Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Taiji

Caffeine and taiji (not together, though)

CAFFEINE!!!!
I need to mainline the caffeine.

Caffeine. Let’s talk about it. It’s been a few weeks of having one cup of caffeine a day (and, yes, I’m putting it that way because it’s all about the caffeine, not about the vessel), and my god. It’s been a bitch, to put it bluntly. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would struggle. That’s why I did a cut-down rather than a cut-out. Vivid memories of going cold turkey haunted me as I started this endeavor. Cue the intensive headaches–had to take my migraine headache Excedrin-generic pills–and the lingering lassitude. Not to mention the inability to focus. I was walking around as if I were in a fog all day long.

The headaches have mostly gone away, thankfully, as had the mental fog. The lassitude, however, it persists. My sleep has been shittier, too, and I’m sure it’s because my body is adjusting to the caffeine deficit. Also, I had to slam down some extra caffeine on Saturday night to pick up my parents from the airport, and I’m sure that didn’t help. The weariness has been so bad, I’ve been tempted to up the caffeine to two cups because that’s not bad for me, right? I know the moral of this story is a hard look at how much I depended on caffeine to get me through the day. If my reaction is this severe, then it means I should not have gotten hooked in the first place. Caffeine is definitely a drug, and it’s frightening how many people are addicted to it.

Now, taiji. There’s no connection between the two, but I want to talk about both. There was a letter to Ask A Manager about the CEO of a small nonprofit making all the employees participate it taiji sessions twice a week for twelve weeks for ‘health’ reasons and for ‘team bonding’. The OP participated in the first session, which exacerbated her* chronic condition, and she asked to be exempt from the rest. The CEO said she didn’t have to participate, but she had to sit in the sessions. She said it made her feel singled out and punished (told the CEO this) and was basically told to deal with it.

I mention it not just because I’m horrified the CEO would mandate taiji but since we’re on this subject, don’t do this, CEOs. Taiji is amazing, and I think everyone could get something out of it, but it’s not helpful to MAKE people do it–or watch it. Being resentful isn’t the right mind-frame to learn taiji. In addition, there are different kinds of taiji, and some are more strenuous than others. This is what my main gripe with the commenters for this post stem. There were several who were like, “Oh, it’s just standing there” or “It’s just meditation” or “It’s just stretching”.

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With a sword in my hand

We started up with the sword again in taiji a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t be happier. As longtime readers know, I love the Sword Form. It’s funny because on Saturday, my teacher was telling one of my classmates that she (my teacher) might start her (my classmate) on the sword soon. My classmate was hesitant about whether or not she wanted to do it, and I had to internally smile because I resisted with all my might when my teacher first suggested it to me. She had the same reaction when her teacher told her it was time for the Sword Form, except in her case it was because she wanted to focus on open hand forms. In my case, while I was into the martial arts side of taiji way more than the health side, the thought of weapons slightly repelled me.

Thankfully, my teacher pushed the issue by pressing a sword into my hand. The minute my fingers closed over the hilt, I was hooked. This was what I was meant to be doing. I’ve learned two-thirds of the Sabre Form, and while I like it, it’s not the same. The Sword Form sings to me in a way I can’t explain. The sword is an extension of my hand, and I feel both powerful and graceful when I’m doing the Sword Form.

I’ve written this before, but I taught myself the left side of the Sword Form in fairly short order. To put it in perspective, I still haven’t learned the whole left side of the Solo Form. I was near the end of the third (and last) section when my teacher’s teacher went nuts changing things, and I decided it was better to wait until the new Solo Form was settled before trying to teach myself the left side. Quick reminder: my teacher’s teacher’s view is that he teaches the right side, and you teach the left side as a way to see if you really understand what you’re doing. It’s a solid idea because it’s easy to fudge the movements you don’t know or do something unthinkingly. When you have to teach yourself the left side, it brings up all your shortcomings.

I have spatial issues, so teaching myself the left side of the Solo Form was–and is–hell. My brain screeched to a halt when I tried to teach to show it how to do the left side. I would do the right side, then try to copy it on the left, and my brain would grind to a halt. I literally could not make myself do the left side. It was frustrating as hell, so when I decided to teach myself the left side of the Sword Form, I approached it with much trepidation.


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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.