Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The art of avoiding pain

The art of avoiding pain or discomfort is at the heart of an internal discipline.  The bottom line is, for example, for a novice practitioner to fold his legs (either full lotus or half lotus) for hours on end, like in zazen (坐禪), the pain can be excruciating.  The simple process of feeling and adjusting his weight vis-a-vis his joints, in particular his ball-and-socket joints through a force deliverable primarily from his pelvic floor muscles,  is THE essence of his practice.  Those who can't do it properly will either give-up or damage his own joints.  No more, no less.  How come? And what is the logic behind this "simple" phenomenon?

Before we speculate into an explanation, serious internal martial artists may have the experience of standing on zhan zhuang for over an hour. If not probably "managed", the pain will be unbearable.  Yet, after a period of guided practice, the experience can become "enjoyable", the practitioner will be sweating, and standing truly looks like a regular jogging work-out, minus the difficulties, and no negative effect even for the middle aged.  An onlooker may say, "How come you guys enjoy pain?"  The answer is "They have successfully avoided pain".

The joints of a practitioner will initially be blocked, standing or seating with folded legs for a short period of time will create pain right at the points that hold up the body weight in position.  What to do about such pain?  A practitioner should mindfully adjust his weight, shift his ball and socket joints of his hips and shoulders slightly, find another point to hold his weight, minding all the time to make sure that the joints are fitted roundly onto the sockets rather than moving towards a dislocating direction.  The guiding power will primarily be his pelvic floor muscles and secondarily his back muscles that act on the joints' muscles.  The guiding energy is his breathing energy which activates everything.  His stretched fingers will be used as fine-tuning tool.  And his focused mind create a workable environment making everything possible.

The result?  The practitioner will feel more comfortable, not until he needs to find the next points to carry his weight!  Ultimately there will be no prominent point to attack.  But like any metal polisher, a practitioner can continue to progress in "fine-polishing" his joints.  With opened-joints, he will be like floating or moving sluggishly on dense fluid.  His body weight will be evenly distributed, his breathing energy will be transformed efficiently into chi, he will get "holistically" tired as practice time prolongs, but he will be getting more and more comfortable instead of pain.  Like he is in Tao, like he is in Zen, like he is at one with the Universe.  And it ain't no fantasy.

Ball and socket joints


  1. Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words. Your cartoon illustration of the body's joints, exaggerated in their ball-and-socket-ness, helped me to work with my standing practice in a new way this morning. Not to discount your words -- but the picture conveyed the help.

    So, thanks!

  2. Well, I assumed the cartoon is a free resource (i.e. if anyone tells me otherwise, I will take it down...:):). Anyway, nice to hear that it can be of help to you, and thanks for bearing witness that I'm not taking about fantasy (or, worse, lying!)...:):)


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