Sunday, 30 September 2012

YiQuan and Zen

"When Bodhidharma saw that the monks were physically out of shape from sitting around reading... he developed an exercise regime called the Eighteen Hands of Lohan to give them the stamina they would need to endure the long hours of meditation." p186, Buddha or Bust, Garfinkel (2006)
"When the domain of being is actively cultivated during slow and gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, such as yoga or physical therapy, what people think of traditionally as "exercise" is transformed into meditation." p97, Chapter: Yoga is meditation, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn (2005)
As I write this I am most of the way through a 12 day residential intensive at TaoLin YiQuan Academy in the countryside north of Beijing. Since beginning to practice YiQuan daily, starting in April 2012, now being 6 Months on, I have learnt the 6 basic 'standing post' health postures involving 6 different hand placements. Next my standing post practice will move on to stances with more martial potential; to open my hips further. Many people stop at the health practices, but additional health benefits can be gained by practicing the martial curriculum.

The author in the 6 basic health standing postures of YiQuan.
It seems there will be likely benefits for my seated mindfulness meditation practice as my martial skills deepen - giving me a clearer physical appreciation of dropping all rigid ideas and forms. The founder of YiQuan, Master Wang XiangZhai, says:
"Like a student of Zen, who starts with religious discipline, becomes skillful in quietude, has an insight, finds evidence of the fountainhead of one's spirit, comprehends the void and then finally reaches the highest achievement; only then can one learn the Tao. What Zen is, the martial arts are aswell." - p7, The Right Path of YiQuan, (2001)
YiQuan Master Wang XiangZhai (1885 - 1963).
Master Wang XiangZhai gained numerous martial achievements during his lifetime - defeating all martial challengers, including a Hungarian Western-style boxer in Shanghai. This event was apparently reported in the London Times 100 years ago.

The author working on his martial 'SanTi' posture at the entrance to the YiQuan school.
As I have been practicing my seated mindfulness meditation over the past few days, I have been feeling more space in my belly; allowing my breath to deepen, and even though it could be due to the decrease in stress while being on holiday from full-time language teaching work, it seems that the posture training - with hips tucked under, thus flattening the lumbar region of the spine, has been contributing to this increased abdominal capacity or depth.

The author practising an exercise in the martial 'SanTi' posture.
Historically, it seems there has been an intimate connection between seated 'zen' mindfulness meditation and these YiQuan postures I have learnt. Wang XiangZhai writes:
"The top of the head as if hanging from the sky (the head... when this vertex is like suspended... the 'white clouds can naturally gather to the peak', and a bit of miraculous brightness hangs from the vertex, this is also the basis of Zen)." p16, The Right Path of YiQuan.
Master Wang XiangZhai assuming an YiQuan standing posture.
 Mindfulness author, Jon Kabat-Zinn, points to the intimate origins between ancient Buddhist, Daoist, and yogic exercises and 'zen' in his book, 'Wherever you go, There you are', when he writes, Part One: The Bloom of the Present Moment:
"Mindfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck, back into touch with our own wisdom and vitality. [...] The key to this path, which lies at the root of Buddhism, Taoism, and yoga, and which we also find in the works of people like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, and in Native American wisdom, is an appreciation for the present moment and the cultivation of an intimate relationship with it through a continual attending to it with care and discernment."
This mindful cultivation of awareness of one's being as an ancient ideal is explicity described by YiQuan Master Wang Xiangzhai in Zhan Zhuang: A form of health cultivation and therapy (2004), p18:
"There is no place without feeling of comfort. You shouldn't ponder over anything. You shouldn't use too much effort. Exercise shouldn't create burden for your heart. Brain should rest. You may think of vast, unlimited space of universe, clearing mind from disturbing feelings and thoughts. There should appear feeling of empty, light agility, a melody which is linking everything. As if you were drunk or as if astounded or stupid. Smiling slightly as if you were playing in water, as if you were a baby again, listening to the nature. In ordinary and usual there is unusual natural pleasure. You should respect teacher's teaching, but you shouldn't follow it in mechanical, rigid way. Here is the unlimited profoundness and sweetness. Moving like fish in water. Natural comfort, natural comfort, true natural comfort. The meaning of teachings of ancient philosophers is not different."

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