Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Taiji

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

dark wet cold damp.
Depression as dark as night.

A friend recently asked me how my depression was, and the question stumped me. It’s not something I talk about, and I didn’t know quite how to answer. I said something like, “It’s better than it was before. I’m sleeping more, but I’ll probably have to deal with it all my life.” This is technically accurate, but it’s not the whole truth. I don’t like talking about my depression because it’s boring as fuck–much like the bronchial/sinus shit I’m experiencing right now. Who the hell wants to hear, “I’m depressed. I can’t get off the couch. I want to die.” over and over and over again? I certainly don’t, and it’s how I feel a lot of the time.

It’s tricky because on the one hand, it’s absolutely true that I’m much better than I was twenty years ago. I can sleep more than four hours in one block, and I don’t have the death nightmares that used to pepper my dreams on a weekly basis. I don’t constantly see all the ways I can die as I move along in my daily life, and more importantly, I don’t have to continually fight myself not to ram  my car into a concrete lane divider or anything like that. I don’t spend days catatonic on the couch, curled up in a ball, wishing I had the courage to kill myself. I don’t hate myself or think that other people hate me, either.

These are all good things, of course. In fact, when I think of how far I’ve come, I’m amazed. I’ve done a lot of hard work, including three decades of therapy, medication, and taiji (and writing), but the depression has alleviated despite myself–not because of anything specific I’ve done. I say despite myself even though I’ve worked on it because the lifting of the depression has crept up on me inch by inch. Here’s the thing about being marinated in depression for all my life. It’s my life. It’s what I know. It’s all I’ve known. It’s my norm as oppressive as it is. I got used to it, and I didn’t notice as it changed little by little.

It’s a truism, but change usually isn’t a big bang. It’s a minute more of sleep a night, rather than an extra hour. It’s sleeping with only four interruptions rather than six or seven. And, because I have anxiety as well as depression, it’s not freaking out when I say something I perceive as stupid to a complete stranger, or only freaking out for a minute instead of the rest of the day. It’s making a mistake and not berating myself for an hour afterwards, but only for fifteen minutes.

Because the change is so minimal, I don’t notice it at the time. It’s only when I look back that I can see how different I am now than I was even five years ago. I give a lot of credit to taiji, and I’ve recounted the ways it’s helped me in past posts. I’m pleased with my progress. But, and I bet you knew a but was coming.


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Health and My State of Mind

I went to taiji for the first time in a week, and I was going to take it easy. Honest! I know that the worst thing to do when I’m sick is overdo it, but it’s easier said than done. “Don’t overdo it.” OK. The problem is, I don’t know what that is in the moment. Let me explain. I have the capacity to put off the pain/discomfort/exhaustion in the moment (to a certain extent. I have a very high pain threshold), but it’s not an end, only a means. I’ll feel it later, much to my chagrin. My teacher is very sensitive to my health issues and to making sure I don’t do more than I’m able. Her guide is, “If you break out in a sweat, stop.” The problem with that is that I sweat profusely at the drop of a hat, so it’s not always easy to discern what is illness-sweat and what is exertion-sweat.

In addition, my endorphins kick in whenever I’m out and about, plus, I tend to put on a happy (happier) face when I’m around other people, so I don’t appear as sick/tired/depressed as I am. I can laugh and chat brightly, then feel the hit later. Again, if I’m really sick, this goes away, but that has to be a very bad illness (as I had a month ago). I hate to say it, but I’m a complete bitch when I’m sick. I’m not proud of it, but I have to accept that’s how I am right now.

I can tell when I reach that point because my ability to can completely disappears. It happened a few days ago. I had to run to Cub to stock up on groceries, and my patience was already thin when I entered the store. Then, I had an interaction with an employee that stretched my patience to the limit until it snapped. I raised my voice at him (not yelled, but definitely put force behind it), and then immediately felt shitty for it. Yes, he was making things more difficult, but he was only trying to help. If I had been at optimal health, it would have irritated me, but I would have shrugged it off. That’s when I renewed my vow to not interact with people when I’m at my worst.

Anyway, back to taiji. We did some warm-ups and then the kick section of the second section of the Solo Form. It’s my favorite section of the form, and it’s fairly short. It’s a workout, though, because it’s filled with kicks (obvs). I like to joke that it’s my favorite section because it’s the hardest section, but that’s not far from wrong. My twelve years of dance lessons pays off in this section, and there’s something that just sings to me in this section. By the end of it, however, I was shaky. Taiji is deceptive in that it looks and feels easy to do. It’s slow and smooth with no obvious exertion. However, if you do it correctly, it is a real workout, and I was feeling it in my legs by the end of the kick section (which makes sense. The kick section works the legs really hard).

I stopped at the co-op on the way home, and my brain was in a fog. The cashier asked me what my cat’s name was (I bought cat food), and my mind went blank. Cat? What? When I realized what he was asking, I felt a momentary pang of sadness. Normally, my answer would be, “Raven and Shadow. They’re brothers, and black.” Instead, I said, “Shadow. He’s a black cat.” It turned out that he also had a black cat named Snowball. Which made me laugh.

My legs were trembling by the time I got home. I had my oranges which helped, but my legs still ached. I’m doing ginger honey lemon tea and chill today, and I’ll probably see the doctor soon  because I want to know what the hell this is. I also have to get my thyroid levels checked, anyway, so might as well do both.

Anyway. Enjoy the newest Mazzy video. She and a friend are making Earl Grey cookies. Yum!

Netflix and Chill Ferreals

Hey, y’all. Feeling better in general, but had a bit of a slide today. Dunno if it’s because I overdid it in taiji class yesterday or what, but I’m just gonna take it easy today. I cannot tell you how sick and tired I am of being sick and tired. I’m sure you’re as sick of reading about it as I am of experiencing it. I’m glad I’m feeling better in general, but it’s frustrating when I have a set-back.

My coughing is almost non-existent, but my effluvia is WAY up. I’m hoping it’s just my body adjusting to my new diet, but it might also be allergies. It could be the drastic change in weather–we went from 30s to high 60s in a day, but whatever it is, I’m tired of the effluvia* constantly running down the back of my throat.

I’m also really grumpy today for whatever reason. Probably best to stay off social media. Here’s a video of Baby Mazzy making nachos. She’s guaranteed to bring a smile to my face.


*Snot. It’s snot. Effluvia just sounds much classier.

Taking Charge of My Health

Many moons ago, I had to deal with bronchial issues on and off for several years. I would be coughing and sniffling and have mucus draining in the back of my throat for a month, get better, then have it start all over again. Once, at the nadir of those years, I was coughing for nine months straight. In desperation, I begged my doctor for antibiotics, even though I knew they wouldn’t help. She said as much to me, and I told her I knew it was folly, but I had to try something. She reluctantly prescribed them to me, and they made me feel worse than the bronchial issues instead. I Googled the side effects (which I should have done before I took the pills), and they were basically the same as the symptoms I was suffering. My therapist gave me the name of a naturopath, and she suggested giving up gluten, dairy, and sugar. At the same time. You can imagine how pleased I was with this suggestion, but as I said, I was desperate, and I was willing to try anything.

Taking a deep breath, I did it. I gave up everything dairy, gluten, and sugar. You have to remember that alternatives were not as plentiful and tasty, so it was a struggle. For the first month, I was stuck on the idea of finding a one-to-one substitute for each thing I had to give up. I wanted to find a bread that tasted like wheat bread, ‘cheese’ that tasted like dairy cheese, etc. That is folly, for your information. The trick, I found, was to find things that were tasty and not compare them to the original. It still wasn’t easy, but I found acceptable alternatives. Cheese was the hardest thing to give up, and the only fake cheese that was edible was Lisanatti Foods Almond Cheddar Cheese, and that was only when it was melted on something like a sandwich.

Of the three categories, sugar was the hardest to give up completely, especially since I don’t cook. I don’t add sugar to anything, but everything comes with sugar. Plus, I love chocolate, sooooo…..I would just look for chocolates with natural substitutes at the co-op and try to eat less of it. I wasn’t as stringent with the sugar as I was with dairy and gluten. By the second month, I felt great. My cough was gone, and most of my intestinal/nasal problems were cleared up. By the third month, though, I was literally dreaming of pizza. Because my symptoms had cleared up, I decided to gradually introduce dairy, gluten, and sugar* back into my diet.

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Inhabiting a Very Mortal Coil

so much tea!
Drinking ginger lemon honey tea like a BAWS.

I hate my body right now. Even more than usual, and that’s saying a lot. I am sick for the third time in as many months, and it’s wearing me down, both physically and mentally. I was almost completely recovered from my second bout of the flu or whatever it was, when I literally felt something move into my throat, set up camp, and make itself at home. I started hacking, and I haven’t stopped since. This is different than the past two illnesses I’ve had. The first two felt more like the flu, whereas this is straight up bronchitis-like, which I’ve had countless times before. I’ve had intermittent bouts of sweating as well, which might also be me in perimenopause. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

I would be unhappy about being sick again regardless, but the fact that Master Choi came from Chicago this weekend to give four seminars made it even worse. I had planned on attending the Liu Ho Ba Fa session on Saturday and the Taiji Pushing Hands session on Sunday, but I knew there was no way I could do both. Since my interest in Liu Ho Ba Fa is strictly academic, it was the one that had to go. I also would have loved to sit in on the Ba Gua session Sunday morning, but, again, there was no way I could have done both. Still. I was going to the taiji session by hook or by crook unless I literally could not get off my couch. It was scheduled from 1-3 p.m., and I was more concerned about the driving than the actual session.

I got there fifteen minutes early and was immediately assailed with a strong burst of incense. I can handle it in small doses, but that much was overwhelming. I went back out into the hallway to wait for it to dissipate and just to gather my resources. I was a bit nervous to meet Master Choi because, well, he’s a master, but also because he’s an elder Chinese man. I’ve had countless aunties and uncles (in the Taiwanese sense–any older man or woman is addressed as such), and I know they can be rude in a way that is uniquely Asian. I didn’t expect Master Choi to directly castigate me for not being able to speak Chinese or something like that, but it was in the back of my mind. I’m always nervous around my elders, and he’s a MASTER, for fuck’s sake. I went as far as to make sure I wore a t-shirt that wouldn’t be offensive in any way, which was me thinking too much, but that’s how my brain operates.

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Taiji and Perseverance

Balancing the yin and the yang.

I’ve been teaching myself the left side of the Solo Form because my teacher’s teacher believes that it’s a good way to bolster the knowledge of the right side of the form. I should have done this years ago, but I’ve been dragging my heels. Why? Because even after all these years, I still don’t like the Solo Form very much. It’s not something I like to admit, but I find it boring for the most part. The more applications of the postures I learn, however, the better I like the form. I’ve made a dedicated effort to practice the Solo Form during my daily routine, and I’ve gotten better at it, even if it’s still not my favorite thing to do.

As I’ve said several times before, the minute I picked up the sword, I was hooked. It was my jam, and it was completely intuitive for me*. I zipped through it like nobody’s business, feeling confident the whole time. It’s still my favorite form, and I practice it every day. About a year ago, I decided to teach myself the left side of the Sword Form before I knew the whole left side of the Solo Form. We did the first section of the left side of the Solo Form often enough in class so that I felt I knew it fairly well, but when we did the second section, I was completely lost. I don’t have a problem knowing my right from my left, but I do have a problem with directions. In fact, my brother and I used to argue when he gave me directions to some place new. He would tell me east, west, north, and south, and I would tell him that was meaningless to me. I needed right and left, and he said, “What if you miss the exit and have to turn around?” I retorted, “Then I’ll flip left to right and right to left in my brain!”

Why is this pertinent? Because in the Solo Form, when I’m doing the right side, I’m comfortable enough that I can pretty much do it in cruise control (though I shouldn’t. Part of the benefit of taiji is teaching mindfulness). It’s a road I’ve traveled a million times before, so I don’t need to really think about in which direction am I going. When I switch over to the left side, my brain starts short-circuiting, and any postures I’m not completely confident about on the right side, I get confused over on the left side. It’s one of the reasons teaching yourself the left side is a good thing–it shows you your weaknesses on the right side. I find that if I’m struggling with a posture on the left side, it’s one of a few things. Either it’s a posture I consider easy on the right side and I haven’t really learned it, or it’s a posture I’ve been fudging and pretending I actually know what I’m doing when I don’t.
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Thumbs Up on My Yearly Checkup

wish my doc were this cuddly
Say aaaaah!

I went to my yearly checkup today, and it happened for the same reason it always happens–I ran out of refills on my thyroid pills. I get a yearly supply at a time (monthly refills), and the clinic will approve one more refill, but then they insist that I come in and get checked before they’ll give me any more. It’s fair, but I hate going to the doctor. Still, it had to be done, and today was the day. I was in a car accident nearly six months ago, and I decided to talk about that with my doctor just to make sure everything was in working order. I also had a few other issues I wanted to discuss with her, so I made a mental note of them before I left.

The session went well. She listened to my concerns and alleviated them. She didn’t think they were serious enough to warrant anything other than keeping a close eye on them. She told me to call her if anything got worse, and she made one suggestion for one of the issues that I’ll try if it crops up again. She gave me my pap smear, and we talked about my car accident. I mentioned that people were saying I should get my back X-rayed just to make sure I didn’t hurt it. I said I wasn’t having any back pains, so I didn’t know if it was necessary and that I’d leave it in her hands. She said I would have felt it by now if the car accident had done something to my back. I was reassured, and I’m glad I have a doctor I can trust. She’s a PA, but I find her as knowledgeable as the last three doctors I’ve used.

I told her about Raven dying, and she was sympathetic. That’s one of the things I really like about her–she feels as if she’s on my team. Even when she’s telling me to do something I don’t want to do such as quitting smoking, it doesn’t feel judgmental. When she looked at my weight and saw I’d lost five pounds, she was enthusiastic and told me to keep up the good work. I like that she’s more the encouraging type than the scolding type–as was the last doctor I’d seen*. That doctor rubbed me completely the wrong way, saying that there’s no such thing as smoking a little. Really? Smoking one or two cigarettes a day is exactly the same as smoking a pack a day? She also had a superior attitude which I didn’t care for as all. My doctor listens when I mention the research I’ve done–she takes me seriously. I feel as if we’re working together, which is the best way to get me to respond.

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When Progress Feels Like a Setback

The middle of my back is aching, and my taiji teacher says this is progress. See, I used to have lower back pains as I practice taiji, Before that, I had knee pains. Concentrating on fixing my posture to improve the knee pain led to the lower back pain, and now that I’m working on correcting my posture so that my lower back doesn’t hurt, the middle of my back is grumbling. My teacher has often said that we all carry tension in our bodies–we’re just not necessarily aware of it. The first step to relieving tension is feeling it, which I’ve been doing in spades the last few years. I noticed that my knees were really hurting, and I mentioned it to my teacher. She watched me do some postures and gave me a few suggestions. I worked diligently on her advice, and my knee pain subsided substantially in a month or so. However, my lower back started hurting, so I mentioned that to my teacher recently. She told me to focus on tucking my hips, and I noticed that I was popping my ass out in the middle of every posture. I practiced tucking my hips until it became somewhat a second nature, and my lower back stopped hurting almost completely. Simultaneously, the middle of my back started hurting. I mentioned it to my teacher, and she said it was better than my lower back hurting, but harder to massage (which is a good remedy for aches).

I’m frustrated, I won’t lie to you. It doesn’t help that my knees have been achy a bit, too. I think it’s because I’m focusing on my back, so I’m not placing as much emphasis on making sure my knees extend properly over my toes (but not too far forward). I used to think I was decent at multitasking, but taiji has shown that to be a lie. Yes, I can think about two things at one time, but neither are going to get my proper attention. My teacher has said repeatedly that we can only focus on one thing at a time, whether it’s waist, knees, or arms. I’m always tempted to focus on two things, usually the knees and the waist, but then I end up neglecting both. My sword practice has been helpful in this respect because I do five repetitions of a section of the form. Each repetition, I focus on a different aspect. First time, I usually just do the section as naturally as possible. I follow that up with watching the tip of the sword in the second time through. Then, focusing on the waist. Then, as gently as possible. Lastly, with as much power as possible. I don’t always do it in that order because I don’t want to become rote with my practice. It’s not easy to carry the same focus over to the Solo Form because as I’ve said a time or a hundred, it’s not my favorite thing to practice.

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Struggling to Go with the Flow

still waters run deep
Merrily merrily life is but a dream.

I hate change. No, that’s not hyperbole; I really do. I eat the same food almost every day in roughly the same order. I have a morning routine that I’m trying to vary, but not with much success. When I go to sleep, I have a ritual in the way I lie down that I do every night. There are cycles that I have to complete, even though I know they are ridiculous. When I was younger, if I ever did something on the right side of my body, I had to do it to my left side, too. I had a lot of tics, and I’m not yet rid of them all.

In the past few months, there have been several changes in my life, starting with the car accident. I’m mostly recovered from it, but I still have a slight negative reaction when cars come too close to me on the road. I’m pleased but surprised that physically, I’m nearly 100% again. One thing the car accident did to me, however, is make me think about what I really want in life. For one minute, I thought I was going to die. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, however, so that should have been my clue that I was going to survive.

Another change is this blog itself. I’ve been having a hard time writing for the past few years. I’ve done it in fits and starts, but I haven’t been able to sustain it. About a month and a half ago, I made the decision to dedicate myself to writing every day. Well, at least five days a week. I wanted to make money doing something I love, but more importantly, I wanted to actually do the thing I loved on a regular basis. To that end, I decided I needed a clean start, so I started a new blog. This blog. So far, I’ve met my goal of writing at least five times a week, so I’m pleased with that.

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How to See Progress When It’s Microscopic

i will cut you
Wudon Sword Fencing

My teacher’s teacher opened a new taiji academy last weekend, and I attended the open house. There was a demo, and I couldn’t help but compare this demo to the first time I saw a demo at the old studio. It was a year or two after I started taking classes, and everything looked so amazing to me. One of the masters said, “To the beginner, everyone is a master,” and it was so true in my case. I watched them do the Solo Form, and I couldn’t imagine I would ever be able to do the whole thing. The next time I attended a demo, I knew the whole Solo Form, but I was still really impressed with the people doing weapons. Again, I had no idea how I would ever do anything as amazing as that. I did note that I could tell between the different styles of the practitioners of the Solo Form. “This one is a bit stiff.” “That one needs to bend her knees more.” I wasn’t trying to critique; I was just happy that I could tell the difference. This time, I joined in on the Solo Form (first section only. Sifu knows if he has people demonstrate more than that, it would be boring for the audience), but I didn’t have my sword with me, so I had to sit that out. I could have borrowed one, but I would have felt awkward doing so. As the others did the Sword Form, however, I could see where they were making mistakes, which meant that I had learned the form pretty well. It’s hard to tell because it’s not as if I’m making noticeable progress every time I practice, especially now that I’m focusing more on refinements rather than corrections.

When I first started to learn taiji, it was easier to feel as if I were actually learning something because I had concrete units to measure by. “I’m learning a new posture today!” That’s something my mind can grasp. Once that’s over, even the major corrections are tangible. “You made a mistake here. Fix it.” I don’t like it, mind you, because I hate making mistakes, but it’s something I can work on and notice when I’ve actually corrected the mistake. Now that I’m eight or nine years into my studies, I’m mostly past this phase of the Solo Form. I know the whole form. I don’t make major mistakes. Sifu has changed some of the postures so I’ve had to relearn them, but I at least know them by now. What I need to do is teach myself the left side to keep it interesting*. OK, I have to make a confession. I don’t like the Solo Form. I never have, and I don’t know if I ever will. I really didn’t like it in the beginning, but I knew it was the basis of everything else, so I suffered through it. Now, I don’t hate it, but I still don’t like it. Ever funnier is that the position most people like best and thinks is easiest–Cloud Hands–is one of my least favorites. The kick section, which most people don’t like, is my favorite section. I like complicated better than easy, plus there are obvious applications to the kicks, which there aren’t for Cloud Hands. There are applications, of course, but not so immediate to the eye.

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