Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: tension

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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Political Stress Getting to You? Take a Break!

The elections are less than a week away, and if you’re a political junkie at all*, you’re probably feeling stressed as hell. It doesn’t help that you can check stats every second of the day if you want to, and while I wouldn’t recommend it, I know many political junkies can’t help themselves. I see tweets all the time about how we can’t be complacent, how we have to be STRESSED OUT AS HELL ALL THE FUCKING TIME. The implication is if you’re not freaking out about the elections 24/7, you’re helping Trump become the King of Trumponia, and you should be deeply ashamed of yourself. It’s been that way for almost a year, and that kind of anxiety simply isn’t sustainable. Well, it is, but at a serious cost to your mental (and physical) health.

I have had to pull way back from politics this year because every time I think about a President Trump, I start hyperventilating. That’s not an exaggeration. My heart clutches, and my breathing becomes very shallow. It scares the fuck out of me to contemplate going from an Obama presidency to a Trump one, so I stopped following politics so closely because I don’t need the nightmares. There is only so much I can do in the area I live, so keeping myself constantly agitated isn’t helpful to anyone. Minnesota is going to go for Clinton. I will vote for her. The end. I’m more perturbed by the fact that no other race is being highlighted at all. The Dems have a real shot at taking back the Senate and a longer shot at flipping the House, but i don’t hear about that at all. As important as it is to make sure that Trump doesn’t become president, it’s even more important to give President Clinton (please, please, please) a Congress with whom she can work. The current Congressional Republicans vowed to block PBO at every turn, and they’re already saying they’ll do the same thing to a President Clinton.

I can feel my heartbeat quickening as I type. I don’t appreciate being told I have to be anxious from now until Tuesday because I can do that on my own, thank you very much. In addition, it’s a misbegotten sense of self-importance to think that any one person makes a difference. Yes, it’s true that if everyone thought that way, it would change things drastically. However, if I decide not to vote and everything else remains the same, it won’t matter at all. We Americans have a weirdly-inflated sense of ego, and it bemuses me every time it flares up. ONLY YOU CAN DO THIS THING! WITHOUT YOU, WE’RE NOTHING! The DNC sends me emails like this all the time, which I stridently ignore, but I do see the subject lines, which alternate between sheer despair and an appeal to my ego. MINNA WE ARE LOSING AND ONLY YOU CAN SAVE US. I’m not fucking Wonder Woman, bitch. There’s only so much I can do, and my fifty dollars isn’t going to get you very far.

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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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