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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Physical Conditioning & Emotional Conditioning


"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom." - Victor Frankl

I attended a recent 4 day seminar with Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, hosted by my teacher, Sifu Yijiao Hong. During the 4 days of training, most of us who attend all 4 days had sore legs from the stance work. Some of us (myself included) even had soreness in the shoulders and torso. On the final day of the seminar, Master Chen asked "Are you sore? Legs sore?" The class chuckled, and we all took a quick mental note of how our bodies felt. Many of us groaned at our sore quadriceps, and joked that we should "finally admit it" we said, "Yes, Laoshi!". Byron, our leader for warmups, asked Master Chen, "Laoshi, what shall we do for the leg pain?" Grandmaster smiled, and said "PRACTICE MORE!"

A great lesson. I guess we were expecting a response akin to Qigong healing or stretching, but Grandmaster told us plain and simply: "Practice more". Upon telling my massage practitioner about this amusing exchange, my therapist said "Yes, it allows for the lactic acid to get flushed out, but its the cool down exercises after the workout that are important."  1  

As it turns out, Tai Chi can help increase muscle endurance because of its slow and controlled movements that activate the slow twitch muscles. 2  Do a Tai Chi workout, then not do it again for days or weeks in the same fashion, and you lose the benefits and get sore all over again. The long term practice is where we gain the benefits. After all, it is not the *techniques* themselves that cause the soreness, it is the body's reaction to the exercise. If we're not conditioned to a hard workout, of course out bodies will balk and be sore.

As I was on the massage table at my therapist's office, I realized that this lesson applies to not just our physical conditioning, but our emotional conditioning as well.  If we were to consider emotions such as anger, greed, frustration, worthlessness, etc, as "Pain", then we could, theoretically, apply Grandmaster's lesson to our emotional lives. 

We will use "anger" as an example. Anger is a secondary emotion, and  is for some, a knee-jerk reaction to some other "primary" emotion (disappointment, embarassment, feeling pressured, etc). Often, it may a reaction to the primary emotion of  "fear", or the anger might stem from an emotional need or desire that has not yet been fulfilled. If we acknowledge what the primary emotion is, and ask ourselves what we can control about the situation (if we're feeling out of control of it), and what our options are, we can think a bit more clearly about the situation and decide whether or not the anger is worth expending energy on. When we can think clearly, we can carry on .

Most people will one of three things when confronted by negative emotion: Run from the stimulus, tackle it head on (i.e. feel the anger and act upon it), or go around it to move forward. Some people would say that options 1 and 2 are negative responses, and the 3rd is the best choice. However there are some things to consider:
  • If you're going to run, don't run backward. Try not to delve into you past and make this current situation a repeat of a long gone past experience. Take time off to cool off, then get back to the situation and address it with a clear head.
  • If you're going to tackle it, don't tackle it all at once. Get angry will not change the situation, and we all are too familiar with the blindness that anger brings. Remember, in order to move a boulder from your path, you have to chip away at it with the right tool.....a paper clip isn't going to do the job, you must have a pick-axe or similar tool. With a clear head, you can better choose the right tools.
  • If you go around it, be sure you aren't just avoiding it. If you just go around it and leaving the "obstacle" there, it will still be there. Acknowledge the "obstacle", observe it as you go around and take mental notes as to how you can clear the path. After all, if you leave the obstacle, then you leave it for someone lazy does that sound?
Remember, in the case of anger, it is not situations or words that make us angry, it is our reaction to them. For some,  emotions are based on past experiences. Some people tend to attach a situation that similar to a past experience, and react with an outburst exactly as they did during the past experience. Many times, these outbursts will be out of context with the current situation, but the pattern happens anyway.

So, how do deal with these  negative patterns and thought processes? PRACTICE MORE. Stay with the situation, let it play out while you acknowledge your primary emotion to the situation or try to figure out what similar past experience is making your negative reaction happen. It takes PRACTICE. 

Anger, despite it negative connotation, does have its good is a mechanism for survival....the body's response is to fill the body with the energy to deal with a "fight or flight" situation. Its a mechanism that evolved so that we, as primitive humans in eons past, could use to defend ourselves or our tribes. But if we use it out of context, we sure would look silly wielding our clubs against a wild animal that isn't even there!

Practice more. Stick with it. As Grandmaster says, it will condition your body and make things easier. Increase your emotional endurance. Even the most healthy body with great physical endurance, will not be useful if our emotion endurance is weak.

And by the way....did I mention....we should practice more.

And before I forget.....don't forget to practice more.   :)

1. Forum thread on "active recovery:
2. Tai Chi or jogging for lower body conditioning:


Rick said...

I have found that lengthy and dedicated zhan zhaung practice does wonders for the emotional conditioning.

Dale said...

Thanks for all of your encouraging and enlightening posts. However, I find traditional stance training dull and time consuming--why not do kettlebell squats or even Hindu squats: faster and more dynamic. Of course, I realize this training, such as ZZ, would greatly enhance patience, something I have very little of. Hurry up, write your next post. See?