In any exercise that we do, we can focus on feeling our body.
By practicing feeling our body, the parts and how they relate, we allow energy to flow because to feel our body we have to position it just right.
In anything that we are learning to do we can focus on using our senses to “feel” what we are doing.
Doing math we can use our eyes to see equations.
Driving we can sense the traffic around us.
While in a conversation we can listen to what our partner is telling us.
In the process of feeling our body we position it in a way that feels good or we notice where we feel tight and ask ourselves what can be done about it.
So when we feel our body we aren’t just feeling it, we are responding to what we sense.
Sensation is the Flow of Energy
Initially, we can use our mind to direct our senses, to help us notice what our senses are telling us.
This is like learning to drive and finding out where the speedometer and rev counter are and what they are for. (One tells us how fast we are going relative to what is around us, the other tells us how fast the engine is turning relative to it not turning.)
The feelings are the result of electrical signals that pass from our sense receptors to our brain.
When we feel we are allowing energy to flow. When we finally tune our position so that we can use our senses we send signals from our brain to the appropriate muscle control centers. This too is energy and by fine tuning our positioning we again allow energy to flow.
Better yet, by directing the way we use our senses and the way we control our body we direct where the energy flows to and from within our body.
Elements we Can Sense and Control
What is it that we can learn to feel and control?
We can learn to feel the parts, ideas or elements and how they all relate.
- We can learn to feel the weight of our bones and how our bones relate to each other.
- We can learn to feel our muscles and whether they are active or relaxed on in the process of activating or relaxing.
- We can learn to feel tension in our connective tissue generated by any combination of muscular activity or relaxation or caused by the weight of one bone or another hanging down.
Smooth and Slowwww
So that we can learn to feel the parts of our body, discrete and identifiable bones and muscles, we can practice moving slowly and smoothly and we can focus on feeling and controlling specific parts of our body at a time.
We can focus on basic body elements or we can focus on sport/movement/activity specific movement elements that relate directly to what we are trying to do.
We can also focus on doing clearly defined movements so that it is easy to guide what we are doing and to check what we have done. This is where the Dance of Shiva comes in.
The Dance of Shiva aids in
- clear thinking,
- improving body awareness,
- equalizing/balancing left/right mobility and range of motion
- develops or improves mind-body coordination
- and a few other things besides.
It’s a tool for thinking creatively, for seeing potential and realizing it.
The Dance of Shiva
My own practice of learning to feel and control my body has evolved from my study of yoga, tai ji and the Dance of Shiva.
I’ll talk about the Dance of Shiva in this article because it is relatively simple to begin with and can be learned easily from a book or video.
Plus, practicing it makes learning and doing things like Yoga and Tai Ji easier.
The Dance of Shiva has 8 basic positions for each arm.
These 8 basic positions can be combined by using both arms at the same time. As a result there are 64 different arm position combinations. (8×8….)
The nice thing about these positions is that they are well defined and simple.
In four of the positions the palms face upwards, as if balancing a small bowl or cup of lobster bisque. (1, 2, 3 and 4 in the picture at right.) In the other four positions the palms face outwards as if holding a spoon or sword but the palm and fingers are flat…. (kind of makes it hard to hold but we’ll forget that for now and move on!)
(a, b, c and d.)
The simple idea of Dance of Shiva is to learn how to connect each of these positions to every other position.
If we include connecting a position to itself then we have 64×64 movement combinations.
That is quite a lot of movement combinations but… they are all based on 8 basic movements. I didn’t mention it, but there are 8 basic movements that can be used to connect any of the 8 basic positions to each other.
One of those moves is a zero move.
Why the zero move?
In any situation we always have the choice of doing nothing and that is one way we can think of the zero move, the possibility of doing nothing. We can also think of the zero move as the move that contains the possibility of all other moves.
So how many movement possibilities are there?
64×64 because from any position there is always the possibility of doing nothing!
Zero is potential, non-zero is realizing that potential.
Plus, when using both hands together, if we want to connect two positions that are different by only one arm positon then we need to only move one arm. The zero move takes care of the arm that doesn’t move.
The zero move also makes the math neater.
With the Dance of Shiva we practice seeing potential, perhaps even creating it, and we also practice realizing potential.
And rather than wasting time by thinking about what we can’t do we practice focusing on what we can do. And it all starts with 8 simple positions and 8 simple movements that join those positions.
Sequences of Movement Combinations
With 64 different movement combinations, we can create sequences of movements that repeat four times to bring us back to where we started. By practicing these sequences (called Warps) we can practice the movements of the dance of shiva in a logical and structured way.
This trains us to think clearly about what we are trying to do. With a clear idea of what we are trying to do we can easily check if we are doing or have done it correctly. The sooner we spot any mistakes the sooner we can correct them.
And because we can check each move as we do it we can practice the benefits of checking as we do as opposed to after we’ve done.
Checking as we are doing or while we are doing, mistakes are a lot easier to find and correct before they become big problems. Not only that, we don’t have to look for the source of the problem.
(And that is a large part of what problem solving is, finding the source of the problem.
Only when we know what the problem is can we then go about fixing it.)
Learning Tai Ji or a Gong Fu routine (or even Chinese calligraphy) we can learn the basic structure of what we are doing. We can think of this as the choreography or even the script (to a play that we have a part in.) Once we’ve learned the script or choreography or sequence of moves we can practice feeling it.
The nice thing about feeling is that we can vary it slightly depending on what is happening at the time.
What we have learned begins to become alive within ourselves.
By focusing on feeling, and on making micro adjustments based on what we feel we have the opportunity to maximize the flow of energy within ourselves.
Once we’ve learned a movement patterns, a sequence of moves, we can use this movement pattern to practice feeling our body.
As an example, all positions have the palm facing either upwards or outwards.
To begin with we can practice feeling our hands and making sure that they are facing upwards or outwards.
From our hands we can expand our awareness to our elbows and shoulders.
We can feel these parts and position them so that it is as easy as possible to put our hands in the required position.
As we get more comfortable with both the sequences of moves and with feeling our body, we can expand our awareness to include our head and ribcage.
We can practice positioning our ribcage (and thoracic spine) so that it is easy to use our arms and we can position our arms so it is easy to use our hands.
Finally we can expand our awareness to include our waist, pelvis, legs and feet.
What we have then is a way of practicing using the whole body to do what we are trying to do.
This whole body awareness can then be used in any other activity that we are doing. And if the awareness we learned from the dance of shiva is lacking with respect to some other activity that we want to do, then at the very least we have a framework for filling in the pieces that are missing.
Once we can feel one part, or many parts, those parts become references for feeling anything that they are connected to.
Training the Mind
By the way, the Dance of Shiva can be done standing or sitting. It can be done while sitting in a chair. It can also be done in the head or on a piece of paper.
As well as helping us to learn to feel our body the Dance of Shiva is an excellent way of training the mind.
Because we define the movements and the positions, there is no ambiguity as to what we are trying to do. Instead we can focus on doing it and feeling it.
We can learn to connect each position to every other position without ever worrying about what is possible or not possible. Instead, it is all possible and all we have to do is choose.
The Point of Feeling is Flowing
So what is the point of feeling our body in anything that we do? So that we can flow. For myself, by focusing on doing the sword form that I am learning slowly, I can feel my body as it moves.
The better I feel it then the easier it is to move quickly and accurately. Rather than trying to remember the moves I am feeling them. And because I am feeling them my movements have a liquid essence. They flow. And it feels really good.
I used to be focused on memorizing Dance of Shiva and then on doing it quickly.
This does have some benefit but I think true benefits, true inner skill or gong fu comes from feeling the movements.
Carrying this sensitivity into the world outside of our practice, we can then become more sensitive to both ourselves and what is around us.
We become present. Life becomes more joyful as a result.
Practicing slowly we can feel our body and then carry that feeling into doing movements at any speed including fast.
Then we are doing gong fu-practicing with inner skill.