Joshua Craig: In the practice we do not learn anything. We recognize what is already there
Yoga is frequently perceived as a way of practice that seeks the most optimal ways of combining both body and mind into one, efficient, seamlessly working unit. There are many other traditions and methods that have similar if not identical goals. One of them is I Liq Chuan. Joshua Craig, the teacher of Zhong Xin Dao I Liq Chuan, tells us about his journey.
TopYogis: Please, tell us a bit about the beginning of your adventures with martial arts and meditational practices.
Joshua Craig: I started exploring martial arts by doing taekwondo when I was about twelve. As a teenager, I got into hardcore karate and stuff like that but after two years, I realized that the group I was with was so testosterone driven that I was becoming a person I didn't really want to be. So I turned more into yoga, qigong, meditation and that sort of thing. I never actually got back into martial arts until the year 2000 when I was run over by a car. Throughout the recovery process, I went through a variety of physical therapies and it didn't seem to quite work for me. I started to explore qigong, tai chi and baguazhang. This was sort of the beginnings. I never set out to teach these things. I was just doing it for myself. After the accident, I couldn't hold a regular job due to the nature of my injuries and it happened so that I started to host workshops for different teachers. I started bringing healers or martial artists that I really needed to see for myself. Through the process of bringing in all of these teachers, people approached me saying that they would be interested in doing something on a more regular basis, not just a seminar here and there. I said, “Well, I have just been doing it for a little bit but why don't we get together and practice."
These informal groups later evolved into classes. And that is where things took off from.
TopYogis: What kind of practice is your main focus?
Joshua Craig: Right now I study an internal style called Zhong Xin Dao Iliqchuan with grandmaster Sam Chin originally from Malaysia who now lives in upstate New York.
TopYogis: What is the most important element of your practice for you?
Joshua Craig: The most important element of my practice is to really recognize where my mind is. To recognize the conditions of where I am at without labeling it. This helps me evolve as a person because, in order to deepen my skill and to continue on this path, I actually have to change. I can not be the same person and develop further.
TopYogis: Are there any particular practices that you like to start your day with?
Joshua Craig: I really like to sit. Have some quiet time first. Some quiet sitting or some quiet standing. Some conscious breathing. And then I like to move into a tendon set. That's one of the things that has really made a difference in my own healing process. Getting beyond the muscles and getting deeper into the body.
TopYogis: We ask a lot of teachers a kind of a funny question: "If someone had only 15 minutes a day, what would you recommend them to practice?"
Joshua Craig: If there are only 15 minutes available in a day, for myself the most important thing is simply to sit and breathe and let go.
Outside of that I actually recommend to people to practice in small blocks throughout the day - 5,10,15 minutes and to see in whatever exercise they choose, if they can bring their full attention and focus for that period of time.
In my mind, it is not so beneficial for someone to practice for an hour, two hours, three hours, when they have lost their focus. So they're merely going through the motions, sort to speak. To be able to bring full consciousness to bear on any activity for no matter how long it is - that is good practice.
For myself, a hallmark of a more advanced practitioner is the ability to maintain that focus over longer periods of time. So for myself, actually, a 15-minute block is a standardized practice.
TopYogis: Have you sustained any injuries over the years as a result of your practice? Anything you would like to advise others beginning on their journey?
Joshua Craig: I sustained knee injuries, shoulder injuries from not really being aware of the structure and functions of the body, how it works. Going through the motions, not being aware of the principles ahead of time, just repeating motions, because I thought that was the way they were supposed to be done without investigating further. I could have saved myself many years of training time, simply by learning more about these things.
TopYogis: Has your approach to practice changed over the years?
Joshua Craig: Most definitely. When I first started the internal arts I was really coming from the place of injury. I was looking mostly at the rehabilitation aspects of the practice. Later, when I started feeling better it evolved into a more of a disciplined schedule when I thought I should practice a certain amount of time every day. I must be doing this. I should be doing this. And what I found was that I was not actually listening to my needs as well. Today my approach is much more intuitive. For example, I might do for one week - one basic exercise. For all of my training time. The following week - another thing. Even for myself, when I practice longer, I will change the exercises when I notice that I am losing my focus, which allows me to bring fresh attention to my own actions, my practice.
TopYogis: So, mind, mind, mind. Lots of practice with the mind!
Joshua Craig: Yes! Also - understanding stillness. One of the practices I do is standing - Zhan Zhuang. Finding the motion coming from the stillness, seeing which way the body wants to move naturally and trying to align with that rather than simply moving.
TopYogis: Do you have any recommendations for people who try to find their practice of stillness, find that feeling of stillness? For example the length of time for standing? There are many different approaches traditionally. Some of them prescribe long sessions. Endure the pain. Release the body and mind. What do you think about that?
Joshua Craig: It is interesting because just the other day, we were talking about it with the students. During my class we stood for 5-10 minutes, a few different postures and then I told them about my first Zhan Zhuang class. I didn't quite know what it was all about. We started holding the posture and of course, I experienced pain, breathing through it, trying to do my best, not even knowing how long we were going to be standing for. It seemed to drag out but I had my great moments and I also had extreme pain, feeling of old injuries and stuff like that. But we kept standing. I even got to the point when I hated the teacher for a few moments and then I got over it as he would come to adjust us. But the amazing thing is that at the end I found out that we were holding that one posture for 90 minutes! And then we had a few other postures after that. It was a 2,5-hour class! It was a shock to my system. Actually, I felt phenomenal afterwards but I also had a rebound effect as well. I was incredibly energized but my whole system rebelled against it afterwards. I went with this type of sustained practice for a little while longer but again one of the things I discovered through that was this whole thing about - how long can I maintain my mindfulness?
So, the old school approach of exhausting the external muscles so that deeper muscles can take over and allow the tendons and ligaments and connective tissue to hold things up, I found that unless somebody is really dedicated to it, it doesn't really work. And the other thing is that it is not so efficient.
I found that it is more beneficial for people to start with smaller blocks, say 5 minutes a day per week, twice a day if they would like. Then the second week add another five minutes, build up to maybe 20 minutes. Really feeling their alignment with gravity forces, allowing them to release the muscles, allowing the skeleton to support them. Gradually. Gently. Also learning different ways to suspend the frame, from the ligaments' perspective or tendons'. Learning about the six directions, three dimensions, these kinds of things. Different reference points for the same exercise. So that their own approach evolves with their development. It is not just the same exercise all the time. As they build their foundations they continually experience the deeper levels of themselves.
TopYogis: In some countries, particularly in Ukraine, we have discovered that lots of yoga teachers are also interested in qigong. However, it’s not everywhere in the world like this. What would you say to a person who practices yoga, what can they get from the practice of qigong?
Joshua Craig: What I am going to say about qigong, tai chi, and other disciplines that I practice like zhong xin dao, the same things will apply to martial arts practitioner when they practice yoga or when they practice meditation if that’s not part of their existing practice.
It’s really important to hold on to your own reference point, to really learn from whatever style it is you’re doing, to really explore yourself through that medium, and then also to step out and see how other people are doing things. And I found for myself that just that experience by itself is very helpful. Sometimes we can be sheltered in our own viewpoint, and we feel like “This is the whole world and I see it right here before me”. And then we realize it’s much wider. For myself in my practice, I look for universal principles of human movement. And that’s the link.
What is the same? First of all, we start with the human body, we start with the mind, we start with the breath. And this for me is the fascinating part. For example, I don’t study tai chi, I study another martial art, zhong xin dao, but here, in this camp, I am sharing things with a tai chi community. And I don’t have any problem with that because we are looking at the underlying principles that are common to all humans. We look at the movement, we look at the way we manage our minds, how we release our breath, how we see these things. And really, we just share these things and how we can all benefit. Lots of students who have been hardcore karate students and now they’re studying softer martial arts, have found that they are able to manage their injuries as they get older, they are able to manage their energy and see that they don’t rely so much on strength and then they start to recognize ways of manifesting their own art in a different way, in a more organic fashion. They feel that it’s a little rounder, it’s a little softer, that it’s more comfortable on their bodies. The same thing is with students that are doing yoga. I mean, some of them are amazing in what they are doing - stretches and poses, and I’m like “Wow, that’s amazing”. And there are other aspects of the practice that maybe they haven’t looked at and they find that going through for example qigong, it gives them another sense, and they start to relate that to their own yogic practice. And they like “Oh, here I’m feeling this prana circulation, and here I’m feeling a different circulation”. And it’s not about a practice itself even, it’s just here’s another viewpoint, it’s stimulating in this way, we recognize ourselves in a different way. But it’s not now “Oh, I’m abandoning my yogic practice or I’m abandoning this tai chi in favor of the other one”. It’s to look at it and say “Wow, through the practice that I was doing, I was focusing on this aspect, and I was completely unaware of this other thing that already existed inside of me”.
So for me, the fascinating thing in my own practice, regardless of what I’m practicing, is that I get the opportunity to recognize what was always there. And that to me is sort of the path. That there’s nothing to learn, there’s nothing to unlearn, it’s already there inside of us, and how do we become better in alignment with the natural function of the body, with what’s already there?
So there are many ways, through time and through learning we’ve learned to move in certain ways, and that might go against the design of the body, just the natural intelligence that the body has. At the same time, the body is our best friend. So through injury and such things when my mind says “Josh, you should not do it”, and it’s not good for me, my body will send pain signals for a while. But if I insist on doing that, my body will adjust so that I can maintain this thing that may not be even healthy for my body and for myself. It helps me to do it. It says ‘All right, Josh, this thing is not a great idea, but you’re insisting upon it, so I’m going to do my best to help you do it”. And I found through time that those are the places where the injuries occur.
So, any practice allows us to get deeper inside, to discover what is already there.
For people who are doing tai chi, for example, now when they start doing yoga, many of them have never practiced stillness. So when they remain still, they find that there is a lot of motion inside. When they have a lot of motion outside, they start to find this quiet place inside. And this is the juxtaposition of these things. And there are many flowing styles of yoga, when they start practicing tai chi, they start to recognize the different rhythm than the one they’ve been used to.
One of the fascinating things about practicing internal arts like zhong xin dao, bagua, xing yi, is that they teach us to move within our limits and to stay within our limits. And so now yoga, on the other hand, wants to extend these limits, in a sort of, can we go a little further, can we stretch what "normal" is? This, for me, is the gift that both have.
After I recovered enough from my injuries after the accident when I was run over by a car, and I went to martial arts class, and they were like “Sorry, you cannot do this martial art. Your body is not fit enough for it, it’s not functional enough. You can’t do push-ups, you can’t do this and that, you can’t practice”. And I explored tai chi, bagua, and eventually found zhong xin dao - these things allowed me, with my existing body, to explore, to go through, but not to get into the zones beyond.
Now, when I experience yoga, I come to the limit, and then I allow myself to ease, and sit, and just observe, and allow things to open a little further, perhaps, and to see what the body allows. So I’m not straining through anything or doing anything, I just ride that edge to see.
My own personal feeling of yoga practice, if you take the example of a garden hose that you water plants with, my feeling of tai chi and internal arts in general, is to take the hose, and maybe it’s bent in certain places and the water is not flowing through it, so it’s a weak flow. So you learn to open the hose and allow it to just flow freely. My experience of yoga is kind of the opposite: the method is to take the hose, kink it, allow the pressure to build, and when it’s released, there’s a greater circulation and flow. And these two things for me, just these two experiences - using a hose is a very simple example - are very complementary to each other. And I think that both methods really have a place. I know a lot of people who practice yogic arts, meditative arts, and movement arts, and I understand that there are different styles of yoga, and we’re making big generalizations here, but at the same time, their cross training in other things, in really experiencing the benefits of it, have great results.
For example, for people who do tai chi, learning to do yogic arm balances, is a really intensive way to experience how to let go of tension and allow alignment with gravity force to do the work. Just let the alignment hold you up and to release all that’s not necessary. When you first do an arm balance, it’s very scary, you’re holding the breath, afraid of falling, these other things, and there are principles of how to find your best alignment, how to do stuff, the guidance of the teacher. Once you have the guidelines down, then the self-practice comes in. This is an example of a concrete exercise from yoga that many practitioners of the internal arts can benefit from. Because we (practitioners of internal arts) don’t have that sustained practice on the hands. We have a lot of sustained practice on the legs. But we don’t go to any extremes, anything like that to test beyond a certain point.
From the internal arts tools that can be helpful for a yogi, it’s learning how to deal with an external force that’s affecting us.There are partner yoga styles, and in these styles, the other person assists you to do the yoga. Whereas in the internal arts, they come from a martial tradition, we’re using the partner’s force to learn how to balance ourselves but that force is not trying to help us in the sense of opening or support. It’s just a force. And we learn to maintain ourselves with force.
I found that often practitioners of yoga, when they come to martial arts class, and they are beautiful and quiet, and then when they first experience the partner practices, it all goes away. Because having another human being who is not going with the flow perhaps, is a very stressful situation. So I find that being able to maintain mindfulness in a different way is such a useful practice.
I’ve had the experiences of going on meditation retreats, and I used to go to ashrams to do yoga retreats in the past before my accident, and I remember that on one such retreat, I’ve been there for maybe three months, one day I was walking outside on a beautiful country road, it’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon and in the middle of nowhere, this one car goes by so slowly with these people looking at the scenery. And I experienced it as such a stress.
So being able to recognize the effects of stress, that we’re surrounded by it, to recognize how we balance ourselves with it or how we harden ourselves against it, and to release that armoring while still allowing things to flow - I think it’s a really phenomenal thing.
You know, I live in Brooklyn, in New York City, it’s a crazy place. There’s a lot of things to take your attention, there’s a lot of stimulus around you, there’s a lot of things going on, and so for some people, it’s “I can never meditate there, it’s so noisy, crowded, etc.” I find for myself that such place gives me such an opportunity - like an opponent - to recognize and release. And I really appreciate when I come to a beautiful and quiet place in nature, and I feel “Oh, it’s so easy here. I’d like to have that balance in my own life”. At the same time, I come from the meditative practices, and I include movement arts in that, can I maintain that under the stress of anything? So in interactions with our environment, we start to see these things, whether it’s our partner or our practice, or something more martial. So finding that place of progressive resistance, where we learn to recognize something in ourselves, we learn to maintain it, and then we see, gently, if we can increase the conditions, the stress, under which we can maintain this thing.
And so for myself, the biggest difference between a beginning practitioner and a more advanced practitioner is simple that they are able to maintain the principles in diverse situations. Not just in class, they can bring them into their daily life. And this I find fascinating.
I get stressed all the time, and this practice is really great for me. First of all, through this practice, I get to witness my mind. For example, in qigong there is a simple body motion, a very simple breath coordination, and a very specific mental state, and the goal here is to simply focus the mind to ensure that this particular set of relationships between movement, breath, and mind is maintained. And it’s really hard to keep the mind focused even through one repetition. Traditionally, qigong is used as a preparation for meditation, preparation for martial arts, preparation for other things. For example, the internal arts forms can be qigong. However, they are usually so complicated, there are so many changes, so much involved inside, that it’s really hard for the beginning practitioner to maintain the presence of mind, their focus, through the entire set. So the qigongs are that - they give you some internal focal points - your own body, your own breath, and a very specific mental state.
And it’s very easy to see when we drift away from that. So learning to recognize that state where attention leaves, and to practice bringing it back, so that you’re able to maintain it in daily life - this is for me is the gift. Most people find qigong, for example, because of the movement, because of the breath, and it enables them to maintain their mindfulness in an easier fashion than for example standing meditation or the sitting meditation. So it’s a great gateway to these other practices. It gives them something to follow.
The internal arts forms, they’re quite complicated, perhaps there’s a yoga flow, there’s a whole bunch of moves, each posture is very specific, what are you doing, where’s your breath, where’s your energy, how you’re doing this and that, coming in, coming out - there’s a lot going on. So with qigong, people are able to have that simple thing, one simple movement, it does not take much to master it, the breath is so simple, it’s just doing it, and just feel the happy presence to maintain it. This is something that I think is a gift to everybody.
TopYogis: Do you think you can tell as a teacher, who of your students are advanced in their practice?
Joshua Craig: Definitely. It’s actually a joke in my class sometimes. I might be even looking the other way, and someone behind me might do something, and I will be “No, that’s incorrect”. And they are like “How do you know?”
TopYogis: And how do you know?
Joshua Craig: You start to develop a feel for it. One of the things I tell my students all the time is despite knowing the instructions and knowing the fear and all that sort of stuff, until you can actually do whatever it is you’re trying to do, you don’t actually know. Once you can do it, you can begin to recognize it in others. And this is the thing.
For example in zhong xin dao we spend a lot of time learning to concentrate our minds, learning to maintain, learning to recognize things as they are. We are not trying to change them. And then we learn to recognize the natural intelligence of the body and then learn, how can we move in harmony with that? How can we unify ourselves, how can we be internal mentally and how can we be internal physically. So then in interactions with other people, in any situation, can we stay inside of ourselves, maintain our own process of balancing ourselves while interacting with others? And this is something I find so fascinating to see and to do.
And as we practice, there are very concrete measurements. For example, in zhong xin dao, every exercise has very specific criteria, and it’s easy to see what it is. However, the process of mindfulness is a process. There are steps to it. So we talk about yin and yang. In zhong xin dao we talk about the process of complementarity. And we talk about recognizing yin and yang as a relationship. So for example, in a body, we have yin tissues, things that draw my bones towards my center, and we have yang tissues, they extend things away from my center. These are just definitions we use within our style so that we learn to speak zhong xin dao. And it’s one of those things to first just to recognize what is. At first, we notice, there’s a lot of yin tissues in our body. So we have something that we call “condense” - all the yin tissues move from the extremities, the head, the fingertips, the toes, and draw to dan tien, to our center. And in the beginning, we learn to say, what is condensed? So we might have to localize and find the yin tissues of our hand, of our arms, the torso, the legs, as individual parts. Our attention does not see all the yin tissues in one block, in one view. We can’t feel it as one thing yet. So we talk about doing the action of yin, what we call “condensing”, we pay attention only to yin tissues. And then we do this thing we call “expand”, engaging the yang tissues, the tissues from the center towards the extremities, we only focus on that. However, for us, condensing and expanding is one quality. It’s one quality of movement unification. But our mind cannot encompass that yet. We don’t see the relationship, we don’t feel the unification of that thing. So we practice. The first stage is just to focus on yin, and then when you’re doing the action of yin, we focus on that aspect of it until we thing yin as one thing - all the tissues globally in the body is just one piece or one relationship, one energy. Then we do the same thing on the yang side. When we do that, we come to the next stage. Once we can see yin as one thing and yang as one thing, we’ve brought ourselves to stillness. When we become still, it just means we have steady concentration. This is the first moment when we’re in the gate. We’re able to maintain our concentration on the process, whatever it is - in this case condensing yin tissues and expanding yang tissues. Then we still observe it, cause now it’s the only time we can observe the nature of it, because we’re actually there to observe it. Once we get past that stage, suddenly after enough observation it becomes clear, we understand the cause and effect, we understand how it works and why. Once we have that stage, now when we’re doing the action of yin, we consciously doing it, we’re aware of it, but we start observing the yang side when we do the yin action. What happens on the yang side? When we’re doing the yang side, we consciously do it, we’re there, we’re present, but we look at the other side of the fence, and see what’s happening. What effect is on the yin side? Then we take that concentrated attention - it’s very hard, it’s now a new thing, you have to go through that process - until we’re still, until we’re constant, until we’re clear. Then the final stage is, when doing the action of yin, for example, we’re observing the relationship between yin and yang, the dance, the flow, seeing the neutral that separates and unifies them. When doing the action of yang, the same thing. Now we have enough attention and we can actually begin to observe things as they are, and then are we remaining still long enough to see what is really going on, what is really there? And this is what we call the process of complementary yin and yang. This is our approach to mindfulness.
The whole process of complementary yin and yang is the way of developing mindfulness of the body, awareness of the natural processes of the body.
How do we know if the students have got it? It’s one of those things when the practice is not to learn something. It’s to learn to be mindful enough to recognize the natural function of the body, the natural design of the body, and to not fight it. To simply allow it and to move with that flow.
As people practice, often people hold the model in their mind of what they should be doing. They hold the instruction and they create a model in their mind, and they’re referencing this model that does not exist or is incomplete, when really they need to simply drop all models and observe what’s already there.
In the practice, once the student has developed some aspect, they’ve recognized something, suddenly they understand that they are able to see the cause and effect, they why and the how, and then they are able to see that same thing in other people. So the further we go down the path, those things we were able to manifest and were able to see because we went through the process of conscious recognition, we have a sudden knowing that that is correct or incorrect. You get all these data points with all your senses and you put them together. And for some people, they put them together in a very unconscious way, like a flash of inspiration, like “ah, I see it”.
The path is one of enlightenment, but I mean it in a very literal way. In English, we say we have a light bulb moment. It’s like we’re sitting here and it’s 100% black, we can’t see anything, so dark. And I have an idea of what’s around me, but suddenly the light comes on - oh, now I know. And it’s like that, it’s like these little mini enlightenments.
You can see from the way students move, the way they talk, whether they actually understand the principle, whether they are able to actually manifest the principle. And for me, it’s fascinating to see those different stages. At first, somebody just parrots the words and tries to copy what they believe the words mean. At a certain point, their language changes, and they now truly get the essence of the words, but they are not yet able to manifest it physically. But now I know “Ok, it’s only the matter of time now”. Because now they’re observing from the right reference point. They’re recognizing something within themselves. And they’re observing the correct relationship.
Once they’ve spent enough time until they’re still enough that they can keep steady concentration so that they can observe, and then from there they observe that relationship long enough until they see that relationship in all its aspect. Then it’s theirs. They can never give it away, they can never forget it, they can never unsee it. It’s like when somebody bought a new car, and suddenly they see the same model everywhere on the road. But it’s not that a bunch of people suddenly bought the same car, it’s always there, but there’s no reason to pay attention to it.
TopYogis: In exercises of qigong, you were teaching us that we should not keep our hands lifted forcefully, that they should almost float by themselves (in the position where the hands are lifted to the level of the navel or chest). What lifts the hands?
Joshua Craig: This is the thing to be very careful about in tai chi circles. Because people really get involved with what they perceive as qi. And they perceive that they don’t use any muscle with their arms and that it’s the energy that lifts them. Of course, we use muscles, as well as the ligaments and connective tissues. But we have the mistaken idea of how much effort that requires. Remember yesterday we did the exercise when we pushed the backs of our hands against the wall and then when we released, it felt like the hands floated up on their own? We can replicate that in every moment. Every movement of the form, every movement of whatever basic exercise can have that feeling from day one. And in the application, that same feeling needs to be there as well. But we often practice so quickly - the minute we feel something we want to use it, that there is no practice of maintaining that relationship.
The exercise with the wall shows us right away that the “floating” feeling is immediately accessible, we just trick the body into doing it for us. The trick is, can we do that just consciously? That becomes part of the practice. But for some people, when they see hands floating up, it feels like magic, like something outside of themselves, like they always have to be around the table, or a chair, or a wall, to get that. But no. You just tricked your body into doing something. So how am I going to do it? And we allow it to come up. And we observe after pushing the back of the palms against the wall. How are the tissues relating to each other? Let the feeling disappear. And now, can I maintain or coordinate that same relationship myself? And then we start to go down this road of discovery.
And the same process of maintaining and cultivation applies to other things. Some people seeing me in good mood all the time think “`What’s the problem with this guy? You cannot be happy all the time!” And I say “I get stressed all the time. I’ve had horrible things happen in my life, deaths and other intense things. At the same time, it’s a choice, how I feel.”
When my father died, that was one of the toughest time of my life. I did not want to practice at all, because my father had been an integral part of my development and I associated my practice with him. So I threw away all the tools because they reminded me of my father and how he died. But later I decided, no, these are the tools I need right now. And so I started coming back to the practice. Can I just focus myself for ten breaths? And that’s it, and then I can go back to feeling miserable. Can I do this for these three exercises, ten breaths each? And then I can go back to being miserable.
And as I started to do this, I found that qigongs, for example, created very real chemical changes in my body, because I was holding a specific mental state, doing a simple movement, a simple breath, and that I actually could not be in the same physical and mental state after doing these exercises if I brought the right mindfulness to it. So it becomes this practice, and it’s always a choice.
And so, sometimes I choose not to do things. You know what? I’m grumpy today. I’m in a bad mood, and I’m going to stay in bad mood. But after a while, it seems very stupid. I look at myself after a while and feel “OK, what am I doing here?”.
TopYogis: It’s like eating junk food and drinking. OK, you can allow yourself, but after a while, it just feels bad. And you think, why would I do this?
Joshua Craig: Yes, I have a perfect example from my childhood, I do it once in six months perhaps. There are potato chips, like American or Canadian style ones, and they are the worst things for you nutritionally. But I love the taste. So I go. And I buy one bag. And I’m like “I’m eating this”. And I have memories from my childhood about happy experiences from this non-food. And I’m eating them, and for the whole time, I’m like “This is so bad. No, this is so good”. By the time I finish the bag I feel so sick. I do it about every six months and it’s such a good experience for me cause I feel the chemical need, how the monster comes out. But I recognize it in other aspects of my life when there’s a chemical shift that’s controlling me. I recognize that I’m not riding, I’m not the captain of the ship in the moment.
TopYogis: Yes, emotions are the same, chemical changes in our bodies.
Yes. So being able to use these technologies of qigongs and tai chis and yogas, these internal practices to physically, physiologically and mentally change ourselves, to use breathing techniques, some sort of isolated move, whatever it is, we are changing our state concretely. And if we can hold that long enough, we can’t hold the other state. Those chemicals don’t mix that way. And it’s a choice. And this is what I find empowering about it.
With my bag of chips exercise, I get to recognize that aspect of myself, it’s with me all the time, it manifests sometimes in my relationships with people or relationships to work.
As we continue to train, if we bring the right attention and not just endlessly go through the motion unconsciously, our internal window becomes more and more clear, and I get to see my own reflection back, and it gets harder to hide. I have to change to continue, to evolve further. I think that’s the greatest gift we can give someone.
TopYogis: For some strange reason we developed this idea that we need to get somewhere, to the point of perfection, and once you’re there, you’re all set. You got it, you don’t need to do anything. It just does not work like this because the change is continuous. But maybe you have a choice of which way you might be able to change.
Joshua Craig: You just reminded me of the biggest blockage we have in our school with our students. And that is because the practice is a training process. Mindfulness is a process. We’re constantly mindful. It’s not like we practice mindfulness, we get the benefit, and now we’re just experiencing the benefits. We have to keep the process going. And my older students ask me “So how long was it before you just got it?” Meaning, when you could stop being mindful. And I said, “I’m mindful right now”. I never know what to do. I let the conditions tell me. I listen to the conditions and I balance the relationships, that’s it. It’s like a tightrope walker. To an observer, it seems like he does not have to balance. He never stops balancing, the process is inside, but it’s so small that you don’t see the changes. I’m amazed by tightrope walkers. They’re like statues on the rope. But martial arts are harder. Imagine you’re doing the tightrope walk, and somebody throws rocks at you, and you have to dodge them, but you can never let go of this primary relationship to the rope. And that is fascinating.
If you want to practice with Josh, you can find him in his school of Zhong Xin Dao in New York. However, he's traveling a lot and you can also meet him at workshops and retreats in Canada, Germany, Poland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and other countries. Check the schedule of workshops here.
If you have practiced with Josh and want to share your experiences, please, leave your comment here.
Wywiad z nauczycielem I Liq Chuan - Joshua Craigiem
Jest to tłumaczenie dłuższej rozmowy, która została przeprowadzona w języku angielskim i która jest dostępna powyżej.
TopYogis: Proszę, opowiedz nam trochę o swoich przygodach z Tai Chi, sztukami walki, medytacją.
Joshua Craig: W wieku około dwunastu lat zacząłem ćwiczyć taekwondo. Potem, już jako nastolatek zaangażowałem się w praktykę "twardych" styli jak karate itp., jednakże po dwóch latach zdałem sobie sprawę, że grupa z którą ćwiczyłem była tak "napompowana" testosteronem, że zaczynałem stawać się kimś kim tak naprawdę stać się nie chciałem. Wtedy zacząłem interesować się jogą, qigongiem, medytacją itp.
Tak naprawdę to nie wróciłem do sztuk walki aż do roku 2000, kiedy to potrącił mnie samochód. W trakcie rekonwalescencji, przeszedłem przez różne odmiany fizykoterapii, niestety bez zadowalajacych rezultatów. Zwróciłem wtedy więcej swojej uwagi na qigong, taichi and baguzhang. To były początki. Nigdy nie miałem zamiaru uczyć tych rzeczy. Robiłem to głównie dla siebie samego. Z powodu moich obrażeń i kontuzji powypadkowych, nie mogłem wykonywać "normalnej" pracy i tak sie złożyło, że zacząłem organizować warsztaty dla różnych nauczycieli. Zacząłem zapraszać nauczycieli sztuk walki i uzdrawiaczy, których tak naprawdę, to ja sam potrzebowałem spotkać i czegoś się od nich nauczyć. W czasie gdy organizowałem te wszystkie warsztaty i kursy, niektórzy ludzie zaczęli się do mnie zwracać z pytaniami gdzie mogliby ćwiczyć te wszystkie rzeczy bardziej regularnie a nie tylko w formacie warsztatowym.
Odpowiedziałem im, że ja zajmuje się tymi rzeczami nie aż tak długo, ale jeśli chcą, możemy się zacząć spotykać i wspólnie ćwiczyć.
Te nieformalne spotkania, w późniejszym czasie, stopniowo przekształciły się w regularne zajęcia. I tak to się właśnie zaczęło.
TopYogis: Czym się obecnie głównie zajmujesz w zakresie własnej praktyki?
Joshua Craig: Obecnie kontynuuję trening wewnętrznego stylu zwanego Zhong Xin Dao Iliqchuan z Wielkim Mistrzem Samem Chinem, który pochodzi z Malezji a mieszka teraz w stanie Nowy Jork.
TopYogis: Jaki element praktyki jest dla Ciebie najważniejszy?
Najważniejszym elementem mojej praktyki jest świadomość tego gdzie, w danym momencie jest mój umysł. Umiejętność percepcji mego otoczenia bez szufladkowania go. Pozwala mi to rozwinąć się jako człowiek, ponieważ aby pogłębić swoje umiejętności i kontynuować na swej ścieżce, konieczne jest abym się zmienił. Nie można się "rozwijać" i jednocześnie nie zmieniać.
TopYogis: Czy są jakieś ćwiczenia, praktyki od których lubisz rozpocząć dzień?
Joshua Craig: Lubię zacząć dzień od siedzącej medytacji. Odrobiny ciszy i spokoju. W pozycji siedzącej lub stojącej. Świadomie oddychając. A potem przechodzę do Qigongu zmiany ścięgien. Jest to jedna z praktyk, która naprawdę miała duży wpływ na mój powrót do zdrowia. Dotarcie poza główne grupy mięśniowe do głębszych warstw ciała.
TopYogis: Często zadajemy nauczycielom pytanie, które powoduje bardzo różnorodne reakcje: Gdyby ktoś miał w ciągu dnia tylko 15 minut, co byś takiej osobie polecił jako najbardziej wartościowe wykorzystanie tego czasu?
Joshua Craig: Jeśli jest tylko 15 minut w ciągu dnia, dla mnie osobiście najważniejsze byłoby usiąść, pooddychać i "odpuścić".
A tak w ogóle to ja często polecam innym aby ćwiczyli w niewielkich przedziałach czasowych w ciągu dnia - 5,10,15 minut. Aby spróbowali skupić swą uwagę na tym krótkim okresie praktyki, bez względu na rodzaj ćwiczenia, które wybiorą.
Moim zdaniem, ćwiczenie przez godzinę, dwie czy trzy nie przynosi aż tak dobrych rezultatów gdy ktoś stracił swą koncentrację. Jest to tylko takie powtarzanie "pustych ruchów". Umiejetność skupienia pełnej świadomości na jakiejkolwiek czynności, bez względu na to na jak długi okres - to jest według mnie dobry trening.
Myślę, że tym co wyróżnia zaawansowanego praktyka jest właśnie umiejetność skupienia pełnej świadomości na tym co robi przez dłuższy okres czasu.
Także dla mnie, 15-o minutowa sesja treningowa to raczej standard niż wyjątek. :-)
TopYogis: Czy przez lata, na wskutek praktyki doświadczyłeś jakichś kontuzji, urazów? Czy masz jakieś rady dla początkujących?
Joshua Craig: Doznałem kontuzji kolan, barków, na wskutek nieznajomości struktury i funkcji ciała i tego jak ono pracuje. "Ślepe" powtarzanie ruchów, nieświadomość kierujących nimi zasad, powtarzanie ruchów, tylko dlatego, że myślałem, że tak powinny być wykonywane. Nauczenie się więcej i zadawanie dalszych, głębszych pytań mogło mi zaoszczędzić wiele lat treningu.
TopYogis: Czy Twoje podejście do praktyki zmieniło się w miarę jak praktykujesz dłużej?
Joshua Craig: Zdecydowanie. Gdy rozpocząłem praktykę wewnętrznych sztuk walki, moja uwaga skupiała się na na moich urazach powypadkowych. Interesowały mnie głównie aspekty rehabilitacyjne praktyki. Później, gdy poczułem się lepiej, ma praktyka rozwinęła się w kierunku bardziej zdyscyplinowanego rozkładu dnia, kiedy myślałem, że każdego dnia powinienem poświęcić pewną ilość czasu na trening. Muszę zrobić to. Powinienem zrobić to.. A w rzeczywistości odkryłem, że nie słuchałem za bardzo potrzeb swego ciała. Obecnie moje podejście jest o wiele bardziej intuicyjne. Na przykład - przez tydzień mogę ćwiczyć tylko jedno, podstawowe ćwiczenie. Kolejnego tygodnia - kolejne.
Czasem, ćwicząc jakieś ćwiczenie zmienię je na inne, jeśli zauważę, że tracę koncentrację, bo pozwoli mi to na wzmocnienie uwagi na tym co robię, praktykuję.
TopYogis: A zatem Umysł, Umysł, Umysł. Nieustanna praca z Umysłem.
Joshua Craig: Tak! Jak również zrozumienie Bezruchu. Jedną z moich praktyk jest stanie - Zhan Zhuang. Odnajdywanie ruchu pochodzącego z bezruchu. Zrozumienie w jaki sposob ciało chce się poruszyć naturalnie i jak mu w tym nie przeszkadzać.
TopYogis: Czy masz jakieś rady dla ludzi, którzy próbują odnależć swą praktykę bezruchu? Na przykład: jak długo powinniśmy stać? Tradycyjnie jest wiele rożnych podejść do tego zagadnienia. Niektóre tradycje propagują długie sesje stania, pracę z bólem, "odpuszczenie" ciała i umysłu.. Co o tym sądzisz?
Joshua Craig: To ciekawe, bo właśnie niedawno dyskutowalismy o tym ze studentami. W trakcie zajęć staliśmy w kilku pozycjach przez 5-10 minut a potem opowiedziałem o moich pierwszych zajęciach Zhan Zhuang. Niewiele jeszcze wtedy wiedziałem o tej praktyce. Stanęliśmy w pozycji i oczywiście zacząłem wkrótce odczuwać ból, starałem się skupić uwagę na oddechu, nie wiedząc nawet jak długo będziemy tak stali. Wydawało się to trwać wieczność, chociaż miałem zarówno wspaniałe chwile jak i momenty skrajnego bólu, odczucia dawnych kontuzji itp. Kontynuowaliśmy stanie, a ja nawet przez krótką chwilę poczułem nienawiść do nauczyciela, choć minęło to bardzo szybko, gdy tylko nauczyciel podszedł aby nas skorygować.
Niesamowite jest to, że jak się później dowiedziałem, staliśmy w tej jednej pozycji przez 90 minut! Po czym kontynuowaliśmy z jeszcze kilkoma pozycjami! Zajęcia trwały 2,5 godziny! To był szok dla mojego systemu.
Chociaż po zajęciach czułem się fenomenalnie, bardzo doenergetyzowany, to jednak cały mój system buntował się w obliczu takiej intensywności.
Kontynuowałem tego rodzaju podejście do praktyki przez jakiś czas ale ponownie, pytanie: "jak długo jestem w stanie utrzymać uważność?" dawało mi wiele do myślenia.
Tradycyjne podejście zakłada wyczerpanie głównych grup mięśniowych tak aby mięśnie położone głębiej, ścięgna, wiązadła, tkanka łączna zaczęły podtrzymywać całą strukturę. Na podstawie własnych doświadczeń i obserwacji dochodzę do wniosku, że o ile ktoś nie jest bardzo oddany tego rodzaju praktyce, to rezultaty są wątpliwe i podejście to nie jest zbyt efektywne.
Zauważyłem, że lepsze efekty daje rozpoczęcie praktyki w niewielkich przedziałach czasowych np. 5 minut dziennie / dwa razy dziennie - przez tydzień. Potem w kolejnym tygodniu dodajemy następne pięć minut dopóki nie dojdziemy do np. 20 minut. Starając się naprawdę poczuć naszą relację do sił grawitacji, pozwolić im na rozluźnienie mięśni, pozwolić układowi szkieletowemu na podtrzymanie całej struktury. Stopniowo. Delikatnie.
Ucząc się różnych sposobów na podtrzymanie naszego ciała z perspektywy ścięgien i wiązadeł. Poznając Sześć Kierunków, Trzy wymiary i tym podobne koncepty. Różnorodne punkty odniesienia do tego samego ćwiczenia. W ten sposób nasze podejście ewoluuje wraz z naszym rozwojem. Jedno ćwiczenie może się bez przerwy zmieniać. W miarę budowania podstaw, kontynuujemy doświadczać głębszych poziomów siebie samych.
TopYogis: W niektórych krajach, zwłaszcza na Ukrainie, zauważyliśmy, że wielu nauczycieli jogi jest zainteresowanych qigongiem. Jednakże nie wszędzie na świecie tak jest. Co praktykujący jogę mógłby zyskać z praktyki qigong?
Joshua Craig: Bardzo ważnym jest posiadać jakiś punkt odniesienia, zagłębić tradycję za którą się podąża, poznać siebie samego głębiej poprzez wybraną metodę po czym dobrze jest wyjść poza ramy swego stylu i zobaczyć jak inni podchodzą do danej praktyki. Jak sam odkryłem, doświadczenie takie jest bardzo pomocne.
Czasami nasz punkt widzenia wydaje się nam pełnym i jednoznacznym dopóki nie zdamy sobie sprawy, że spojrzenie może być o wiele szersze. Ja osobiście w swej praktyce szukam uniwersalnych zasad ruchowych człowieka. I to jest dla mnie tym co jednoczy różne podejścia do ruchu.
Jakie są podobieństwa? Przedewszystkim zaczynamy od ciała, zaczynamy od umysłu, zaczynamy od oddechu. To jest to co mnie fascynuje. Na przykład: ja nie ćwiczę tai chi, ćwiczę inną sztukę walki - Zhong Xin Dao, ale tutaj, na naszym letnim obozie, dzielę się swoją wiedzą z praktykami tai chi. I nie mam z tym żadnego problemu bo explorujemy założenia wspólne dla różnych form ruchowych.
Pracujemy z ruchem, z tym w jaki sposó kontrolujemy nasze umysły, jak uwalniamy oddech, pracujemy nad naszym podejściem do tych rzeczy i nad tym jakie możemy z nich wyciągnąć korzyści. Wielu studentów, którzy byli mocno zaangażowani w karate a teraz ćwiczą miękkie sztuki walki zauważają, że lepiej sobie dają radę z dawnymi kontuzjami pomimo tego, że stają sie starsi, lepiej kontrolują poziomy swej energii i nie polegają tak bardzo na sile mięśni, zaczynają odnajdywać sposoby wyrażenia swej już zdobytej wiedzy i umiejętności w sposób bardziej "organiczny", kompleksowy. Zauważają, że można ćwiczyć w sposób trochę bardziej miękki, zaokrąglony, nie aż tak wymagający dla ich ciała.
To samo dzieje się ze studentami zajmującymi się jogą. Niektórzy są niesamowici w tym co robią - rozciągnięcie i pozycje - Wow!
Ale są aspekty praktyki z którymi są może nie zaznajomieni i np. ćwicząc qigong mają nowe doświadczenia i perspektywę, którą mogą spożytkować w swej praktyce jogi. I to nie chodzi nawet o rodzaj samej praktyki ale o to, że możemy poznać inny punkt widzenia, inne aspekty naszej praktyki.
Dla mnie fascynującym elementem mej własnej praktyki jest to, że bez względu na to co ćwiczę, mam okazję odkryć to co zawsze było częścią mnie. Jest to swego rodzaju droga, gdzie nie ma nic do nauczenia się, nic do oduczenia się. Wszystko już w nas jest i pozostaje tylko pytanie w jaki sposób dopasować się do naturalnych funkcji naszego ciała, do tego co już jest?!