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Virtual exercise?

September 23rd, 2009 No comments

As most of us know, imagining that you’re doing an activity (imaging) can help you improve your performance at that activity. Athletes have done this for years, but how about this: what if imaging a strength-training exercise can increase your strength almost as much as actually doing the exercise?

A study has shown that if you do the imaging under circumstances similar to those under which the real exercise would be performed (smelly gym and all), you’d get similar results to those you’d get if you actually performed the exercise.

“The percentage increase in weight lifted was 23.29% in the PETTLEP imagery group, 28.03% in the combination group, and 26.56% in the physical practice group. The traditional imagery group and control group increased by 13.75% and 5.12%, respectively.”

In other words, pumping iron increased strength by 26%, but imaging with this technique increased it by 24%. The PETTLEP imagers first pumped iron while being viedotaped, then did the imaging while sitting at the bicep curl machine and watching the tape, recalling as many bicep-curling sensations as they could. It seems that recalling the physical sensations was very important.

Here’s the study. “PETTLEP” is the name of the imaging technique.

This has terrific potential for rehabilitation, although someone who could not do the exercise (and thus could not be videotaped) would not perform as well.

By the way, this actually ties in somewhat with Yiquan’s imaging techniques as written in J.P. Lau’s Yiquan Beginner’s Guide. Interesting.

Categories: fitness, interdisciplinary, Yiquan Tags:

You thought you knew how to stand? Hah!

April 9th, 2009 No comments

My blog-brother taichiplayer has alerted me to an article in the March 2009 issue of Tai Chi magazine. It gives instructions on standing for Yiquan practice. It’s pretty straightforward, but it posits the idea that many teachers are too easy on their students, teaching them postures that aren’t challenging enough to develop power and improve health. The next time you’re at larger magazine racks, check it out.

Another site for Yiquan fans is J.P. Lau’s site, which contains a lot of good stuff. I particularly like the 305-page Yiquan Beginner’s Guide, which contains a number of concepts we’ve discussed in class, which naturally, provides the kind of connection I like: remote info matches local info. This book was recommended by Xue Sheng on MartialTalk.

Of course, material like this doesn’t substitute for hands-on experience with a live teacher. But you knew that.

Categories: learning materials, Yiquan Tags:

What about Qi?

February 26th, 2009 1 comment

I’ve developed a bit of an aversion to the idea that Qi (ch’i) or Qigong (ch’i kung) is magic. I think that something as old as Qigong, or as natural as Qi, is no more magical than life itself. Now it’s nice to be in awe of life and nature, but I find it more useful to be grateful and respectful.  To me, something real can be magical only as long as it’s a novelty. Yes, childbirth is a miracle, magical, but you might get two different opinions from a first-time pregnant mom-to-be and a mother giving birth to her seventh child.

Also, being in awe of something distances us from it. Along those lines, a friend of mine once referred to specific artists and writers as “gods”. Given that my friend is extremely intelligent, dynamic and creative, I felt that he was selling himself short, and if I recall, I told him so. As long as he thinks of these men as gods, he’ll never be as good as them. However, if he sees that they are just men, possessing talent and perseverance in some measure, he’ll see that their accomplishments are possible, given an adequate mix of talent, perseverance and luck.

If you’ve ever gained new abilities such as those that derive from an increased level of fitness, you’ve found that tasks that might have seemed beyond your reach are now possible, or even trivial. You probably don’t feel like a super-being — things are just easier, as if that ability were always there. Those stairs don’t seem so high. The walk seems shorter.

And Qi is like that. If we think it’s magic, we might never embrace it, and if we do encounter Qi, we might not believe it. If we think it’s a natural part of life, we’re more likely to embrace it and learn to use it. And it will seem quite natural, as if it were always there.

So what do I think Qi is?

I think it’s the thing that drives natural processes, such as blood circulation or muscular movement. We see it by studying those processes, not unlike the way we study wind forces by measuring the movement of air.

(In fact, I’d venture to say that we never measure the forces of the universe, we only measure their effects. Then we calculate the forces.  Physicists, please feel free to comment.)

The Chinese say that the Yi leads the Qi. This means that by concentrating the mind (Yi), we can increase the amount of energy (Qi) in a part of the body. It is the mind that moves the limbs, but also the mind that makes us sick or dizzy. Imagine your greatest fear, and check in with your physical response. Me, I imagine standing on the edge of a great precipice, and my body often reacts the same way whether I’m there or not.

Now … can we send Qi across a room? Does it flow down streets and stagnate in a bathroom with bad Feng Shui? I don’t know. One thing at a time. If, under favorable conditions, I can turn my hands pink by concentrating my mind, I’m happy for now.

Categories: Lok Hup, Tai Chi, Yiquan, Zen-like stuff Tags:

A Special Kind of Pain

February 6th, 2009 No comments

Zhan Zhuang posture 1On Friday nights we play host to Sifu William Chau, who is kind enough to teach us the inner workings of the martial art known as Yiquan (yee-chwan) or Dachengquan (Dah-chung-chwan). It’s a 20th-century art founded by Wang Xiangzhai, of whom Chau Sifu is a second-generation disciple.

An important part of our study is Zhan Zhuang (“jam jong” in Cantonese), which can be translated as “standing like a post”. As the name suggests, we stand motionless, not unlike a post. For most of the classes that I’ve attended, we’ve stood in four poses with our arms in front or at our sides, holding each pose for 15 minutes.

Yes, it’s hard.

At first, you sort of dive into it thinking this can’t be so hard. Pretty soon it’s oh, man, this hurts. Then Sifu comes around and you think oh, good, he’s going to put my arms down, then he just gently adjusts your hands to a new position. Noooooo! Then you start playing mind games to make it seem shorter. I used to count down from 150. Finally , after the last pose, Sifu asks us to place our wrists on our kidneys. Blessed Nirvana! It’s over!

Some people don’t come back. Some get woozy and have to sit down. Big muscular guys often have trouble, on some occasions feeling their strength drain out of them.

So why do we come back?

Part of it is faith. We hear the stories of our fellow students, read up on Yiquan, and we start to believe that there’s something in this, but we just haven’t felt it yet. Speaking for myself, there’s also a certain Yoda-machismo about being able to stand for an hour and outlast the “tough guys”. 

But then you start to feel something. Maybe your hands tingle. Maybe they feel fat. After some more sessions, you figure out how to make it hurt less. You learn which body parts to relax. You find a balanced way to stand. You learn to let your arms hang out there like a lined suit jacket on a contoured hanger, instead of holding them up with your shoulder muscles. After that, maybe your arms tingle, your face tingles, or you get a strange humming feeling if you lightly hold your jaw closed. Or you feel a strange turning motion or vibration not of your doing. I’ve felt all of that. Tonight I felt the turning and vibration, if only for a brief interval. And then, eventually, you relax and feel amazing. 

So what’s going on? 

Well, to begin with, some call this standing meditation. In my opinion, it’s not meditation until you get to a point where this is actually comfortable. Until that  point (and afterwards, actually) it’s physiotherapy. Imagine all the junk we do to our bodies during the day. We sit on one hip, we hunch over, we tighten up our necks and our shoulders, and we even sleep in funny positions. But what if we could stop for an hour, straighten out the kinks, and let our body do what it does best …

… heal itself?

Now of course, you can’t grow back an arm (yet), but you can heal a cut, a sprain, a bruise and all sorts of little indignities. The body isn’t static, it’s quite busy — trying to undo the daily damage we inflict upon it. So here we are in zhan zhuang, using our (slow-twitch stabilizer) muscles, ligaments and tendons to stand in a way that is actually neutral, trying to spread the task of standing to the optimum number of bodily agents, so each of them does as little work as possible. At the same time, we are stretching the parts we normally compress, but in a calm, gentle manner.

It’s not entirely passive, though. Speaking for myself at this stage, I’m also creating a mental inventory of the body, checking to see where I’m holding tension, then releasing that tension. It’s surprising to see how much tension we can release and still keep the pose. Check the neck, the shoulders, the hands, the lower back, the quads, the calves, the stomach … or check whatever zone is calling at that moment. Relax it, hang out for a while, check again … this is one way to avoid boredom in zhan zhuang.

So why do this? Well, it’s well-known in the “internal” martial arts community that standing practice can add a lot of power to the regular skills. It can benefit all martial artists. Maybe it’s the healing, bringing us closer to our uninjured potential. If you believe in Qi (ch’i), zhan zhuang frees up the blockages allowing qi to flow more smoothly. Personally, I’ve found that I can pull all-nighters without losing the rest of the week (I’m almost 49), I haven’t been sick in years, I have a generally higher level of energy compared to ten years ago, and my squash game is really picking up.

And there’s something addictive about the feeling you get when the standing gets easier. Right near the end of one session, I moved my back a particular way, and all of a sudden, it was as if it didn’t exist. It felt cool — all the heat in it dispersed. All the parts of it were as one, no tight upper back, no tight lower back, nothing needed to be relaxed … just one big hollow trunk-thing. Wild. I guess the tension had gone away … 

… until next time.

Categories: Class Notes, Yiquan Tags: