Fit Is Not Healthy: A Shaolin Monk’s Guide To Exceptional Wellness — shifuyanlei

A great article about a balanced approach to fitness. I have always has a similar feeling to my fitness, trying to keep a balance of all the aspects related to health as opposed to heavily focusing on a single element of it.

Brought to you by a Shaolin Monk 🙂

In the age of social media, many people train for a body they perceive looks attractive to other people. When I was training at the Shaolin Temple, we didn’t even have a camera. Nothing was documented. We trained to conquer our mind and body and become the best we could in our chosen art form. Since […]

via Fit Is Not Healthy: A Shaolin Monk’s Guide To Exceptional Wellness — shifuyanlei

There is no Fast Track

With the internet, there is a limitless library of resources are available to us that previous generations could only have dreamed about.

Literally anything that could be researched or explored is a couple of keyboard strikes away from lighting up our screens and going directly in to our brains.

Books have been digitized, scientists have written blogs, NASA publishes papers, and the old masters once hidden on mountain tops have been captured on video and published on to YouTube for all to see.

With all of this knowledge just sitting there ready to be taken in, I have found it too easy to fall in to the trap of trying to replace knowledge with experience.

Trying to stuff every bit of information on all related subject in to my head at once. Including things that are far beyond my grasp to even comprehend. Comforted with the thought that, “Oh, ill pack it in there and when the time is right I will be able to understand it.”

But, as I go through these phases, and I begin to feel my brain getting so packed I begin to have tunnel vision. I reign myself in.

All of that knowledge, those advance techniques, those advanced energy concepts, those are all being taught by someone who ACTUALLY feels or can experience them. Someone who can interpret the movement or patterns of those concepts from their own reality, not just recite from a book they read or from a video they watched.

Those tomes of information in your head are all just theory.

There is absolutely no substitute for experience and experience is gained through practice. Hours upon hours of careful deliberate movement and mental intention that is pinpointed on FEELING all the parts of the body involved. Peeling back the layers of body insensitivity built upon by years of neglect and misuse.

The secret to mastery, to me, is not cramming more information in, being able to recite every principle or move in manderin, or being able to write all of the branches of tai chi lineage holders by heart. (Though, with time it is a goal I have 😀 )

No, its practice. It’s being able to FEEL, to CONNECT, to EXPERIENCE a unified complete movement and unbroken intention through every motion.

 

I bring this up to remind myself how far I have to go. It has been a year since I did my first recording of the 24 movement form. I posted the video on my YouTube channel and watched it after first viewing the original.

There has been HUGE improvement over the year, (To which I mentioned to my teacher and all he had to say was; “Well hopefully”.)

Much improvement, yet still MUCH farther to go.

I have pulled back on the reading I was doing and have limited it to things only loosely related to Tai Chi. Mostly books on energy healing and the energy body in general to help expand my basic knowledge of the energy body or the philosophical ideologies. Favoring the approach of trying to build this basic knowledge up to build a stronger broader foundation in which to bring my practice up as a whole.

As a result, I have actually had much stronger clarity and focus in my daily practice.

No longer feeling the rush to try some of those more advanced moves\techniques or distracted by figuring out how to work them, without fully understanding how or why.

My hips have opened up greatly, and the 24 is starting to become second hand. Passed the stage of trying to just remember and far in to breaking down the fine corrections\intentions in the movement itself.

I feel much more grounded when doing my form practice and, for the moment, its a great place to stay for a while as I continue to dig the holes for the footings of my tai chi practice.

Simple is better. Breath

 

fast-track-01

 

March 2015 form:

 

March 2016 form:

 

Can you spot the differences?

Friendship

I realized I am really out of practice with friendship.

I have mentioned before how I pulled myself through a lot of my addictions by separating myself from some of the extremely close friends I had back in the day.

There are a lot of positives that came from that, but I always feel a deep sorrow when looking back because often I feel that was the last time I was able to be carefree and allow myself to be completely open with those around me without the assistance of an intoxicant.

An unfortunate side effect to that experience is the nagging distrust I have for myself and others when it comes to dropping down my guard.

That dread of falling back in to old habits, or somehow slipping back in to my self abusive tendencies that in my head, feel like only a moment away from bursting free.

I have built up a behavior of mistrust and unease to remind myself that if let go, I will stop moving forward and go right back to where I started.

This has kept me from many deep friendships.

I recognize this as a new thing I need to heal from, but it is not easy.

Even this post has been extremely difficult to write, I have distracted myself several times to avoid some of the emotions that are stirring up.

It is something I am working on, actively reaching out more. Touching on those fringe areas of conversation that border on all out panic inside me. The fears, the vulnerabilities that I keep only to myself so that no one will see me as weak and I can “keep my advantage”.

Advantage over what? I have no idea.

Perhaps its the advantage of being so closed off that no one can get to me, no one will have anything over me to control me or manipulate me…. Manipulate me like I have manipulated myself?

There is a thought…

The idea that someone could know me well enough to invoke the same change I have created in myself kind of horrifies me.

Knowing all the things I have done in order to change my behavior, the knowledge of how easy it actually is to be influenced or steered in a direction. What if someone else sees that?

Perhaps its my sensitivity to any form of influence or manipulation that provokes that fear. Like a kid who was bullied when they were little, they will recognize all forms of it with much greater sensitivity and a stronger reaction than those without that experience.

Maybe, I have allowed myself to grow hyper sensitive and reactive to it, preventing me from even allowing myself to participate in the positive aspects of them. The aspects that are often present when a group of friends are having an open, raucous and fun discussion at the dinner table.

The kind of conversation that has no point, has no intention other than to enjoy each others company and to poke at each others personalities.

It is a frustrating struggle. To want to open up and join in but to not be able to find the words, or the connecting points to join the conversation, but it is still a pleasure to be around it.

*Sigh*

One day, I will finish repairing the damage I inflicted to rehabilitate myself.

In the mean time, thank you to all those I call my friends.

I enjoy your company and there will be opening, at some point, to a dinner table near you.

 

Friendship-Whatsapp-Status

 

 

Quality

The Tai Chi form has taught me many things that can also be applied to life, but this morning as my eyes opened the idea of quality came to mind.

In the form, quality can take the form of intention.

Intention in the action you are currently performing, an elbow strike, an arm bar, a strike to the solar plexus. These concepts are brought to the form to make sure that your mind is completely present with every moment which brings the “quality” of awareness to your movement.

This idea aligns your mind, energy body, and physical body in the movements. Visibly this shows up as what could be called fullness or completeness in each step, making the form “pleasant” to watch to outsiders with no clear indication as to why.

This same idea can be applied with life.

There is a quality in every move we make, every action we take and it presents itself invisibly to all those around us and people around us react to it. Often unconsciously (though some are sensitive enough to be aware of it).

That quality is what attracts or repels the things around us. It creates the very world in which we live.

What intention do you bring while making meals?

What about when you walk to the grocery store?

How about when you interact with someone who cut you off? or deal with that angry neighbor he always scowls at you?

Your intention is not invisible, I know we like to think our inner most thoughts are, but have you ever stopped to think how those unconscious thoughts have manifested around you? What type of people it has attracted to you?

Or, here is a doozy, what kind of drama  has it created in your life?

 

Practice your intention. Start small, one tiny thing in the morning.

Like pouring your cereal, what is that cereal providing? Are you angry that the cereal is the only thing you have to eat? Are you only eating because you are told you HAVE to eat breakfast? Do you wish you were eating something else?

Try being present with what is in front of you.

Pick the cereal, with the intention of enjoying it.

Pour the cereal, with the intention of filling the space of the bowl.

Grab the milk, with the intention of covering the cereal.

Pour the milk, with the intention of wetting the cereal.

Eat the cereal, with the intention of of being nourished with energy for the day. Energy that will be transmuted in to whatever action you are to be performing.

Action, that will contain trace amounts of the intention of the energy used to perform it.

 

Everything is connected and compounds what came before it. Accumulate your positive reality around you a single grain at a time.

Eventually, you will have a mountain.

quality-approved

Quality Control Approved

Rest? Nah, work.

Why do I always get the feeling that if I rest I will never come back to practice.

I spent so much of my twenties resting, it was one of my most refined skills. Always “relaxing” taking it easy, chilling.

Why do I hate it so much now?

Even the thought of it brings up panic inside my chest.

“No, I cant rest. If I was really passionate about my practice I wouldn’t need to rest. I would find fuel inside the practice itself, you might as well just quit if you need to rest.”

At least that’s what keeps repeating inside my head.

Yet another form of negative self talk.

Here I was thinking I had found someway around it, silly fool.

 

Went to a friends wedding last weekend that set forth an unfortunate chain of events that is still emanating through my life as I write this.

As per expected, there was a great party. Filled with dancing, friends and of course, drinking. Lots of drinking.

Now it had been quite some time since I had gone to a party, so in the back of my mind I held caution. Just a little, left there to periodically sample my intoxication level and stand at the ready to raise the alarm.

Unfortunately, that caution is not well trained and while I was able to maintain my composer, I did not, however, limit my consumption of alcohol.

So, the day after drunk town….

It felt like any hangover day…Really shitty.

Did the normal things;

  • Biscuits and gravy
  • Drive Home
  • Lay on couch and watch movies all day feeling generally sorry for myself

What I wasn’t expecting was the day after that.

See, there was something lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce on me the moment my immune system let down its guard, or in this case, was brutally assaulted by expensive bourbon.

That’s right, some sort of virus.

It crashed on me bright and early Monday morning in the form of  a massive sore throat and the energy level of a tranquilized sloth.

So, I decided to “Rest”.

I stayed home from work and let the Tai Chi studio know I was taking some down time to recover.

Ha, down time.

So, instead of just sleeping, I pulled out my work laptop and logged in to the work network to get some work done as I laid there….

Sounds like the perfect relaxing way to recover from sickness right??

As you can imagine, right along side that work came ALL the stress.

All the work stress and NONE of the distractions. Just me, in my cave, sick and hyper focused on work.

I worked more hours that day than I would have if I had gone to work… and it was the same the NEXT TWO days!

That is how I “Recover”.

I drop all the self care and pull my work blankets up over my head.

Well.. at least that’s how I thought I needed to…

Now I find myself STILL sick, a week later.

Still feel like a sloth, but at least several hours after being tranquilized instead of freshly shot up.

I got fed up and did some tai chi this morning, the first all week, and it felt great.

My head is foggy, and I have this weird popping in my ears… but off I still go to work…

I think perhaps my priorities are backwards.

sloth

 

 

 

Soothing the Soul

The single most pivotal\profound experience in my life happened in a dream.

It left me feeling like there was something within me that I needed to share with the world. A feeling so strong that it drove me to separate from everyone and everything in my life and change directions.

At the time I was working construction and generally just being a bum. I was partying constantly, was usually on some sort of drug and spent my hours writing or dancing.

The morning after this dream, everything inside me changed. The lack of motivation I had always felt was gone. The need to communicate something was so strong, so fierce that it was the only thing that mattered any more. I HAD to find a way to let whatever that was out.

So I started going to school, community college to get my head back in the mode of studying and I started to separate myself from the crowd I was hanging around. That was the hardest thing, as I think about it now I have a pain in my heart, I still feel like I abandoned them.

These weren’t just my friends, they were my family. I spent every second with them, but it was the only way I knew how to get away from what I saw as a black hole. A life path that held nothing for me, I could see where it was going and it was no where good.

From there, I tried to just follow my passions. I had no idea what I needed to do and for the most part I had no idea what I was doing. I had no plan, just what was immediately in front of me.

Get the pre-reqs done at community college, go to another college… get degree… then what? A job? Then what? Family?

I ended up going to and art school, fitting now that I think about it, but at the time I was paralyzed with the decision between that and an engineering school.

Paralyzed because I knew I would do fine on either path, but I had no idea which one was the right one, which one was the one that would get this out of me.

Animation and game design ended up being my focus. I have always had a strong inclination toward movement. I could always FEEL movement, I could experience it through dancing and felt I could tap in to something beyond myself when I did.

My specialty ended up becoming, hilariously, optimizing and enhancing artists workflows.

12 years later, I have had three jobs in the gaming industry. One could say I have found success, but to me it still feels like just a beginning.

Like those twelve years were just to prepare me for what lies deep within me, the need, the drive, the command to help.

To communicate something, to help people succeed, to help people find themselves.

I feel I am closer now to this than ever.

Like whatever it is, is on the tip of my brain.

Whatever it is, a part of it is my my journal from 10 years ago which I randomly open up last night.

A writing that I pleaded myself to get out in to the world, but have yet to do.

It is perhaps the closest thing I have to the writing I used to do.

There was a journal I had in my early twenties that I would write in all hours of the night, stories about finding true meaning, about exploring the soul, about tapping in to the eternal knowledge within us and getting out of our own ways to live through it.

I lost that journal in Paris France. I left it on a train that I had rushed off trying to make my stop.

Years of writing and self exploration lost.

To this day, that is the single most profound loss I have ever had. But when I search deep for an answer to why I let that happen, the answer is always:

“You weren’t ready.”

Am I now? I have no idea.

But, for some reason or another I opened my replacement journal directly up to that page last night and I read it.

It floored me. The entry was so clear to me despite remembering writing it and feeling like it was completely unintelligible.

It touched me to the core, validated my journey and gave me a jolt of passion to help try to push me through this next wall of fear and self doubt.

As I search for a reason I happened to open my journal to the ONE spot, the only answer I get is, “It’s Time”.

So, whatever that means, I guess it’s my answer.

HolyFirepanel1

Give it a Name

The last two week I have had three incidents where I found myself in a foul mood.

I don’t know about you all, but when I get in those moods my first inclination, that can sometimes last for weeks, is to ignore. To invalidate those feelings as “bad” or as unacceptable behavior and I tighten up and try to force myself in to a more tolerable state of mind.

I cant think of one instance where that has actually worked though.

Instead, all it does is limit my ability to appreciate what is going on around me. I get so tense that after a couple days it becomes all I can think about. Compressing me in a vice grip of happiness and tranquility.

Restricting my world into a single pin prick of awareness.

Until that is, I allow myself to give it a name and get to know it.

I find a way to give myself permission to feel it and often that comes from first understanding it.

Yesterday, it was frustration, frustration in the process of learning.

Annoyance in how far I need to go and wishing my knowledge of a technique translated to the ability to perform it.

I had no comprehension of this, until I allowed myself to write in my journal, where there was much anger and cussing. In the end however, it allowed me to understand it for what it was realized I should allow myself to feel it. To let myself use the frustration as a energy source to practice and push me forward.

I believe the entry ended something like “Fine, fuck it. I’ll be god damn frustrated if i want to be.”

Then, almost immediately, my world opened up again. Accepting those feelings as valid and allowing myself to experience them.

Monday, I was given a name of something I didn’t even know was bothering me. Something I just took as an inevitable response to working on computers for 10 – 11 hours a day.

It was a tension I get right behind my eyes and often takes me hours to get rid of. This video sums it up perfectly… its a short one so its easy and worth the watch :).

After watching that video I realized that is EXACTLY whats going on. I am spending do much time focused so intently on my computer screen that all that tension just keeps building and building until its a solid mass of some insoluble material.

But, after it was given a name, I was able to understand it and I immediately began to relax that space in order to let that pressure dissipate through the rest of my body. In the process, I found a great exercise I can do during the day that keeps that pressure at bay and prevents it from building up too much.

The third instance was last week, the Grumpy Face post. I was god damn grumpy. I felt disconnected, unfocused and EVERYTHING was annoying me.

The dogs toenails clicking on the floor, dogs getting in the way, cats meowing, people being awake…. you name it and it was bugging the hell out of me.

I had also recorded myself doing the 24 that morning and as I watch it now you can almost taste my fury :P. (Ill post it at some point and add a link here :))

But after I wrote and decided to choose to just let myself be grumpy, I was just… not grumpy.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that is just as easy as saying, “Oh, i’m grumpy now i’m just going to be grumpy.”

No, that just seems like its giving yourself permission to be an asshole.

I’m talking about understanding the reasons BEHIND the feeling. WHY am I grumpy. Once I understand why THEN I can accept it and allow myself to settle in to it.

Its like I give myself a little piece of candy for exploring…

“Ok, you dug around and found me. Here is a treat. Be grumpy as shit and enjoy the hell out of it now that you know why.”

GiveItAName

Cardboard in the Rain

I grew up out in the country, what I consider a farm.

Back when I was around 11 or 12,  we used to burn all of our paper waste out in “The Burn Barrel” out in the front yard.

Once or twice, we went out to the old rusted trash can, poured some gas on its contents and set fire to all the newspaper, garbage mail, wood  and whatever else got collected during the week.

One particular week, we had bought some large appliance, either a refrigerator or dishwasher I’m not really sure at this point, but, like all paper waste, the box was moved out by the burn barrel once it had been emptied.

I could see the burn barrel from the front window and next to it, that box. Sitting in the grass awaiting its fate.

One day it started to rain, as it often did in Washington, and for some reason I was compelled to watch the box as the rain fell upon it. I felt empathy for the box, sitting out there in the rain by itself. It had been created and then put to use as a protector of whatever it held and was now discarded and forgotten awaiting its fiery doom.

As I stared at this box, I was suddenly compelled to go outside to the box and climb in it. It was still rather intact and the water had not yet penetrated the outer shell of cardboard, so the inside was nice and dry.

I crawled in, closed the lid behind me and laid down.

It was here that I experienced my first moment of complete peace and silence in my mind.

My senses were completely overwhelmed, the smell of wet cardboard, grass, and rain filled my nose.

The sound of the rain on the cardboard all around me filled my ears with a ryhtmic echoing, each drop layering on top of the last in an endless beat.

My eyes closed almost immediately as I was taken away from every thought in my head and absorbed directly in to the present moment.

I’m not sure how long I laid inside that box. Could have been just a minute, or could have been an hour. It was a timeless vortex.

Eventually, the water started to come through and I was brought back to myself. I left the cardboard box in the rain and helped to burn it several days later.

I had tried to go back after it had dried, but it was not the same.

The cardboard had warped and it had started to collapse. The structure had been compromised in every way.The sounds of the rain were no longer crisp, but muted and dull. Absorbed through the softened paper around it. No longer echoing in that transcendent beat that melted me.

I have had many boxes sense then. Of all shapes, sizes, and forms. Each with a lesson, each with a world it has shown me until its structure melted and it no longer was able to sustain the doorway it once had.

I have departed each box with great sorrow, thankful for what it has taught me, yet sad that what I had experienced will now just become a memory, destined to dull as the next one forms.

My hope is that one day, I will no longer need a box.

That the rain will fall directly on my skin and create that unfathomable rhythm within me and I will become own portal to the present.

I will be able to create my own window and that although my structure will change, the sounds will not loose their crispness.

They will only change their pitch.

 

 cardboardintherain

Prime The Pump

Somehow, I always end up forgetting how important warm-ups are. Progressing through practice it’s easy to start to pinpoint a single thing to work on and go right for it without noticing the resulting mental shift until several days after switching things up.

Warm-ups, I reminded myself today, are not only for the muscles. They are also important for helping to get the mind in the right place for practice. The very nature of tai chi requires your mind to be present and paying attention through every movement at all times. Any excess chatter in the mind gets in the way and randomizes your mental intention, making it close to impossible to be fully present in practice.

I am on vacation now!

i have returned to the families farm to enjoy a couple days of relaxation and then we all head to a lake in the middle of nowhere for even more relaxation. I arrived late last night, so today is the first I get to enjoy the calm non-city life and it is absolutely fantastic to be surrounded by so many animals and trees again. There has been a growning need for me to be away from the city lately and this is only the first stage. The lake will be even better MUCH farther from civilization and away from any feelings of obligations.

Got up early this morning in time to get some practice in before the insane northwest heat wave hits.

As I walked up amongst all the chickens to find a practice spot, I was struggling to get myself to settle down and start moving. My thoughts were scattered to the wind, thinking about all the things I wanted to work on, how nice everything around was, the smells, the sounds, the energy were all kicking up old memories of the old days growing up and I couldn’t help but be taken away with them.

So I stood there rather confused about where to start and how to drop back into practice, but then the thought occurred to me…

“Why don’t you just do the warm ups?”

Derp. Of course you dolt.

Warm Up qigong exercises it was then.

After the first three exercises my mind was quiet and ready, a feeling that as of late has been escaping me. My mind was back on how my body was moving, feeling my hips (the main area of focus the last couple weeks) and how they were transitioning between the weight shifts as I went through the basic warm ups.

It felt great to have that focus back.

So I dared to slip into a more intense practice, I deepened my horse stances, put my mind deep inside my kua. I was intent to focus on keeping my knees almost completely still and I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, not allowing them to get to mu weight directly on them.

I doubled the reps I was doing for each exercise  in order to feel a nice burn in the upper quads and the inner hips. It was an absolutely great set of Qigong that lasted about 30 minutes. I came out of it with a nice sweat and a focused non chattering mind.

After that I moved in to the 83 and my mind was there completely.

I approached this 83 very slowly, making sure to methodically transition and focus on each move. There was no stuttering this time. I was completely aware of each position, how my body was flowing between them, where the weight was on my feet and was trying to feel the how the movements start at my dantian and go out. This was by far one of the best practices I have had in several weeks.

I didn’t time it, but my guess would be that it took about 15 minutes to get to tornado kick in the form. Still really far behind, but today’s practice boosted my confidence back up. i’ll be able to catch up to the rest of the class :).

I finished off the practice with about 10 minutes of standing meditation. I would have liked to have gone a little longer, but the dogs started barking down by the house and the sun was much higher in the sky, so it was getting pretty warm. I guess I will just have to get up earlier next time :).

Today’s Practice (in summary):

  • 30 minutes deep qigong (Focusing on the hips and leg strength)
  • 15 minutes 83 form
  • 10 minutes standing meditation

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