Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Taiji

Patience is a virtue–just not mine

taiwanese tai chi sculpture!
I don’t want to be made of stone.

When I was learning Dvorak, I forgot QWERTY within days because it never felt natural to me. At the same time, I wasn’t anywhere near proficient in Dvorak yet, which meant I had to muddle alone typing roughly 30 wpm. Before that, I typed closer to 80 wpm, so it was agony to be able to do less than half of that. It took a few months for me to feel comfortable with Dvorak, but now I type roughly 100 wpm.

I think of this often now because of all the changes in taiji. My teacher, my classmate, and I had a candid talk about it yesterday in class, and it felt good to get some of the frustration off my chest. I told my teacher while I knew rationally that things were going to be better in the long run, and I trust that because I trust her, emotionally, it’s difficult not to get frustrated by all the changes. One, I don’t deal well with changes in general. It’s part of my PTSD and obsessive nature, and while I’ve gotten better at it with age, it’s still something I struggle with. Two, it’s hard not to be resentful of the newer people because they’re learning all this for the first time rather than having to unlearn an old form in order to learn a new one.

A part of me feels like all the stuff I’ve learned before is wasted now that so much of the Single Form has been changed. Intellectually, I know it’s not a waste because the core of it is still there, and the fact that I know the old way means that I can understand the newer concepts more easily. The problem is, I learned the old form fairly easily, so it doesn’t seem as if there’s much added benefit in the speed of learning the new form. That really isn’t a humblebrag, though it sounds as if it is. It just underscores the fact that I’m grumpy about all the changes. There was a time when it seemed as if the changes were happening every week, even though it was more like once a month. Still, after doing the same thing over and over for years, it can be overwhelming at time.

For example, there is a posture–movement–called Parry and Punch (well, the actual name is longer than that, but that’s the short name for it). There are four of them, and in the old form, they were all the same. In the new form, they’re all different. In the old one, they were all Parry Outward (I think) and Punch. Now, they’re Parry Inward and Punch, Parry Upward and Punch, Parry Outward and Punch, and Parry Downward and Punch. They’re all slightly different, and they’re giving me one hell of a fight. I have the first one on lock, and I’m slowly getting better at the second, but the third and fourth are kicking my ass. It’s doubly frustrating because I’m used to learning things quickly (at least the basics) so not being able to do so with the Parries and Punches is making me irritated. I will say it’s partly because I practice the first section more than the second and third, and the first Parry and Punch is in the first section. The second and third are in the second section, and the last is in the third section.

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Health is fleeting and fragile

I think I’m mostly recovered from my recent bout of whatever, but one thing is giving me pause. Quick backstory: I don’t sleep well. I never have for a variety of reason, and it’s been something of a Thing for me for all of my life. I remember being six or seven and reading until midnight, stuffing a towel in the crack of my door so my mother wouldn’t realize I was still awake. I can’t remember the last time I went to bed before midnight on a regular basis–when I wasn’t sick. When I am sick, all bets are off. I can sleep at any time for any amount of time (my normal sleep is six hours. Which is much better than the four hours I used to sleep a night/day on a regular basis.

This time around with my sickness, I started getting tired after being awake for twelve to fourteen hours of being awake. This made me sleep schedule go all wonky, and while I’m physically recovered from the illness, the twelve to fourteen hour thing is lingering hard. As a result, I’m going to bed anywhere from eight p.m. to midnight (with a rare two or three in the morning, very rare these days) and getting up at the crack of dawn or before. It’s really strange to wake up when it’s dark or barely bright. It’s been weeks since this pattern has been established, and I’m still thinking of it as temporary. I’m still freaking out when I start getting tired at eight in the evening, and I’m nervous that this will not change. Why nervous? I’m not really sure. I think it’s partly because so much of my identity has been wrapped up in how fucked up my sleep schedule was and how little I slept, and it’s difficult to do a mindset change about it.

It reminds me of all the changes in taiji. First of all, I hate change. Intellectually, I know it’s normal and healthy and whatnot, but emotionally, I don’t deal with it very well at all. I know all the changes the Solo Form is going through right now are probably for the better in the long run–it doesn’t mean I’m dealing well with it on a day-to-day basis. It’s not learning the Solo Form that is the problem–I’m good at rote learning. I know it really irritates my classmates from time to time, but it’s nothing I can take any pride in because I was just born that way. It’s not as if I’m a show-off, either. I just…learn quickly. It can be a detriment in the few cases when I don’t learn something quickly, but that is not the point of this post.

It’s the same with my sleep pattern. I don’t like it right now. Intellectually, I know going to bed at midnight and getting up at six is roughly the same as going to bed at four and getting up at ten, but it feels different. Let’s take Mondays, for example. My class is at 12:30 p.m., which means I usually get up around 11 a.m. and leave by 12:10 p.m. Now, I get up at 6:00 a.m., write my post and do some other work before I go to class. I might even do my fiction writing before class, which means I’m done for the day by the time I get home around 3 p.m. Normally, I wouldn’t have anything done by the time I went to taiji, and it all would be waiting for me when I got home. On the one hand, it’s nice to be done with everything by early afternoon. On the other hand, it’s just fucking weird.

Yes, I know I have to adjust to it in case this is just the way things are from now on. I know it’s not really a big deal and  that I’m making it bigger than it needs to be. That’s my M.O., though, and I’ve gotten better about it the older I get, but it’s still how I react to things. I’ve joked with my BFF that I may argue with her vociferously when she tells me something, but I’ll go away and think about it. That’s me in a nutshell, both the bad and the good. Stubborn as hell and apt to digging in my heels when pushed. Will think things over when not as heated and will change my mind if I see a point in what I’ve been told. It’s not ideal, but it’s how I deal with things. I know this about me, and I accept it begrudgingly.


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Adjusting to change

childish stamping of my feet.
Wah wah wah!

I hate change. I’ll out-and-out say it. I’m highly resistant to it, even when I know it’s good for me. No matter what I can tell myself about it, I still hate it. I’m slowly getting better at it, but it’s still something that can put me off-kilter for the rest of the day, even if it’s a small thing such as a change of an appointment. I bring this up because my sleep has been fucked up ever since I was sick. My normal sleep pattern is roughly go to bed at three/four in the morning and get up at nine or ten. It used to be go to bed at six or seven in the morning and get up in the early afternoon. In general, I slept through the morning because it’s my least favorite time of the day, and late night is my favorite. Since I’ve been sick, however, all bets are off. I’ll go to bed at any time, which means getting up at any time. I also sleep more when I’m sick–sometimes up to a whole eight hours! It’s one way I gauge whether I’m getting better or not–when I start sleeping less, I know I’m getting better.

This time, I’ve noticed that after twelve-fourteen hours of being awake, I’m exhausted. I’m mostly better (think 90%), but the exhaustion is the same. This has resulted in me going to bed between eight-thirty and nine-thirty at night, then getting up at four-thirty in the morning. I’m currently writing this at four-forty-five in the morning because I write my posts when I first get up, and it’s really strange. This is normally the time I go to bed, not the time I get up. Waking up to dark is messing with me more than it really should. I’m groggy, only half-awake, and grumpy. I have my thermos of ginger lemon honey tea at hand as well as my Diet Coke, and I’m still barely awake.

I think I’d rather get less sleep and feel more awake than get eight hours and feel as if I could sleep endlessly. I think my extreme tiredness of the last few days might be because of my dental work as well as it’s still a bit achy five days later. I’m so tired, I feel as if I could sleep for the rest of my life. It’s so weird that I my usual habit of getting less sleep makes me feel more rested. I still feel like shite (watching too many Brits on the YouTube), but it’s marginally better than I do now. Another frustrating thing is that I can be dropping from exhaustion when I finally go to bed, and then I lie there, wide awake. It’s as if my brain takes it as a challenge. “Oh, you’re going to sleep? I think not.” Everything I’ve pushed to the back of mind during the day comes flooding back, and all I can think about is how much everything sucks. That’s always been the case, but it’s even more annoying when I’m so fucking tired.

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I Can Fly! Oh, Wait. No I Can’t.

I was taking out the trash the other night, and it was dark out. I do it late at night, and my front light isn’t working. I went to check the mail, and I didn’t notice there was a huge slick of ice in front of my mailbox. I noticed when my feet went up in the air, and I landed on my knees and night elbow. If you ever want to feel completely in your body, just fall. You will be aware of muscles you never knew existed before.

The pain was sharply intense, and I’m saying this as someone who slept through a recent root canal. I couldn’t believe how much it hurt–and how quickly the intense pain went away. I admit I stayed on the ground for a minute or so, but I soon got back on my feet and checked all my limbs for possible damage. My right elbow was scraped with a little blood, my left knee felt puffy and sore, and my right knee ached a bit, but that’s it.

Nothing was broken. Nothing was wrenched, twisted, or dislocated. I kept an eye on it the next day, and while I was achy (especially in my left knee. My poor knees. They can’t catch a break), nothing actively hurt. My left knee still feels bruised and a bit puffy, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.

I bring this up for a few reasons. One, I’m still clumsy. I still fall on the regular, though not as often as I used to. Two, it wasn’t my fault this time. The last time when I fell on the stairs while doing the laundry (or more accurately, on my way to doing the laundry), it was my own damn fault for reading my phone as I was walking. This time, however, there wasn’t much I could do because I simply didn’t see the ice in the dark. It helps me understand that sometimes, things do just happen. Three, I instantly relaxed as I was falling, and this is something I’ve noticed in the last few years. Yes, I still fall, but I’m more able to do what needs to be done to minimize the damage. It’s not even something I think about–I do it automatically.

It’s the reason I walked away from my minor car accident with nothing more than a big bruise on my stomach (from either the seat belt or the airbag). It’s the reason I only have bruises and aches after falling off ladders or on the ice as I most recently did. It brings me a small measure of comfort knowing that while I may still be clumsy and fall from time to time, I don’t have to take maximum damage from it.

It’s a revelation to me as someone who’s been clumsy all her life. Yes, I’m working on being more observant and trying not to run into things in the first place, but it’s nice to know that when I make a mistake, I won’t necessarily have to pay for it (too much).

The State of My Mind

It’s time to come out and say it–I am depressed. I’ve alluded to it before, but now I’ll just say it. I’ve been low-level depressed for a few months, and I don’t know why. I think it’s partly because of the anniversary of Raven’s death, partly because of being physically sick (though maybe I got physically sick because my depression lowered my immune system. It’s hard to say), and partly because it’s just how I roll.

The thing is, in the past, when I was depressed, it literally incapacitated me at times. I remember losing countless hours to depression because I simply didn’t have the energy or the wherewithal to do anything other than sit on the couch and stare into space. It was chronic, and it was serious. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it out of my twenties, and it’s still somewhat unbelievable to me that I have. There were periods of higher activity, but in general, I was barely functioning.

Now, I am doing the things I need to do. I am productive every day whereas in the past, brushing my teeth was an accomplishment. In addition, the depression isn’t a part of me, and it’s really strange to feel it coming at me from the outside. Back in the day, I felt as if I was just a ball of depression and it was the only thing that defined me. Now, it’s more like an annoyance such as an ingrown toenail. Persistently there, infected, but not paralyzing me.

In addition, when I had chronic depression, I was numb most of the time. I’ve described it as being frozen, and I couldn’t identify an emotion if my life depended on it. I was really good at pretending emotions, but it was because I’m adept at quickly reading other people’s emotions. It was a bitter irony that for many years, I felt other people’s emotions more intensely and immediately than I did my own. I had no idea what my own emotions were as they were buried under layers of depression.

Now, I have emotions, and sometimes they’re out of whack. I have anger issues, and while I normally keep an iron tight grip on it, when I blow, it’s quick and ugly. It’s difficult because I don’t know all my triggers–well, to be more accurate, I know the broad topics in which there are triggers, but I don’t know exactly what will set me off. After years of not being allowed to express my anger, I still have difficulty expressing it appropriately. It’s all or nothing, and the times it’s all are terrifying to me.

I’m also feeling a lot of sadness. There is no specific reason, but it’s there. I’m grieving, and I don’t even know why. I’m sure part of it is Raven–I’ve been missing him intensely lately, but that’s not all it is. It’s also the feeling that I’m wasting my life and if I die today, what do I have to show for it? I have put so many obstacles in my own way, I feel defeated before I even take a single step.

Also, I’m still fighting a relapse, and my sleep is shit, and everything is difficult. Here is the latest The Mazzy Show; she never fails to make me smile.

Kung Fu Fightin’ This Cold

I am still fighting off the third round of this cold, and it’s wearying. Not only on my body, but also on my soul. My body doesn’t know its own mind. I’m tired all the time, but I cannot sleep. This should indicate I’m getting better because I have a long, sordid history with sleep that doesn’t allow me to sleep decently no matter what I try. It’s actually one of the things I like best about being sick–I can get a decent amount of sleep in one stretch. I know I’m getting better when I’m unable to sleep more than six hours.

I’ve been practicing the Long Form alongside the new Medium Form, and it’s surprising how quickly I’ve forgotten the sequence of the Long Form. Scary, really. Once I check the list, it all comes flooding back to me, but I’m afraid of losing it forever. I will say that I like how streamline the new Medium Form is. It’s clean and concise, and there’s absolutely old fat. However, I don’t want to lose the Long Form, so I’m still practicing it.

I need to get my thyroid meds checked, but I’ve been dragging my feet over it. Rightly or wrongly, I associate going to the clinic with getting sick as the last two times I went, I got horribly sick. Anyway, I’m tired. Here’s the Tiny Hamster and friends having a Tiny BBQ on Independence Day.

Patience, Grasshopper

Situation status quo, so no real reason to talk about it. What I do want to talk about is taiji. Yesterday, we worked on the third section of the new Solo Form (Medium), and it’s a real mind-fuck. Not because it’s difficult, but because it’s so different than the Long Form. All the movements (use to be called postures) are the same (well, mostly. There are a few new variations), but they’re in a different and more abbreviated order. I’ve been practicing the first and second section at home, but haven’t touched the third because we hadn’t learned the whole thing until yesterday.

It’s rather overwhelming because I’m so used to doing the Solo Form in the old way. My brain would go on automatic, and I would cruise my way through it. The change is good for that reason because now I have to actually think about what I’m doing. Being mindful is a core principle of taiji, but it’s something that I struggle with. My brain is always thinking of a million things at a time, and it’s hard for me to focus on just one thing. There are many reasons for this, but it’s something I’ve both embraced and fought against all my life. Learning the new form forces me to think about each movement because the changes are plentiful, but there are also stretches of the old form in between.

I’m not good at change. I’ve been grumpy about the pace of the changes in the form for several reasons. One, it feels like I’ve wasted a lot of time learning the old form that is now being negated by the new one. The stated reason for the new form is to allow new students to master taiji more quickly, which is good for them, but I feel somewhat ripped off by it. Oh, so I spent all that time doing things the inefficient way? It doesn’t make logically sense because practicing taiji is good no matter what, but it’s hard not to feel a little bitter that I would not wasted so much time on the Solo Form if I had started learning taiji now. Yes, I know I have many benefits having studied it for eight or nine years, but still. I also feel a bit like the old timer sitting on the lawn spitting tobacco into a can. “When I was your age, we walked ten miles in snow up the hill both ways to school!”

Overall, I would say that I like eighty to eighty-five percent of the changes to the movements, which is surprisingly high. I like that the martial arts applications are clearer, and I can’t deny that less Cloud Hands makes me a happy camper. It’s not the changes, but the pace of the change that is freaking me out. I don’t adapt well to changes, and they’ve been fast and furious. Here is a video of Master Liang doing his form (the Long Form).

 

Take It Easy On Me

I went to taiji yesterday for the first time in a few weeks (as I mentioned yesterday) and took it pretty easy. I didn’t want to overdo, but I’m wiped out today. Plus, there’s effluvia and coughing. I think I got everything moving around, and it has to come out somehow. I’m hoping it’s not a setback, but we shall have to wait and see.

This is a teaser video from FromSoft (makers of Dark Souls) for their next game. Most people seem to think it’s Bloodborne 2, but I don’t. To me, ‘Shadows Die Twice’ (the tagline) doesn’t have anything to do with Bloodborne. I’m thinking ghosts or vamps. I think I’m in the minority when I say I hope it’s a new IP and not BB2. I loved BB and will probably play it until the end of time, but I’m ready to move on from the Soulsborne universe. I’m excited to see what Miyazaki can do with something completely new. I lost my fucking mind when Ian sent me this teaser trailer, and now I have to spend the next twelve months studiously avoiding all spoilers.

 

Applying Taiji to My Mental Health–and Finishing The Sexy Brutale

One of the hardest things about being sick is how depressed I get over it. It didn’t used to be this way. Or rather, I used to be depressed all the time, so getting sick didn’t really add to that depression. Also, I mistreated my body so badly, I really couldn’t expect it to be kind to me. I was a hot mess in general, so having bronchitis for months at a time (not an exaggeration) wasn’t that noticeable of an added detriment. However, two things have changed that. One, I hadn’t been sick in years. For about five years (during the middle of my taiji studies), I was blissfully cold and flu and bronchitis-free. Then, I got a cold or flu one winter, and it was hellish. This was three or four years ago, and it’s happened every year since. I get sick (undefined. The one year I went to the doctor, twice, she wasn’t able to pinpoint anything. In fact, I got even sicker after visiting her. Rightly or wrongly, I blame going to the clinic for getting even sicker. It was really awful), and it lasts for weeks. Even worse, I get better, go back to my normal life, and then I get sick again. That’s what happened this time, and it’s discouraging. I didn’t think I overdid it this time when I got well again, but I could be wrong.

I’m coughing a lot. I get this coagulation in my throat, and then I have to hork to try to get it out. It immediately settles back in again, and it’s infuriating. It’s better today as the ball of snot (that’s how I think of it) lodged in the back of my throat is smaller, but it’s still there no matter how much I hork. I have mentioned a time or a hundred that I am a huge control freak, and not being able to will away my sickness pisses me off. It’s not rational nor reasonable, but I still get irritated when I can’t hork out the snot ball for good. I get pissed that I tire so easily and that going to the store drains me completely. I wake up, and the only thing I want to do is go back to bed.

I know that being mad at my body isn’t helping. It’s not going to mend faster simply because I internally yell at it. It’s frustrating because in other areas of my life, I’ve been able to relax and not get so uptight about what’s happening. The example I pull out every time is when I got in my car crash. The second I realized that I couldn’t prevent it, I relaxed and suffered no more than a massive bruise on my abdomen from the seat belt and the airbag. The key was to realize that there was nothing I could do to prevent it, relaxing, and accepting that the crash was going to happen.

I wish I could do the same with being sick. Do the things I know that will help me get better, then just ride it out. Getting mad doesn’t help. Berating my body doesn’t help. You know what does help? The Sexy Brutale. OK, not really, but I finished it recently, and I needed a graceful segue into talking about it. Spoiler warning: I’m going to try my best not to spoil anything about the ending, but I can’t talk about it without a few minor spoilers. In addition, I want to include pictures from the end game, and if you’re going to play the game, you best just skip this all. Everything about the game is below the cut.


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The Art of Relaxation

My cat, Shadow, has developed a morning ritual since his brother died* in which he meows loudly at me, gently gnaws at me, rubs his head against the blanket in which I’m encased, and then hops up on my hip (I usually sleep on my side) and stands there. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a fifteen-pound cat just stand on you, but it doesn’t feel great. When I try to roll back and forth to get him off, he simply rolls with me. It doesn’t matter how quickly I roll, he sticks like glue. Funny side note: One morning this week, he wasn’t around when I woke up. I was puzzled, but went into the kitchen to get his wet food for breakfast. I open his cabinet, and he still didn’t come. I was starting to get worried and was about to go after him when he came running towards the kitchen as fast as his chubby little legs would take him. He opened his mouth to meow, but it was cut off by a huge yawn. It was ridiculously adorable that he had fallen asleep on the job!

Anyway, I was thinking about that in taiji class yesterday when we were talking about relaxation. It’s one of the most important tenets in taiji, and it’s something I struggle with all the time. I’m a tense person by nature (and nurture), and I carry all my tension is my shoulders and back. It used to be my upper back, but now it’s mostly my lower back. The way to relax your back is to drop your tailbone, and every time I check in with my tailbone, it’s ratcheted up an inch. Every damn time. Even if it’s a minute from the last time I checked in. I think it’s less ‘up’ than it has been in the past, but it’s still tense. The problem is, though, that I can’t always think about my tailbone. If I did, I wouldn’t have time to think of anything else. I get easily frustrated when I can’t do something, which is one reason I love Dark Souls games so much. I’m not inherently good at them, and they’ve taught me not to give up when things get tough. I’m still inordinately proud of beating Biggie & Small (Ornstein & Smough) after almost giving up on the game.

Anyway, we were talking about breathing in class. It’s important, obviously, and there are many different ways to breathe. Our teacher told us about the man who owns the Guinness Book of World Record for holding his breath, and one of his practice techniques is passive breathing. You inhale with your abdomen, and then you just let the breath passively exhale. I’ve tried it, and I’ve ended up feeling choked or lightheaded. I mentioned it to my teacher, and she said not to do it then. She said that focusing on your breathing is important, but it shouldn’t be laborious or painful. My problem is that the passive exhale is an anathema to me, which makes me angry. As I said, I don’t do well with things I don’t understand or can’t do on the first go. While I can conceptually understand what passive breathing is, I can’t do it in practice. I don’t understand how to let my breath out without actively pushing it out if I’m concentrating on it at all.


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