if you’re interested.
Here are a bunch of reviews of the 960.

(By the way, I’m easing up on the punny headlines. Too much pressure to come up with something clever.)

Categories: technology Tags:

Promises, Promises

May 1st, 2012 No comments

It’s been a long time. How are ya? I’m good.

But enough chit-chat. I’ve promised changes, but life got in the way. Homework, teaching, making a living kept me away, and my focus has broadened beyond the martial arts and health. To complicate things, I felt I needed some kind of new manifesto before posting again. (I must have written that before …)

… but who cares? Why wait for the re-branding to post? That wouldn’t be very RnR, would it?

So. Back to posting. The re-branding will come when it comes.

Categories: Admin Tags:

Diet Drink Sweet Tooth

March 5th, 2012 No comments

The Globe has just published another article on artificial sweeteners.

I find it dismaying how many people would defend an inanimate substance, such as white/brown sugar, chocolate or artificial sweeteners, when none of those are necessary for our health. Similarly, I find it dismaying when I see my diabetic friend guzzling diet pop. Why not water?

Sure, sweets taste good, and eating sweets make us feel good when we’re eating them. Afterward? Maybe not. But every now and then … sure. I’m not going to get pissy about a decent lemon tart every now and then.

But the real nastiness is in sugary drinks, which have become the drink of choice for post-breakfast drinks for many, no? I used to drink them all the time: fruit juice, pop (soda) and iced tea. Water was something I only had when there was no other option, or if I was really hot. It seems strange now — my normal drink, my regular ingested fluid was basically sugar water. It wasn’t a treat, it was a staple.

So. Diet drinks are for those people who want sugary drinks as a staple, but don’t want the sugar. Now if they drank water regularly as a staple, would they drink diet drinks as a treat? Now that would be a cure for the diet-drink sweet tooth …

… because really, diet drinks taste like crap once you really taste them. And after that, what’s left?

Categories: a little clarity, nutrition, rants Tags: