Tag: Mindfulness

Keep Calm and Spend Money

Have you done it? Are you so addicted to your smartphone that you downloaded an application to help you meditate? I have, and I didn’t know there was real money in this nonsense until I did. Turns out, Silicon Valley tech investors have found a way to monetize you sitting on your ass and breathing. Monetizing mindfulness is not new. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Deepak Chopra, and Wayne Dyer have made millions out of the practice. But where the new age gurus of my youth had to produce hundreds of books, spend hundreds of hours recording audio programs, and countless hours in seminars and traveling the world, Silicon Valley did it with an application.

My introduction to this unashamed grab for your hard-earned cash came in the form of Dr. Leah Lagos’s appearance on the Star Talk Radio podcast. Dr. Lagos’s description of heart rate variability (HRV) intrigued me enough to give her program a try. I bought the book and grabbed the recommended application for my Android device. Two days later I was getting emails from the application developer to buy additional features and equipment from their website. I unsubscribed and deleted the application. The $30 pulse oximeter I had bought at the start of pandemic was a better aid for pacing my breathing than for the application.

The application had piqued my interest, however, and I started looking for other breath pacing applications. I remembered when I started practicing sitting meditation how difficult it was to keep my mind on the breath. As soon as I felt the breath, I would worry over upcoming bills, or how I could find more time to practice Tai Chi. If you think a breath pacing application will eliminate your mind effort, you are wrong. While they keep you breathing at a steady pace, they do nothing for your active mind.

Calm, the billion-dollar application that inspired this post, claims to solve that problem with guided meditations. Before the smartphone application, everyone into mindfulness bought a guided meditation tape or DVD. We used most of them once or thrice, then forgot them. Having someone whisper affirmations at you were as helpful as having someone interrupt you every two minutes. Calm is the ultimate collection of those guided meditations, and they want you to shell out $15 a month to have a movie or music superstar interrupt your mindfulness session.

I bought a Fitbit for HRV exploration. I got the cheapest one on sale since it came with a year of Fitbit Premium. Premium includes mindfulness sessions guided by Deepak Chopra and other gurus from my youth. When my free trial expires, Fitbit intends to charge me $10 a month for these two- and ten-minute sessions They will reward me digital badges and congratulatory emails. Too cheap and automated to send me a sticker with a personal note.

As I will relate in my post on Dr Lagos’s Heart, Breath, Mind, Buddhist mantras have a few hundred years’ experience over the smartphone application for taming the mind, but a FitBit can be a powerful confirmation to your practice. I have removed the breath pacers from my phone. Counting in my head still works, and it doesn’t harvest my email address or ask me to purchase new equipment to improve my practice.

The Modern Martial Art Student is not a fighter

Violence, Fear, Hate, and the Modern Student

Modern martial art students separate their martial art training from the rest of their life. Compartmentalizing it as an activity that they share with people they barely know. They go to work, watch television, attend events and family outings without integrating or considering their martial art practice. It is just another activity on a full schedule.

This was not the way for students in the past. Martial art training was one aspect of an individual’s education. Reading, writing, studying the classics of philosophy, history, and medicine were all taught with the martial forms.

Those times were different. Institutions resembling modern police were rare and were often worse than the criminals. Hospitals were rarer still; the notion of an ambulance coming to carry you to a doctor after an injury wasn’t even a dream.

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Martial Art Rant Over on wood

My First Martial Art Training Rant

I was digging through old notes, making a list of things to do, when I found an early rant about my martial art practice. With mass shootings a monthly occurrence, and Russian troll farms influencing American thought, it is time to revisit my steadfast belief in non-violence and skepticism.

Before the last century, internal martial art–or neijia–masters taught their students orally. Students who practiced hard and served the master well passed the art to the next generation. At the start of the last century, some masters published books about taijiquan, baguazhang, and xingyiquan. Publishing this knowledge was expensive, so only a few tried. Those that succeeded grew their schools, and their lineage survives to this day.

The Internet gives us an opportunity to access these teachings in a way the old masters could not imagine. But the business model for martial art masters has not changed. Emphasis is on the old ways and traditional methods. They insist that you cannot learn from the written word or video instruction. Their argument is that there is a secret transmission that is impossible to capture in a video or the with the written word.

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Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Book Cover

Personal Study of Yang Tai Chi

After discovering Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s original, yellow Taijiquan book, practicing Taijiquan became everything to me. I moved outside, eating, drinking, and practicing under a Pin Oak tree. At heart, however, I am a skeptic, and seeing Taijiquan through the works of a single author did not satisfy my need to study more broadly. I later learned that the most ardent practitioners of Taijiquan suffer through the same phase.

My early passion with Taijiquan coincided with the earliest days of the Internet. At the time, there was little material online. The big box bookstores had a few titles, but for more detailed instruction you had to search the pages of Tai Chi magazine or other martial art magazines for VHS videos.

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Taijiquan Posture Vocabulary

Vocabulary is the foundation to understanding a subject. The same is true with Taijiquan. For now, I am ignoring the translation problem and focusing on the basic vocabulary we need to communicate the Taijiquan routine.

Is the Taijiquan routine a sequence, or a routine? Is a static position a posture or a form? The interchange of the words form, posture, and stance creates confusion. For example, is it the Yang Style Taijiquan form, sequence, or routine? Is that the Ward Off posture or form? Are you in the Bow and Arrow posture or stance?

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Choosing other exercise is encouraged with your tai chi practice.

Choosing Other Exercise

In the Earth Dragon Canon Method of martial arts, I shared how my early focus on taijiquan benefited me on multiple levels. I also shared how my related success led to pain from sitting with a computer for hours on end. My focus on taijiquan helped to create my success, and that success leads to the latter pain. That same pain leads to my intense study of baguazhang and hours of circle walking every night.

The lesson I learned is that taijiquan alone is not a replacement for other physical movement. Despite the decades of teachers promoting taijiquan as a superior form of physical exercise, it is not. The general effects of taijiquan are the same as taking a brief walk, and that is only if you practice a long traditional form and include supplemental exercises with your practice.

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Buddhist Shrine is representation of teacher, no teacher, teacher.

Teacher, No Teacher, Teacher

My process of learning Taijiquan is not unique. I know this because one of my earliest inspirations in Taijiquan study, Jou, Tsung Hwa, said so. Now, Jou was not talking directly to or about me, but he shared his journey with Taijiquan in his books, and those stories spoke to me and my journey.

The title of this post paraphrases the Zen Koan: “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”

Learning a new art or skill is like this. First you see the mountain, and think that others have climbed that mountain, and you would like to follow them. You start climbing the mountain, and the trail goes up and down, back, and forth, and you are not sure if you are on the right trail, or even the right mountain. You think back to when you decided to climb the mountain, how beautiful it was in the distance, but now, when you look around, you cannot see the mountain because you are too close to it. Finally, you reach the peak of the mountain and looking back you can see all its peaks and valleys behind you.

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Scorpion Martial Arts

What is Martial Art?

Martial art practice is more than the study of physical movement. It’s an exploration of the body through the mind and the mind through movement of the body. Martial art practice can expose humanity’s worst instincts, or reveal an inner nature that desires harmony.

The greatest martial artist of the twentieth century promoted the martial arts to a world searching for reason in the torrents of blood spilled around the globe. From the worst of those conflicts, masters arose that sought to restore balance and civility.

Man has distorted the world’s religions for personal or national gain, leveraged religion for nationalistic fervor, and used religion to legitimize the murder of millions. The martial arts’ story is the same. Martial practice can become an instrument of violence, or it can be a tool for enlightenment.

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