The Perfect Pushup

I have never been able to do more than 20 push-ups a set,despite having spent several years training for various obstacle course races. Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Go Ruck (to name a few of the bigger ones). My training routines were always high intensity interval workups always involving push-ups of some sort. I was in really good shape needless to say and yet the push-up eluded me still. At the higher numbers I start to focus on the muscles “I think” are needed to achieve the exercise; My back arches, my head tucks under and it begins to seem physically impossible to do more.

Now that I have been doing Tai Chi, I realized that it isn’t a physical limitation that I was running in to but a mental one. This whole time I have been losing focus and the whole body. As the strain comes, my mind goes immediately to the areas that burn, which then takes focus off of the entire rest of the body destroying any form I may have.

There is a concept when practicing that my teacher constantly reminds us of; extending up through the spine. The common description for how it should feel is “The top of your head should feel suspended by a string”. My teacher does not like this description and I tend to agree with him. It implies that the force is “pulling” your spine straight (IE coming from somewhere external), when in fact your spine should be “Extending up and out” from your center.

The imagery I have is that there is a form of energy going up my spine like a spike. It is almost “pushing” up my spine and head until it feels like there is a solid steel beam that my entire spine is being supported by. I’m not sure if this is correct or not, but that is what tends to help me practice. My imagery may change over time :).

This concept is what has helped me destroy my mental push-up limit. I am now up to 30 push-ups per set and I am on my way to going right past that.

The cool thing about the concept is that it doesn’t matter what orientation your body is, is still applies. So when I set up to do push-ups now I go through the following routine;

  1. Get in position (basically the plank position)
  2. Relax in to my Dantian (or center if you prefer)
  3. Visualize my spine extending out and forward horizontal to the ground
    1. I can my spine straighten at this point
  4. Tighten my core
  5. Profit – repeat

As I progress through the set my intention stays relaxed and loosely focused only on the above steps. As the muscles start to burn, my breath deepens but I still hold those concepts. Having those in mind help me, not ignore the burning, but incorporate it in to the exercise almost absorbing it in my body until its just a dim feeling.

This has been working so well for me, that I have started to apply them to pullups (another killer for me). I have increased the amount of pull-ups I can do considerably in only 2 weeks!! They are still quite the challenge for me (only can do 8 ATM). But all progress happens slowly, eventually I will have one more aspect of my mind tamed.

Today’s Practice:

We recorded our 24 form today for personal critiques. I am learning the camera angles allowed inside the practice space and have already come up with some new directions I want to setup to allow for better capture. I will be editing my video here soon, I did the other students first. I will be posting it on here just to document my progress on the form.

  • 1.5 hours Primordial Qigong (Hunyuan Qigong)
  • 45 minutes Silk Reeling
  • 25 Minutes 24 Form

Getting Rid of the static

We have so much static coming at us every day. Static is the stuff that keeps you occupied but doesn’t actually fill any sort of need, the information and energy coming at you every day, every minute of your life these days. So many more ways to advertise to you, to keep you in the loop, to keep you informed with what your friend of a friend had for dinner tonight. All that energy coming at you, the TV, the computer monitors, the phones. “They are overloading your radar dish, making it hard to find the real signal through the noise”,  as my teacher would say.

I have personally started to become acutely aware of this static. I have begun to notice the place it lives inside my head, kind of constantly buzzing there.

“Wonder what Facebook has on it.”

“Oh, I should check instagram.”

“Oh, who can I send a snapchat to.”

Once I started doing standing meditation more, it started to become louder and louder inside my head. It has been getting in the way of my free thought, distracting me from the things I actually want to think about. The more time I spend on a device, or checking out these websites, the farther away my practice seems to get. Its like it starts to consume my every intention until there is nothing left but updates. GOTTA GET THOSE UPDATES!! I started to wonder, all of that thought spent tuning in to those sites, just wasting away on useless things. What if i started to expend that towards the things I love in life?

So I decided to do a test. Last Thursday I turned my phone completely off for the entire day. It only took and hour before I realized I had was fully engulfed in another addiction in my life. Now… As a little background, I have spent most of my adult life battling one addiction or another. Some are big, some are small but all of them have had some negative impact on my life that I have wanted  to stomp out of existence. A lot of them I still battle and more often then not I end up just replacing them with a more positive one. The REALLY bad ones though…they just turn in to something…you know… “less bad” :). Maybe one day I will get in to that a little deeper, but for now….just an brief intro.

Anyway, after the first hour of having my phone off I had tried to check my phone about every five minutes. I knew the phone was off, I knew I would get nothing from it, yet still, I picked it right up and checked it. I had been doing it so long and so regularly, that it had literally become part of my daily habits. Needless to say by the end of the day, I was going a little nuts. I couldn’t figure out what to do with all of that free time and free headspace! So I gave it another day.

Now lets back up a little bit, about 3 weeks or so.

I was in a private lesson with my teacher and as always we were going through the 24, picking it apart one painstaking move at a time. My teacher looks at me and says “You know, you could possibly show promise at this….”

I am Utterly ecstatic with pride at this sentence. So excited that my hard work was noticed….But trying to keep it completely under wraps…

He then says “But you better start getting in a little better shape.” (Or something of the sort. What I heard was “Ok, your fat and lazy now. Do something about it”)

This is a totally valid evaluation of me BTW. I’m not over weight by any means, but I am also not anywhere near top physical condition. Since I started Tai Chi, I stopped doing any other form of exercise. Given that I have been doing it about a year and a half now…. lets just say any definition or bulk I may have had in my arms\chest has been redistributed to my belly. Turbo gut. mmmhmm

So with that in mind, I had started doing random push-ups through the day. Any time it popped in my mind, at work or at home, I would go to the corner and do a set of 20 push-ups. I have been increasing every week for the set number and have now gotten up to 30 a set. Some days I get on or over 200 a day :D….but, anyway I am devolving. Lets get back to the point.

Now that my phone was shutoff I had some extra time to do…literally anything else. So I started to throw in some pull-ups in as well. There happens to be a pull-up bar near my desk at work that makes it really easy for me to jump over and crank out some out. Not only that, but with my phone off, my mind stayed completely clear that day. I didn’t care what was going on in facebook land, any text messages that came in I could get to later, phone calls….who does that anymore?? I was free!! and I was getting in shape to boot!!

It felt absolutely liberating!

So decided to do that everyday now. I shut my phone off during work hours and dont let anything distract me from my work tasks. Not only does it help me during the day and make my day 1000% times less stressful, but when I get home at night I don’t feel like I have been pulled in a million different directions, like I normally am!!

I have come to realize that I only have a limited amount of attention during the day and I now have a drive to fill that attention with the things that give me feeling of true vitality. Tai Chi has become one of the major providers of this feeling.

Allowing myself to be distracted by all the noise has honestly led me to nothing but a stressful incomplete day. This new approach has left me feeling fulfilled each day, I spend the time and energy learning, doing or acting on something that fills me with a vitality I haven’t experienced since after Highschool. When I had no cares in the world, all that was required of me was to work and party.

Now the spare moments I have I am focusing on one of two things; How can I spend this spare moment practicing\learning an element of Tai Chi or, how long has it been since I have done a push-up\pull-up set. The simplicity is the most freeing experience of a lifetime and its something I am actively trying to get more of in my life.

Today’s Practice:

30 minutes standing meditation

1.5 Hours of Dynamic Qigong (Silk Reeling)

1.5 Hours of studying the 24

Dantian Opening

One of the hardest things for me to do is meditate in public. I can’t help but think “Who is watching me,  what do they think. Am I being too weird? Are they Making fun of me? ” I just cant help it. I mean, I do it anyway, but sometimes it does get the better of me and I stop sooner than I would normally. I tell myself I don’t care what people think, but it is a feeling that is pretty deeply ingrained in me. But hey, fake it till you make it right? Maybe one day I wont care.

This week I was rewarded with some bizarre and amazing results during an outside mediation session.

Tuesday morning was the first instance; I was practicing the 24 form and I suddenly felt as if a new muscle had suddenly appeared in my abdomen. Movements were almost expanding or extending from my center,  or my dantian.  I didn’t know what to think of it,  and the second I started to think about it the feeling disappeared. I immediately knew that this was the feeling my teacher has been talking about this whole time.  “Move from the dantian”   he says over and over again. That was what he meant, awaken the dantian and move from it.

I held that idea as just a concept until this week,  just kind of blindly holding it in my head half wondering if it was all bullshit,  but trudging on anyway. Well now I know it’s not.

After two days of dwelling on that feeling,  focusing on only that as I meditated trying to get the feeling back, I gave up. My teacher always tells me not to obsess about those kinds of things.  To listen to them,  but don’t pay any heed because “It will go away soon”.  So finally I conceded to forget it.  Telling myself “That was probably the only time I will feel that. Time to move on to my practice.” With that thought I was able to clear my mind and relax in to meditation. Later that day though,  my Dantian had another surprise for me.

As I was waiting outside for class,  I was meditating on a bench outside the studio. As always my mind was resting on my Dantian, but only just as a subtle awareness.  Not long after my mind settled and I began to relax,  I felt a very very real pop right at my Dantian. It was as if a tire tube had just pop it’s seal and air was instantly rushing out, filling up my body.  My spine extended, inflating up, and my arms started to lift themselves. Resisting the urge to hold the movement back, my arms kept going up until they hit the table in front of me. Then, it was gone.

For the rest of the night, however, my body felt…. Strange. It was as if the energy in my body had a new pathway opened up and it wasn’t quite sure how to use it. My Dantian felt… Not empty… Not full… But open. My body was, and still is,  trying to figure out what to do with this new feeling. Though, as my teacher reminds me,  I am trying to forget about it so it incorporates naturally in to my practice. Nothing but gentle awareness of it and I will see where it goes.

I now know what the energy body is not just an idea to hold in one’s head. It’s as much a part of me as my leg or arm muscles. I look forward to farther discovering and exercising this system that has freshly showed itself to me.

Today’s practice:

20 min meditation (Inside the dental Chair).

– Forgot about an early morning dentist appointment. From now on will be meeting some of my Tai Chi family early Mondays and Fridays to practice.

Day One

I couldn’t think of anything better to title this,  but I suppose it works as good as anything.

I had a revelation the other day. I realized that I want to commit my life to Tai Chi, I suppose that could be considered odd… But I gave up not being odd a long time ago.

Tai Chi,  when most people think of that they think of old people in the park moving really slowly. To be honest, when I thought of it that’s what I immediately went to as well.  Then I decided to do it. Something happened almost immediately. My stress dissolved. It was like all the anxiety and stress from the last several years was a frozen mass ice and Tai chi set a flame thrower to it. It all melted instantly escaping through every energy channel possible out my feet. I was hooked.

It’s been about a year and a half since I have started practicing.  The first six months I did it everyday,  almost religiously. Practiced the 24 move from mostly,  but through in some of the qigong excersizes here and there,  but I was mainly focused on memorizing the form. The next six months were focused on the more subtle aspects of the moves, I started doing a private lesson a month and getting direct coaching from my teacher to correct my particular habits.

All the while I was taking dynamic qigong classes, as well as primordial qigong (which is essentialy cleansing of the energy body and gathering chi). These classes are by far the most beneficial I have noticed. They break down individual moves and are learned through repetition.

Now I am taking one private lesson a week, and have just enrolled in the teaching certificate program through my school. This certificate was offered to me as a kind of a in between step of being a full disciple. I don’t feel like I have earned the right to ask to be a full disciple yet and I don’t want to ask until I feel like I have. These classes are taking up the majority of my free time each week, yet I haven’t considered committing myself to it until recently. Strange one I am, or just slow on the uptake.

My favorite thing about this particular certificate program is that it is qualitative based NOT quantitative. My teacher believes, and I agree, that Tai Chi is a lifelong art. It’s also an art that is purely based on the individual and their practice. You only get what you give in to it. With that in mind there is no time requirement for this certificate but rather you must reach a certain understanding in your practice. Once example is you must “have” your dantian. You must be able to feel it, be aware of it and be able to move from it. The dantian is the center of all movement in Tai Chi. Right now it is just a vague concept to me that is right on the edge of being made up :). I still have many years ahead of me of study clearly.

Anyway, I have lost track of what I was talking about. I am going to document here my path towards making Tai Chi my main focus in life. I am currently working in the game industry and I have tons of student loans that I am still sitting on. There is still a shit ton I need to do and get taken care of before I can start doing it full time. I figured I may as well put it down here just so I can look back and remember where I was and how I felt.


Todays Morning Routine:

  • 45 minutes of a mix of dynamic qigong excersizes
  • 1 time through the 24
  • 20 minutes of Zhang Zhuang meditation

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