martial arts rant pt 2

By the way, one of the most profound things said to me in recent years was by this artist we had the chance of meeting a few years back when picking up a painting.

He was finishing his degree and going back to school in his forties. He was reflecting on the students in the class, who when posed a question had an insatiable desire to answer the question. And to be right. When really the professors often asked open-ended questions as well as questions where folks just don’t know the outcome. There may not be one. If there is one it might not always be the answer. Who knows. Point being, no one, he felt, could really sit with the silence of considering the question.

Anyway, this artist identified the driving emotion behind these incessant questions as fear, namely fear of the unknown and said, “Isn’t it great when you don’t know?”

Isn’t it great when you don’t have the answer?

 

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martial arts rant

I love exploring martial arts. Love doing it, seeing it, learning about it, reading about it, etc. and then every so often I read comments that make my blood boil. About the utility of Move X or Style Y, etc. I hate it. It takes all the fun out of it for me. I realize that this is just some folks way of processing and I know I’m not exempt. I just wonder if we can take a second to turn off the analyzing parts of our brains for two minutes to enjoy.

The more I become exposed to, the less I’m convinced that the practice of martial arts is very practical. Not to say that you couldn’t use some of the mindset and techniques learned in emergency situations. I’m just sick of reading through the commentary where long or short time practioners seem to either ask “gotcha” questions or “sell me on it” questions. So not interested in that because I feel like the person asking the question usually has their own ideas formulated anyway. They just want to see your thought process of rationalization of your own perspective. Stupid. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

This is the same in other realms. It doesn’t have to be martial arts. It seems like if folks can’t find an immediate “purpose” for doing something that goes beyond it being enjoyable, they think it’s useless. Can we not have joy in our lives anymore? If it doesn’t meet some other requirement do we throw it to the way side? 

I see these requests for a justification on why incorporate X. Why can’t you answer your own question by experimenting and exploring a little bit? What does it do for YOU? Not asking everyone including your teacher for their opinion. It’s not even a good discussion topic. Isn’t it always generally good to learn as much as possible?

I know I need to increase my tolerance for these type of questions and responses. But I sort of feel as a teacher, guide, and mentor, it’s not necessarily your responsibility to be the hype woman or man for your area of knowledge. I do believe that people feel called and compelled to explore various things and that whole saying about the teacher appearing when ready. So why push and force the process?

Of course, I have times of being impatient towards the process as well. I sometimes ask things that are so open ended and yet esoteric, that if my teachers and guides have responded to me it’s usually disappointing and at very best sobering. You know it’s funny, but recently I was describing my tendency to do this not with just martial arts, but in life, and the lady I was speaking to said, “but you’ll never know! Not really anyway.” And she said it with such joy that I felt like, huh you’re right, it’s it refreshing to not have an answer? 

I think not knowing, FOMO, and imposter syndrome are very real things that prevent us from doing a lot. I play goalie with myself on questions and putting stuff out there all the time. Perhaps to a fault because I realize later while ranting that I actually have a lot to say about a given subject. Maybe the frustration comes from inherently knowing how frusrating it is to be in the dark and how you sometimes want to latch onto anything in order to make it seem more certain.

What if instead of spending hours, days, months, years justifying and analyzing and trying to map out everything, what if you just did and learned by doing it? Maybe this doesn’t apply to everything but I always feel like there’s baby steps you can do that turn out to be explorations themselves. And then if we were all gradually taking small steps towards figuring shit out, what would our questions and conversations look like then?

Modifications to the Kung Fu Boot Camp Workout

Okay, so something totally amazing happened…

Someone actually tried my workout out and gave me feedback!!

WHAT.

So, obviously, I’m excited about that because she gave really great feedback too. Here’s the revised Kung Fu Boot Camp Workout with these modifications in mind.

Warm-Up Stretch — hold with micro extensions where possible for 3 breaths each

  • Laughing Buddha (cactus arms)
  1. back bend
  2. Side bends (R & L)
  3. Forward bend
  • Horse Stance
  1. Hands behind head, stretch opposite elbow to outside knee (R & L)
  • Bow Stance (warrior)
  1. Extend (R & L)

Shake it out

Cardio Warm-up 

  1. 20 double jump-squats with hands raised above head, then touch down to floor on the bend (as a modification, you could do 20 horse stance flat foot squats)
  2. 10 push-ups (modify on knees if needed)
  3. 10 alternating bridge kicks
  • Lay on back with knees bent and push up hips into bridge while kicking leg out and away, then lower down. Alternate kicking legs.

4. 10 bridge throws

  • Push up into bridge position and stretch arm and hand across to opposite shoulder to touch floor as if throwing someone off you. Alternate arm touches.

If bridge kicks and throws are too hard, replace with 10-20 bridges

5. 10 sit-ups with cross punches

  • Keep non-punching arm in guard by head for punches. Extend punching arm across outside of  the opposite knee. Alternate to other side.

Second Stretch and Loosening  — hold for 3 breaths on each posture with micro extensions where possible

  1. Center splits
  • Stretch forward
  • Right
  • Left

2. Butterfly

Stand for joint mobilizations — 3 full rotations one way and then the opposite direction

  1. Hip circles
  2. Lift leg rotate hip/leg in circle L
  3. Knee circles L
  4. Ankle circles L
  5. Toe grasp L (like you’re trying to pick up something on the ground with your toes) x 3
  6. Repeat 2-5 on the R
  7. Shoulder circles L
  8. Elbow circles L
  9. Wrist circles L
  10. Finger grasp L (like squeezing dough) x 3
  11. Repeat 7-10 on the R
  12. Neck circles
  13. Neck No (look R then L like shaking head No)
  14. Neck Yes (look up then down, like shaking head Yes)
  15. Neck ear to shoulder (bend neck to bring ear to shoulder, alternate)
  16. Face
  • Roll eyes, look RL/up-down/diagonally up/diagonally down
  • Scrunch face , open wide

Shake it out

Striking Practice 

Take a fighting/sparring stance with feet a little more than shoulder width apart front and back, side to side. Knees gently bend. I start with left leg forward. Hands are in guard.

  • Jab L x 10
  • Cross R x 10
  • Jab-Cross X 10
  • Elbow L x 10
  • Backfist L x 10
  • Elbow-backlist x 10
  • Repeat on opposite side with right leg forward

Kicking Practice

  • Knees R x 10
  • Knees L x 10
  • Front Snap on RL, start slow breaking movement into knee and extension x 10, then fast coordinated movements x 10
  • Side Thrust x 10 RL
  • Round House x 10 RL, make sure to take a step out at an angle with standing legend throw arm back on same side as kicking leg
  • Combo: Knee-front kick, knee-side thrust, knee-step-roundhouse x 10
  • Repeat on opposite side

Combo Practice

  • Jab L, Cross R, crouch/duck, step L, Roundhouse R. Do this slow x 5 and fast x5.
  • Switch sides
  • 1 minute each side

Break – 1 minute

Form Practice – Tiger

  • Start slow move by move
  • Modify jumps to kicks if needed
  • Repeat and practice broken down combos-sequences
  • Put it all together and practice gradually gaining speed

Last Cardio Blast

  • 10 burpees
  • Front Snap Kicks x 10
  • Alternating Tiger Palm Thrusts in Horse Stance x 50 (ideally with yell on last 20)

Cool-Down

  • 1 minute deep breathing/visualization

 

Other Ideas

Shorter Total Time

So, for a 30 minute workout, you could do the pretty much do everything before the combo practice and skip that, tiger, and the cardio at the end and go to the last deep breathing minute/visualization. You could probably take out a lot of the joint loosening and mobilizations too, leaving yourself with just neck circles, hip circles, and arm circles. Though if you’ve been feeling really tight, I’d recommend doing those mobilizations at some point. I know it’s weird but the eye stuff and face stretches help a lot if you spend a lot of time behind a computer/looking at screens, or if you don’t blink enough. Trust me, it’s a thing.

For 15 minutes you could do the warm-up stretches and the cardio blast at the beginning and call it a day. Maybe reduce the number of bridges to one set of either one of those bridge variations or just bridge itself.

Partner Work

My friend had some good feedback that the combos, striking and kicking practice are really good to do into the bag. I absolutely wholeheartedly agree with this and it would be SUCH a good work out. I guess I would just say if you and your partner haven’t worked with pads, that might be something to take a class in. Like perhaps go to a muay thai class. Working into pads would totally increase the intensity of this workout, however, so go slow before you go fast.

All right! Well, that’s it for now, so enjoy and let me know how this worked for you!

Maybe I Said Too Much!

So, in my last post, I was just having some fun and thinking, “oh hey, you could do a little 10 minute tiger-inspired internal practice too”, so I made one up. It’s towards the bottom of the post. Then, I was musing that I feel like you could practice this after a hard workout, now I’m having this internal debate. Oh wow, bad pun…

Okay, so first of all, I suppose I should clarify that by “tiger-inspired” I just meant that the names of some of the postures or movements are named after tigers. I have no clue whether tiger external stuff relates to tiger internal stuff and what tiger spirit is to begin with. Maybe confidence and stealth, I guess? That’s what I think of with tigers.

But then, I was like, oh, this little internal practice thing I made is pretty good. Like for me, I actually get a lot out of it. I don’t get any more out of it than other practices I do, but it is kinda fun to try things that aren’t currently in my repertoire.

I feel like maybe I implied it’s better to practice after an intense workout in my last post though and I think all I really mean to say is that when I’ve tried it out, it sometimes is easier for me to relax a little bit more because it’s such a different feeling than exerting, extending, flexing, etc. I just like that I can distinguish the contrast a bit more sometimes and being so tired, I am in this mode where I really don’t want to have to work hard anymore anyway, so I feel like it’s kind of a treat to be able to relax.

But yeah, hope folks know you can do internal energy cultivation practices anytime, anywhere, and with a couple focal points it really doesn’t matter because if you’re doing it right (and enough over time), you’ll feel something.

I think that’s maybe clearer??

Maybe like mud haha!

My “draft” Kung Fu Bootcamp workout

I’ve been my own Guinea pig lately with some of the martial arts based classes I’ve been constructing. So far it’s been going well and I have a rough template for each one I want to present to beginner audiences with broad experience with fitness and perhaps limited exposure to martial arts.

The program I tried the other day was for a Kung Fu Boot Camp. The class is designed as a cardio workout that also builds your confidence and spirit. I figured it’d be cool for corporate groups or team building situations where you want a one-off “feel the burn” type of experience. So I definitely had been feeling it during the workout since I’d been mainly doing Ashtanga yoga  lately(also badass and hard, but in a different way). I hadn’t been doing as many explosive jumps, kicks, and strikes — which is a whole nother animal. Woo! So hard. I’ve been feeling it during the last 2 days in my hammies and hips especially.

Anyway, if you’d like to try it out and let me know what you think, that’d be great! Below are the notes for the 60 minute program, but you could easily modify this to 30 minutes and I will also offer some suggestions for a 15 minute program too. Granted the notes below are incomplete in that at the very least, you would want someone to show you the tiger form, but you could always skip that or add your own form to the end. I would also say while I thought this was hard, there are probably some serious athletes who would have no problems with this. And in that case, that’s cool, you’re probably beyond the scope of what I can provide.

Btw, this program below and all my thoughts are just that,guys. You should obviously talk to your doctor and get a good teacher and do all those kinds of things to protect yourself before attempting any of this stuff. You know yourself and your body best.

Put on your favorite high energy music or enjoy the pure sounds of silence/nature/traffic, etc. whatever suits your fancy!

Warm-Up Stretch — hold with micro extensions where possible for 3 breaths each

  • Laughing Buddha (cactus arms)
  1. back bend
  2. Side bends (R & L)
  3. Forward bend
  • Horse Stance
  1. Hands behind head, stretch opposite elbow to outside knee (R & L)
  • Bow Stance (warrior)
  1. Extend (R & L)

Shake it out

Cardio Warm-up — do this sequence below twice

  1. 20 double jump-squats with hands raised above head, then touch down to floor on the bend (as a modification, you could do 20 horse stance flat foot squats)
  2. 10 push-ups (modify on knees if needed)
  3. 10 alternating bridge kicks
  • Lay on back with knees bent and push up hips into bridge while kicking leg out and away, then lower down. Alternate kicking legs.

4. 10 bridge throws

  • Push up into bridge position and stretch arm and hand across to opposite shoulder to touch floor as if throwing someone off you. Alternate arm touches.

5. 10 sit-ups with cross punches

  • Keep non-punching arm in guard by head for punches. Extend punching arm across outside of  the opposite knee. Alternate to other side.

Second Stretch and Loosening  — hold for 3 breaths on each posture with micro extensions where possible

  1. Center splits
  • Stretch forward
  • Right
  • Left

2. Butterfly

Stand for joint mobilizations — 3 full rotations one way and then the opposite direction

  1. Hip circles
  2. Lift leg rotate hip/leg in circle L
  3. Knee circles L
  4. Ankle circles L
  5. Toe grasp L (like you’re trying to pick up something on the ground with your toes) x 3
  6. Repeat 2-5 on the R
  7. Shoulder circles L
  8. Elbow circles L
  9. Wrist circles L
  10. Finger grasp L (like squeezing dough) x 3
  11. Repeat 7-10 on the R
  12. Neck circles
  13. Neck No (look R then L like shaking head No)
  14. Neck Yes (look up then down, like shaking head Yes)
  15. Neck ear to shoulder (bend neck to bring ear to shoulder, alternate)
  16. Face
  • Roll eyes, look RL/up-down/diagonally up/diagonally down
  • Scrunch face , open wide

Shake it out

Striking Practice 

Take a fighting/sparring stance with feet a little more than shoulder width apart front and back, side to side. Knees gently bend. I start with left leg forward. Hands are in guard.

  • Jab L x 10
  • Cross R x 10
  • Jab-Cross X 10
  • Hook L x 10
  • Uppercut x 10
  • Hook-uppercut x 10
  • Repeat on opposite side with right leg forward
  • Switch back to left leg forward
  • Elbow L x 10
  • Backfist L x 10
  • Elbow-backlist x 10
  • Repeat on opposite side

Kicking Practice

  • Knees R x 10
  • Knees L x 10
  • Front Snap on RL, start slow breaking movement into knee and extension x 10, then fast coordinated movements x 10
  • Side Thrust x 10 R then L
  • Round House x 10 RL, make sure to take a step out at an angle with standing legend throw arm back on same side as kicking leg
  • Combo:
  • Knee-front kick, knee-side thrust, knee-step-roundhouse x 10
  • Repeat on opposite side

Combo Practice

  • Jab L, Cross R, crouch/duck, step L, Roundhouse R. Do this slow x 5 and fast x5.
  • Switch sides
  • 1 minute each side

Intermediate Technique Practice

  • Double front snap kick x 10 RL
  • To modify without a jump, front snap kick R followed by front snap kick left x 10.
  • Change sides.

Break – 1 minute

Form Practice – Tiger

  • Start slow move by move
  • Modify jumps to kicks if needed
  • Repeat and practice broken down combos-sequences
  • Put it all together and practice gradually gaining speed

Last cardio blast

  • 10 burpees
  • Front Snap Kicks x 10
  • Alternating Tiger Palm Thrusts in Horse Stance x 50

Cool-Down

  • 1 minute deep breathing/visualization


This whole thing should take 60 minutes depending on how long you repeat the tiger form. I would recommend at least 3 times, slow, medium with combos broken down, and then fast. Notes on the form are available in this book, though if you haven’t seen it in person, it’s not going to do much for you. I suppose the same could be said of the striking and kicking. You really do need a good teacher so that you don’t hurt yourself.

If I wasn’t teaching this to total beginners and was doing this for myself, I personally would supplement this with two tiger xingyi fists presented here after finishing this whole program. Not that it matters when you practice internal, but if you were in the mood you could add a 10 minute internal practice that’s sorta tiger related, listed below. I would just keep in mind that while it may look simple it’s actually really advanced and you won’t get internal results if you approach the internal practice below with the same mindset or training goals as the boot camp above. Totally different things. But here’s an idea of something using drills from my teacher’s books.

Some “Tiger-y” Internal Ideas

  1. Quiet standing – 1 min
  2. Santi inner activation (See Aiki Singularity or Tanden Revolution) R and L – 1 min each side
  3. Tiger 1 xingyi (see video linked above) – maybe 4 or 5 steps turn around and do the same thing x 4
  4. Tiger 2 yi quan (see this video) – 1 min each side
  5. Xingyi tiger’s mouth quiet standing – 1 min
  6. Quiet standing with straight wrists – 1 min

This would take about 10 minutes and help you to feel and cultivate internal energy (if you do it the way my teacher lays it out). I really agree with him that you really need to separate in your mind how you approach these two very different practices. Each can teach you something useful, but it’s super different. In fact maybe you don’t want to practice internal forms after doing something so physically inclined like the beginner tiger form referenced above.

But I will say that SOMETIMES, for me personally, because you are so physically tired after doing an intense physical workout when you can fully switch over to “internal mode”, so not using a  lot of physical force or tension and relaxing fully and consciously, I sometimes get a more pronounced internal experience. I’m not sure if this would work for everyone, but a couple students at the old kung fu school did get results that way too. More on that in a future post perhaps. I’d better stop now before I accidentally mislead people!

Anyway, for now, just enjoy the workout program. Probably past students will be able to get the most use out of it. Let me know what you think if you try it and if it is too hard, let me know so I can make modifications.

teaching moment pt 2

So using my martial arts background, I’ve come up with 4 classes I can teach to absolute beginners in a corporate/one-off “let’s just have fun, do something new and healthy” kind of setting. I tested out 2 of the 4 classes on myself this week —breathing/meditation/qi gong and stretching/yoga— and feel confident about my ability to teach them. I also modified my usual beginning tai chi class and today may try out a “kung fu boot camp” type class on myself, which basically just modifies what we did at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi to a more one-off setting.

I’m really digging all this, gotta say. It’s so much fun to think creatively about my various practices and use what I know to make some adjustments so they resonate with specific audiences. I’ve previously felt very dogmatic about martial arts practices and have viewed them as something where I need to not only uphold the forms but also the curriculum of learning and the teaching methods. Now, I’ve figured out a way that I can present that I feel remains true to the lineage, but also gives me room to play and have fun.

I don’t alter the postures or, in certain forms, the sequences of movement, but I have been working with packaging the material into an easy to understand class. There’s certain things I love and enjoy about my personal practice and the practice I’m led through when at a class that I’ve discovered I can’t do when teaching super beginners. I think it’s because the concepts are actually quite complex and if, as a student, you come in with a preconceived notion of what yoga is or kung fu or tai chi or meditation, then in some settings, it’s going to be a steep learning curve for you to get onboard with traditional methods of instruction and thought.

I thought, what if I could present the traditional teachings I know and love, but to people who have a very broad, highly socialized understanding of these concepts so that by the end of the class perhaps they’d be more open to exploring in depth these fascinating practices. Can I be a doorway? Maybe a gateway drug, if you will… ha!

Anyway, it’s pretty fun but as always a challenging balance of being true and respectful of my own teachings while also realizing that I may be able to lighten up on some aspects of the practice as long as I’m retaining what for me is the core. I never would have been in this more exploratory mindset had my own teachers not encouraged this type of approach. I myself was actually surprised that all my teachers had encouraged me to play, explore, and experiment in my personal practice since our bodies, minds, and lives are constantly changing.

Having this freedom has allowed me to not be hard on myself (one of my greatest challenges!) when not being able to do a full practice due to injury or time constraints. I’ve been able to retain and grow my experiences within these practices while being adaptable and not rigidly holding onto the exact same sequence or approach or goal. That being said, the structure of the practices helps me to retain my focus and track my progress on longtime goals. Or if not static goals, just see over time how I’m changing for the better as a result of practicing.

Anyway, creating my own little programs has given me a lot of insight lately and I look forward to seeing what others think too. Fingers crossed that they get something good out of it!

teaching moments

I taught tai chi to a corporate group the other day and it went really well. People were smiling. I felt great. I think they did too. Such a change from the last couple of times I’ve taught classes and it made me thing, “hey, maybe I’m getting better at this!”

I have to credit teachers I’ve had recently who’ve either displayed or given me feedback when it comes to teaching. I thought about it when speaking with a friend the other day who asked if I’d ever teach yoga. I kinda hemmed and hawed about it, but he pointed out  that at least with beginners, I probably know more than them, so why not?

It’s this same mindset that I’ve become a bit more comfortable with when it comes to martial arts. There’s that old impostor syndrome voice that sneaks up on situations. Coupled with its best friend, Perfectionism, they make a great team of talking you out of anything. There’s a character in my generational punk play who is thrust into being the leader of a scene or movement. She says to a longtime friend coming to visit that she never liked authority and wanted to be an authority figure on anything. This is how I feel a lot of time about teaching.

There’s a side to my open-mindedness that can leave me as indecisive and passive. I think, “Well, I still have a lot to learn. I don’t feel nearly as qualified as my teachers.” I’ve gotten hung up on the idea that I need to somehow manifest the level of experience of those I’ve learned from in order to teach well. I forget what my playwriting teacher used to tell us when in grad school and preparing to teach playwriting and screenwriting the first time, which is that we’ve spent more time digging deep into story dynamics and structure than the students we’d be teaching. And even if that may not be applicable, I do subscribe to the idea that you have something to learn from everyone. Would it be so impossible that sometimes you have something to give others?

Tai Chi Teaching
Giving mini adjustments to my awesome group of students!

I think what went really well the other day was that I had experience under my belt to manage my expectations about what I could pass on in the time given. I had ideas of class structure based on classes I’ve attended and taught. I definitely know what I like. I know what I think is important. And I have a pretty good sense of what I do well. In the classes I taught at 108 Heroes Kung Fu and Tai Chi, I realized that because my main interest with tai chi is internal energy, I was being REALLY ambitious with how I taught people.

It was a lot of convincing people that internal energy is a thing. (It is.) But gah, how discouraging to keep trying to convince people of it day after day. I’ve been lightening up on what I do for my own personal practices and getting great results, so I figured, “Low hanging fruit: let’s just get people moving differently and introduced to the form.”

It’s like, maybe just maybe I don’t HAVE to do that much other than present this digestible chunk to folks. Talk about understanding your audience better! I really think this is why it was fun for me and fun for the group. So, comparatively, we didn’t get super far into the form and I chose to only briefly highlight internal energy cultivation once so that I felt that I was still remaining true to how I see tai chi, but I know I didn’t overwhelm people with a lot of concepts that were hard to leap to right off the bat.

And now a couple other opportunities to teach introduction classes to other mind-body practices I have have popped up and rather than being scared about knowing how to do that, I feel really confident. It gives me a new space to explore concepts and put together little programs/experiences based on what I know.

In the last week or so, I’ve started to brainstorm four different basic classes I could teach in a group setting that would be wellness focused and totally fine as one-off experiences. I’ve had fun creating playlists of music I enjoy and that wouldn’t be overly distracting. I had assembled my notes and past workbooks of concepts, postures, and forms I know and could teach easily. And I’ve figured out ways to put these different ideas together into 15, 30 and 60 minute programs. It’s not super exotic necessarily, but then I remember something my husband told me, which is probably the best teaching advice of all.

“They don’t want your teacher to teach them, they want you. You have to bring you.”

Talking Up Tai Chi
This is probably the one time I talked about internal energy.

 

 

DIY

A while back I had started getting into homemade beauty products. After my husband and I returned from a month long lomi lomi immersion at Ho’omana Spa Maui, I became more aware and more enthusiastic about using organic and natural products. Overall, just trying to keep it simple and reflective of what’s in nature. One of the courses we took while on Maui was on ancient Hawaiian plant medicine. In it we learned how to make a number of different things for the face and body that are beneficial.

Around the same time, at our old martial arts school, we had the opportunity to partner with the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Our martial arts lineage had a recipe for dit da jow, zheng gu shui, and this herbal tonic that a doctor over at the college worked with us to translate. Apparently the recipe we had was barely a guide. It had notes that were phonetic but also a bit quirky so it took the doctor a bit of digging to figure out what herbs were meant.

Dit da jow and zheng gu shui are pretty common herbal medicines and it’s not uncommon to see kung fu schools with various recipes. We used to get a family recipe from Brendan Lai’s Martial Arts Supply when they used to have a storefront in the Mission District of San Francisco. It was really good. Around that time, I think we were learning leg sweeps and my calves were so torn up. Ugh, awful. I looked like a weird leopard. The folks at school recommended the dit da jow and I seriously became hooked because it rapidly reduced my healing time. And, I think when you’re a woman doing martial arts, there’s just a certain amount of scrutiny about various bruises you may have collected that you just don’t want to deal with.

Anyway, we ended up partnering with the doctor to do a seminar at our school. As luck would have it, the school had been broken into, so quickly relocated the group to a nearby park since it happened to be a nice day. We made the three formulas right there in the park and the concoctions have been stewing ever since. I hear it’s kind of like wine in that it’s supposed to get better the more you let it sit. This batch has been stewing for about two years now.

Making the hit medicine and then being exposed to ancient Hawaiian la’au lapa’au has helped me to see opportunity in a lot of different areas. My family is a big influencer on my pull to grow and make things. At our old house, we had a backyard that was pie-shaped and contained lots of cool things like pomegranate trees, plum trees, and soon we put in raised bed vegetable and herb gardens. We were always pickling or jamming things. Then, my brother got into beekeeping so we had a hive on the property with access to raw honey. And one of the plants that grew well in the California coastal climate was lavender.

So, one of the things I first tried to make was a solar infused lavender oil. The bees LOVE lavender and also a lot of spearmint and lemon thyme we had. I used dried lavender from the yard as well as olive oil and coconut oil and then stored it in a mason jar which I kept out on the porch for about three weeks. It actually probably has some moon energy too because I wasn’t taking it in at night too, so there’s that too. On a later batch, I also added in lemon blossoms and orange blossoms from our little potted citrus trees outside.

The solar oil just has a light tough of the lavender, though when I tried calendula flowers in oil (after hearing they were really good for skin), that combination is much more potent – like a really heavy marigold scent.

When my brother gave me some of the beeswax from the hives, I got to thinking about salves and lotions. He had suggested salves since they are easier to make. I had originally intended to make this dit da dow salve or my dream was to make a lotion out of it. Since dit da jow is a liniment, I find it difficult to rub into the skin. It’s super watery and gritty from the herbs/minerals in the formula, so I would always have to take this extra step of mixing it with one of my lotions or oils in order to rub it into the skin a little better. But the lotion or oil I would mix was always a little off on consistency and had the chemicals or scents of whatever carrier oil/lotion I was mixing it with at the time.

With the wax, I started looking up recipes for lotions since I prefer that and how it’s less sticky than a salve. There are a lot of simple recipes out there. I had one in this book of herbal remedies that used a solar calendula oil to make a “rich, luxurious cream”. It’s similar to this basic recipe from Wellness Mama only you use the calendula infused oil in place of the almond/jojoba oils listed.

In my first try, I really learned the importance of prep and tools. Wow. I must have burned myself a number of times…

The wax I had was not like what you get at the herb shop that comes in small little beads that melt easily – think shredded cheese into a roux. My wax was a huge chunk that looked like it came from a block of artisan cheese. I thought I could cheat a step and just melt the whole thing in saucepan. Nope, it gets wax all over the pan that’s near to impossible to get off. This is where I felt I learned a new found respect for the double-boiler. Also, having grated wax to begin with. That would have made the process so much easier and avoided some hot wax splatters on my skin. Ouch!

The next part of the recipe that I find to be the trickiest is when you’re supposed to combine the oil-wax mixture with aloe vera. Since I ultimately wanted to combine the dit da jow, I really needed to follow these more complex recipes that had a cooling and second combining process. Enter, the blender. By the way, don’t use a blender to make lotion, it’s really terrible. What happens is the oil-wax can cool too quickly as you’re mixing in your blender and then it gets all piece-y and chunky in your blender. Plus, the blender ends up getting a lot of body product junk on it.

Heed my warning! Don’t use the blender. Probably I should have just used one of those handheld immersion blenders and bought separate equipment for making body products. So, what resulted was a lotion that was very moisturizing, but had these pockets of wax that you really had to rub into the skin. Now when we moved and were making it through our first winter in the Rockies, the extra protection barrier the wax created was kinda nice. It helped my dry skin a lot, but other than that, it wasn’t a functional every day lotion.

I consulted a friend who’s a cosmetic chemist to see if there was any way I could salvage what I had done. I mean, here’s this homegrown lavender and beeswax and it would have been potentially just totally wasted. Luckily, she said I could go through the heating and mixing process again and that should fix it. And it sorta did, but it was still off. Then, I had one tub that was very liquid-y with bits of wax not quite melted and incorporated. And another batch that was super sticky waxy.

Between my friend’s advice and this other site, I also incorporated a couple tips to get the kind of lotion I wanted. I definitely have a new appreciation of chemistry and emulsifiers after this.

So here’s how I fixed it.

I got the double boiler set up and also a whisk.

I monitored the heat really closely while pouring in my waxy lotions and whisked the heck out of them. Not fast, but consistently so that the waxy lotion was at least better blended.

Then, I’d add the liquid-y lotions more and more while still mixing and making sure everything was blended.

The problem was I had more liquid-y lotion than waxy so I also decided to incorporate this other face lotion, I’d gotten from Lush that was kinda like a salve but left a powdery finish. If I wore more makeup, this product would have been really good as a primer. Or, if I was in a really humid climate, but since it’s dry where I live now, I knew I’d never really use it.

I think by combining this product into my lotions, it helped out so much. And I found out later because you can’t use beeswax in a lotion in place of your emulsifying wax. Wow. Learn something new every day!

Still, the process taught me so much and while it may be a long time before I attempt a lotion again, I have more of a sense of this process now and what all is involved in it.

What really makes me happy though, is knowing exactly where these ingredients are from. I hand selected all of them (except for the Lush stuff). When I wear the lotion, I know that there’s infused oil from my old backyard and wax from the bees. It’s a nice feeling for something I will probably use up in a couple months.

lotion

Poetic License

So the challenges do far…

Well, due to life circumstances, I scrapped the screenwriting challenge. I gotta do it one year though. I just have more poetry than narrative story in my head right now.

But the poetry challenge?! If you have been reading, I’m sure you can see the result. The prompts are a lot of fun and definitely help me stay out of my head too much.

Here’s the thing about poetry though that I’m realizing (at least when I write it). I like my poems to be scrappy and less than perfect. I like when they are simple and yet evocative. I like them to use bold, straightforward words that are about complex things. I don’t like them to be too flowery. And I really don’t want them to take a long time to write.

Not that taking your time and going over things is a bad thing. Like have you ever seen a Hawaiian feather cape or lei? So I intricate! I appreciate so much! To make this lei or cape you need feathers from a certain kind of bird. You don’t just go out and kill a bunch of these birds and take their feathers though. No! You let the birds live. You only take one or two so obviously in a cape of a certain size it’s going to take forever to make a cape like this.

It’s not that I don’t have that kind of patience. I just like to do a little bit sometimes and switch gears. One day I will attempt something longer and that takes years to create.

I’m trying to do my poems in order and sometimes the set-up is more involved. Like the one I’m on now involves other people, so it may be a while until I blast through that one.

I used to feel really sheepish about my poetry because I didn’t really ever learn specifically how to write it. I’m just doing it. Sometimes it comes out reasonable. Then I read like straight-up poets and I’m like WHY DID YOU DO THAT THIS IS SO GOOD MY WORDS ARE POLLUTING SPACE.

And then I’m like 🤷‍♀️ well idk

So I’ve decided it’s fine.

I’m sure the folks getting my posts emailed are like, “So why’s Barbara posting like a whole bunch of poems all today?” I finally got a couple minutes to just go. Does anyone ever listen to drum and bass? Because to me, what it feels like to write poetry, or what I strive for it to feel like is a steady beat with atmospheric blends, warm mids and a sometimes haunting baseline that always makes whatever melody comes out so much bigger than it seems. Far off outer space sounds and glitchy sound effects that sound like glitter and feel like deep sighs of relief.

NOW THAT is what poetry should feel like

(if you ask me)

challenge

I started a couple challenges.

One is a 30 day poetry challenge with the Escapery. Myself and other writers get a prompt a day to spark some inspiration for a raw, unedited, unfiltered poem. Ooh! My favorite kind to write! I don’t know why or how, but a couple years ago, I started this thing where I was like, “hey I’m just going to do some creative writing every day and post the uncut version.” And it really opened up this new fascination with poetry for me. Though I studied literature in college, I just feel like I have no clue what good poetry is or if I’m doing it. But like most things, I figured, “oh what the heck, it’s kinda fun.” After a while, I felt like the conceit was getting stale and I felt too much pressure to produce something every day, so I stopped. This challenge has been a refreshing welcome back so far. The prompts help me to not overly think about what to write about and do what I think I do well, which is to just roll with it. Like I tend to write a lot about nature, music, and energy and the prompts are things like writing about who sees you when you get the invisible award (yesterday) or describing a table and a feast. I mean, really stuff I’m not gravitating towards usually but something about it helps me to tap into other topics that I wouldn’t know how to enter if not for having that email prompt in front of me. So, I hope folks enjoy that. There’ll probably still be a lot of poems created using what I usually go to, but perhaps it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves.

I signed up for a screenwriting challenge the other day too but so far have been stumped on this exercise about voice on the FIRST DAY!! There’s this exercise which I think is meant to show you the points in your own life where you were pointed down the path to being the person and character you are now. All to show you about character and story. I find it extremely difficult to analyze myself in this way however. I’m like, well “who am I really?” Because the guy who does the challenge is using this example of A list talent who know exactly who they are and what roles they play. I don’t think I know quite what stories I write. I guess they are kind of ethereal comedies that have a mysterious/dark tinge? Would that be accurate?! Gah, no clue. Maybe that’s more wishful thinking and I’m just a goofball or really procedural. Not that those would be bad things either… anyway, more to come on that front. I think it’s also the reason I can’t decide on which type of story to tell. I was thinking maybe something about yoga or healing with a female protagonist because I haven’t seen a lot of those stories and I enjoy those spaces. I always think it’s a good idea to REALLY love the space or world you are writing about for long form projects since you’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about those places and people. And I figured, well I already spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff anyway so two birds, really. We’ll see how it all pans out.

And then the other areas I’ve been trying to focus in on is yoga and internal energy. I’ve had sporadic practices lately compared to my past and do I’m trying to hunker down. I was looking at things that distract me and one was social media. I spent way too much time there and then with the whole Facebook data breach, I’m like, “you know maybe this is a time to get creative on how I’m using these tools, etc. etc.” So I deleted the app for now. Didn’t deactivate but figured I’d just see what comes up from not being on it and curating down who I follow and am influenced by on other spaces. I’m trying to blog more (as you can see) and trying to not worry about who reads it, what they think about it, if it’s self-indulgent (isn’t everything?!), etc.

I’ve said this before and honestly I don’t know why I have had (have?) a hang up with it but I have been trying to find ways to talk about my yoga and internal energy practices for a while now and am like stopping myself. Why? No clue except that I feel like the best way to talk about it is by describing my own personal experience and progress. I think I figured “oh well if I’m writing a blog about this then I gotta be an expert or write from a place of this high leveled experience.” And then it’s like well how high do you want to go since progression is endless? So obviously that didn’t work.

I guess my view was that no one would want to read the perspective of this girl who doesn’t know Mandarin or Sanskrit. I’m not even Chinese or Indian. So like talk about cultural appropriation, right? But then I really enjoy and spend like SO MUCH (too much?) of my day thinking of all this stuff that the best I can come up with is maybe that there’s a way to honor and practice something that values and respects where something comes from and maybe by practicing more I’ll figure out more stuff??

Anyway, this post is getting long and trying to cover way too much already. Point is, I decided to get over it and start writing about it.

At one point in time, I made the most significant progress in my internal energy practice by committing to a short practice that I did every day and then writing exactly what I experienced whether it was emotions, physical, whatever. I wrote about it all because that’s the only way I could see over time what was changing and where I could focus. That worked, so I figured I’d do that again.

I’m just really trying to get to a point in yoga where I’m not constantly thinking about non-yoga stuff as I’m practicing. I know, BIG GOALS! Maybe it’s not the point of yoga, but I don’t care. That’s where I’m at. It’s so hard too. Even with all this other stuff to think about like how to position my body or if I’m breathing right or enough or too fast and where I’m supposed to be fixing my gaze. I can’t stop (yet!). It’s like an addiction. Anyway, goal #1 in yoga these days. That and just trying to stay consistent.

My internal energy practice is a whole mother animal. Because I’ve been spotty with practicing consistently my experience is just not what it was at certain high points. It’s like if I was this skateboarder that could do a ton of tricks and then didn’t do it for a while so can barely ollie. Ugh. So I mean ultimate goal? Feel it all, a lot!! But more immediate goal is to “get back to where I was”, which I’ll know when I feel. Actually I came up with a way to have fun with it. I’m going to see how long it takes me. I *kinda* predict a month just given how stuff like this has gone in the past, but I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to get in the flow of practicing and then have some big experience in a couple days.

So, anyway, if anyone’s curious I’m doing Ashtanga for the yoga practice. I’m at bhuja pidasana. Look at me go! I had to look up how to spell that, but I think it’s a lot better than saying “the one where you wrap your legs around your arms”. I’m so sore. I can barely walk. But other than looking forward to seeing what changes. I was surprised to see that I could more or less eek my way through the postures, except for the deep twists here and there (which have been hard for me since being introduced o them). You know one cool thing is some postures that I was like “borrrrrring who cares?” and just did because they were in between the other stuff I liked doing and you know ws generally positive like “oh I’m sure they are good for you” in the way that asparagus is good for you. Anyway! A couple of these postures, I feel like I’m making progress on and you get all those little linkage points too like, “oh duh this one posture totally helps me do this other thing that I need to do in order to go deeper”. So little things like that are my jam.

On the internal side, I’ve committed to doing a mini practice a day at least. Gotta feel something. So lately, I’m doing what I call “2*7”. It’s 2 minutes of 7 different exercises structured like a pyramid. I didn’t make it, my teacher did for some other dude on this group on Facebook I used to frequent when I was on fb. Anyway, it’s:

  • Quiet standing
  • Constant bear
  • Shiko A
  • Shiko B
  • Shiko A
  • Constant Bear
  • Quiet standing

If you’re actually interested in background on all this, I’d recommend Aiki Singularity. It’s very good and if you are consistent, will be effective.

Anyway, after a couple of years of practicing using this approach, I feel a charge somewhere the instant I begin. Doesn’t matter if I practice every day or have taken a break for a month. It’s there. But it’s such a let down that I’m not feeling what I was! Hence my immediate goal. But that’s ok, the process is fun too. It’s like when you’re on a road trip and come across this really bad ass mountain or something beautiful and you go, “no way! This is a thing apparently!” When you’ve been there before it’s still cool like, “hey! It’s that mountain again! Look at you go!”

So when I get to the second Constant Bear, that’s usually when I feel something big. I guess because you’re just more relaxed and focused by then so you can feel more. Don’t know. Today was interesting. Not because I felt a lot more. It was actually kinda tough because I decided to visit my husband at work since he claimed he’d found a really good chai and my chai that I got sucked (too sweet). Anyway, turns out it was a good chai and his new work is in a really cute part of town I wanted to explore. I had plans with myself to practice though so he suggested a nearby park. I really enjoy practicing outside but it can get easy to get distracted (see yoga goals). So I did my thing in a quietish spot and decided the spot itself could work. So noted for the future.

But whether I try something a little different than my norm, I have more tension and can’t feel as much. I just get worried about who’s watching (no one) and what they think (they are not thinking about me) and if anyone is behind me (I don’t know why I get paranoid about that). So I felt more or less The Usual during practice then I was like, no wait I want to try some other stuff since I have a bunch of time.

I then did this santi (see xingyi and Aiki book referenced) drill and didn’t get much BUT THEN I remembered how my teacher posted about snake (one of the xingyi animals) and was feeling like “hey I gotta try something with more movement, more dynamics”. So I did snake for a couple lines up and down, which was actually another good challenge for me to do while not worrying about passersby. And towards the end I was like, well that was dumb, I feel stupid, probably looked stupid, my teacher would laugh at how shittily I did this, like bad karate, but I went into quiet standing anyway and BLAM! Just like a wash of energy up the front side of my body but particularly in my torso and strangely my neck and chin. So just as mentioned in my goals before. But you really can’t get too excited about what happens because it’s always different and sometimes it builds and sometimes it doesn’t it just does it’s own thing.

All good. Gah, if anyone read this far, I’m like going to give you a cookie or something because I just feel like I had to get all that out. But if not that’s all right too. Just a little note for my future self.