A consistent thread throughout my life has been the sense of growth, of feeling like I’m a changed person as compared to the year before. A large part of that is learning from the external experiences that have happened to me and becoming wiser in the process. Of course I still take away “life lessons” from these events, but my source of growth has fundamentally shifted these past few years, to what happens from me – the miraculous intelligence of the body. I’ve become a Somanaut in turning my intention inwards and finding an infinite well of wisdom inside. I quiet my thinking, create space for listening, and become more connected to the unconditioned nature of being.
And perhaps all along it was this intelligence, underneath my conscious awareness, that was providing me with the learning from life experiences. Only now I’m being proactive and speeding up the process: journeying straight to the source as opposed to waiting for wisdom to bubble up into consciousness; deliberately visiting the cave of my unconscious to mine the ore of mind, body, and breath, and then alchemically refine them in the forge of my Practice. “Mind,” “body,” and “breath” are very loose translations of the Three Treasures jing, qi, and shen – which are the three energies we work with in Taoist practice.
Part of the reason I started my blog is to track certain changes from the transformational practices I do, and in the process, perhaps inspire others to try them. Since I didn’t make a post for last year, I’m combining 2017 and 2018 (also check out my 2016 changes).
1. Body Aches Begone! + Longer Cushion Sessions
Since finding a teacher and embarking on the spiritual journey three years ago, I’ve gradually aligned my entire “fitness” practice towards the sole goal of sitting on the meditation cushion (i.e. floor) in Burmese posture comfortably for a reasonable duration. In 2018 I achieved the suppleness to do so for half an hour but have since returned to the chair as the legs tend to fall asleep on the cushion.
I like to break my seated practice into two sessions, but I can just as comfortably sit on the edge of the chair in meditation for 60 minutes straight without a single ache or pain, in absolute stillness – not moving a centimeter. It wasn’t easy getting here, but I can think of few other endeavors as rewarding. While at one point meditation was an activity which caused back aches to surface, it is now an activity which rejuvenates the spine – I walk away with a vitality in the back that wasn’t present at the start of the session.
With the practice physically unencumbered, my mind has been given free rein to blossom its resistance in full force. Sometimes it seems to compensate doubly for the departed physical resistance. Pushing through bodily discomfort to see the session to its end is a more strenuous experience, but a simpler challenge, overcome through bursts of sheer will. The moles of aches and pains pop right up for you to whack; the obstacles of the mind are subtler, craftier, and to overcome, demand a sustained vigilance throughout the entirety of waking life.1
My first experience with The Feldenkrais Method came in 2016, halfway into my initial Rolfing ten series. Rolfing was proving to be phenomenal so I was eager to try other somatic practices, and therefore sought out the works of Moshe Feldenkrais, who I knew was Ida Rolf’s contemporary and also a somatic pioneer.
Feldenkrais lessons are usually 30 minutes of brief, gentle, and deliberate movements interspersed with periods of rest. These lessons aim to “re-program” your operating system – aka your brain or central nervous system – so that movement is more efficient. You learn to use your bony structure for support as opposed to muscular effort; you re-model & expand your unconscious self-image which tells you both the movements you’re capable of and how you’re able to accomplish those movements; you also learn how to learn – when presented with a challenge, the faculties and processes in yourself that must arise to overcome the difficulty.
Because changes occur in the “software” of your body, results are apparent as soon as the lesson is over. At the time I became a little addicted to Feldenkrais since every lesson I walked away feeling “upgraded” in a unique way – movement felt more delicious, postural alignment improved (e.g. walking and standing felt novel in some way), a greater fullness or depth of being, improved breathing, and deeper relaxation. In the past 1.5 years I’ve done around 100 unique lessons, some multiples times for a combined total of probably 200 sessions, and I still walk away with a significant before vs. after upgrade.
3. Functional Range Conditioning (FRC)
While Feldenkrais is concerned with upgrading your “software,” FRC focuses on your “hardware”: the various cells, fibers, and ground substances that compromise your extracellular matrix aka connective tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments/capsule, epi/peri/endomysium, mechanoreceptors, periosteum, etc). FRC goes deep into the biology but refers back to all the biological hardware components simply as “stuff” or “bioflow.”
FRC’s main premise is:
- Since the emergence of the human genus (Homo) 2.4 million years ago (84,000 generations), what were we naturally selected to do?
- What are we doing now?
- On a daily basis, how do you compensate for not doing what you were selected to do?
FRC aims to be the most efficient method for bullet 3 above, to restore our “stuff” to the state that our genome has naturally adapted to be in. Today, humans are specializing (i.e. adapting their “stuff”) for very specific activities, whether intentionally as an athlete, or passively as a desk worker or other predominately sedentary person. FRC’s core claim is that it is a system for specializing in being human.
I’ve followed FRC since it first started to make appearances on the internet many years ago, doing what I could to glean the system from sporadic online posts. I even sought out an FRC-certified sports chiropractor (now, having learned the system firsthand, I reflect quite disappointingly at those sessions). But I finally bit the bullet and became certified myself at the start of 2018.
The system has its place and has proven to be a very valuable tool in the arsenal; I’ve overcome long-term issues with stuck areas of my body thanks to the hardware upgrades from FRC.
4. Rest & Caffeine Abstinence
I’ve had an abusive on-and-off relationship with caffeine throughout the years. When it was bad, I would drink in the morning, afternoon, and then in the evening, just so I would have energy to workout after work. I would continue this way for weeks until one of my eyelids would begin to twitch uncontrollably. The twitching is annoying enough to force me to really withdraw on the caffeine and go cold turkey for a few days. Once the twitching is gone, I’d slowly ramp back up my intake. This cycle would keep repeating itself.
Not too long after reaching a point where I would drink cups of undiluted (i.e. much stronger) cold brew in place of coffee, I decided to call it quits. This coincided with a season in my life where I became sick with greater frequency than ever. A few factors contributed to the frequent illness (some beyond my control), but I knew drowning out my body’s natural signals for rest with artificial energy wasn’t helping. And with all the embodiment work I do, what’s the point of knowing the body more, just to then ignore it?
So as I abstained from caffeine, I napped a hell of a lot more. Instead of a 5pm pick me up, I took a nap. I became envious of siestas. My average sleep time increased by 90 minutes. I realized how much worse I function with each less hour of sleep. I also became sensitive to the very subtle effect caffeine can impart on my behavior, realizing it may actually decrease my performance.
Today, I typically drink green tea throughout the week, but any daily consumption of tea amounts to no more than one- or two-thirds the caffeine of a cup of coffee. On weekends I treat myself to whatever caffeinated beverages I like, but I’ve lost the taste for hot coffee.
5. Emptying the Chest
I was raised to believe proper posture consists of “sticking the chest out.” I see this in others (especially gym culture), so I know it’s endemic in society at large. I had improved this habit during my initial Rolfing ten series, but when training martial arts, experienced students were quick to point out I still had work to do in dropping the chest.2 While not as sexy, a properly sunken chest is critical for proper alignment, from which maximal force, relaxation, and optimal breathing can occur. I believe I’m at a point where the old pattern is exorcised from my being, and where I haven’t settled in the opposite extreme in terms of over-collapsing the chest.
6. Alcohol JOMO (Joy of Missing Out)
Nothing against alcohol, but I seem to constantly find myself in situations at work and in personal life where alcohol is liberally consumed and I have no desire to be on everyone else’s “level.” So these past couple years I’ve found myself in more and more situations where I’m sober or near sober in spite of pressure from society to drink. I’ll always enjoy a well-timed sipping tequila or cold pils, but I am getting better at drinking in accordance to the will of my greater Self (as opposed to the momentum of my surroundings or the desires of the “little me”), in a way that is faithful to my own personal Way, and the spiritual evolution I seek. Stated differently, I have become intimately aware of how alcohol undermines my practice the ensuing days after: my resistance to doing it greatly increases and the quality of practice suffers greatly. In The Practice of Pure Awareness, a book on somatic meditation, Reginald Ray captured it perfectly when speaking about modifying our behavior so it is more aligned with our practice:
We come to so very greatly prefer the open, relaxed, spacious, easy state of freedom we find in the Soma that we will go to great lengths to clear away what gets in between us and that joyful expanse.Reginald Ray
It is etched into my sinew that the opportunity cost of drinking more (= being in the Soma) is always greater than whatever opportunity alcohol offers in the moment.
Throughout all of 2018, I regularly visited my Acupuncturist/TCM doctor. As I mentioned earlier, in Winter ’17 I was constantly getting sick, and became desperate for steady health. I had seen an acupuncturist years ago for an acute injury, but I had begun to see one just for general health & wellness. Acupuncture & TCM herbs were a helpful supplement in getting me “back on my feet”: of planting myself on a ground of healthy habits (see above bullets in this list) and restoring me to balance after periods of greater strain on my health (e.g. traveling or partying).
8. Focus & Phone Moderation
While my focus has improved as a result of consistent meditation practice, this is actually about the application “Focus” for Mac.
I’ve documented it well here on my blog, that one of the greatest battles I fight is with the sirens of distraction who wish to lull me to sleep along my path of awakening. I still haven’t gotten it figured out, but the Focus app for Mac allows me to block applications and websites with no means to override or undo until the specified duration has been reached. This is definitely part of the puzzle for minimizing time spent inefficiently on my laptop.
As for my iPhone, every now and then I fantasize about getting rid of it in favor of the archaic flip phone. Having been without a phone for a few days straight the other year,3 I experienced first hand how extremely liberating it is. But as opposed to making that fantasy a reality, I’ve been playing around on my phone with blocking sites, using Apple’s native “Screen Time” functionality to block apps, deleting certain apps (on weekends I might re-download them), as well as physically turning my phone off when I don’t want to use it.
Per dentist’s recommendation, I’ve stopped using “abrasive” toothpastes in favor of “natural” toothpastes like Toms. Can’t say I’ve noticed any differences, but seems to be a long-term change for the better.
2017 & 2018 saw a combined total of over a month of foreign travel, first all throughout France, and later Germany, Ukraine, and Israel. There are my own lessons I take from these adventures, but a consistent one is how much more I appreciate living in California when returning.
I’m not one to set resolutions, so who knows what I’ll be writing about next year for 2019…
- and at a certain point, dreaming life too
- emptying/hollowing/sinking the chest is a common cue in Qi Gong practices
- I was victim to the infamous 2017 Coachella phone thief