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365 days of the Art of Flexibility

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  • 365 days of the Art of Flexibility

    Dear Family,

    Fresh from a fabulous weekend of Tai Chi Chuan with my Sifu and Shaolin brothers, I am very happy to share with the forum a new and exciting addition to my training: practicing the Art of Flexibility everyday for the next 365 days.

    My flexibility has been a limitation on my progress for some time. I've lost count of the number of occassions over the years I have made a note-to-self along the lines of 'Okay, I am REALLY going to train Flexibility from now on' and, subsequently, not follow up on it. Well, I'm very happy to say that these reasons are no more. I have resolved to do this and do it well.

    I am opening this thread to report on my progress over the year and share any insights that might be gained. Any family member's thoughts, comments or experiences of practicing the Art of Flexibility are of course very much welcome on this thread as well.

    All the best,


  • #2
    Hey Sihing!

    It's been about a month, how goes the training so far?

    I just noticed this thread right about when I've noticed I need to practice this daily as well, we have so many arts to practice, but this one seems quite fundamental... I'm going to commit to this as well for the next 365 days.
    Shaolin Wahnam USA

    "Every morning you are born again. What you do today is the most important thing".


    • #3
      Hi David,

      The training of the Art of Flexibility has been going very well. I am happy to say that I have practiced it every day since committing to it and already I can feel and notice the benefits - I feel a lot more Chi in my feet (especially first thing in the morning) and my footwork and kicks have improved a good lot. But that doesn't mean the training hasn't had its challenges too!

      The first couple of weeks were great - I felt very happy with myself that I had finally resolved to prioritise Flexibility training and I was very much enjoying the practice. It consisted of Three Levels to the Ground, Dancing Crane, Lohan touches Toes and Deep knee Bending in the morning, followed of course by a nice Chi Flow. I varied the number of repetitions of each pattern every few days. Interestingly it was in my evening Chi Flows that I actually felt the Chi working its way down my legs and found myself snap kicking a lot in Chi Flow. It was also interesting to feel to subtle differences between my right and left sides - with my right side looser and more free than my left.

      Over the past week or two there has however been a subtle shift in my mindset regarding the Flexibility training - I am becoming a little bit hostile to it. There is no rational explanation for this - it is just there all of a sudden. It is like a little part of me wants to revert to the easier path of Lifting the Sky, Carrying the Moon etc in the morning, and forget about the more demanding Flexibility training, despite the benefits it is bringing me. By demanding I mean both the physical and mind aspects of the patterns.

      Although unwelcome, it has been hugely interesting to observe. It is interesting from the training aspect, but also from the life aspect - if this is happening in my training it is likely happening somewhere in my life too.

      As I say, this is a relatively recent development so I won't comment more on it just now, but will report back again in a while.

      I wish you all the best David with your training.

      All the best,

      Last edited by Kevin_B; 22nd June 2014, 09:59 PM.


      • #4
        Thanks for starting this thread Kevin, I'm very interested to know how you are getting on and will be looking for your next update :-)

        Best wishes, Neil.


        • #5
          Hey Kevin,

          Thanks for starting this thread. I can identify with constantly putting flexibility to the back burner. I did the art of flexibility every day when I started Kung Fu, but my level of flexibility has been pretty much the same for the past few years. Like you, it’s one of those things that I kept putting off and not really focusing on. Your thread inspired me to get back to it, although I don’t have the same time commitment to it that you do. I thought I would share some thoughts and things I have been doing that seem to be helping.

          The biggest change I’ve made this round of flexibility is to add in the three exercises in the Art of Shaolin that I (and I’m guessing most others) normally leave out: Dragonfly, Lohan Takes off Shoes, and Saint Embracing Feet. These ones are a bit more of a pain to do and a bit more physical, but I’ve been getting a lot of benefit from them especially Dragonfly. I’ve spent time on Dragonfly before, but hit a plateau and put it on hold. One of my short term goals is to be able to place my elbows on the ground in Dragonfly. Everyone’s body is different, but for me this exercise targets my hips in areas that my flexibility is much less. These patterns are also more of a physical nature, and require more concerted effort to perform in a qigong state of mind.

          Another thing I have been doing has been increasing the number of repetitions. Instead of just doing 10 of each pattern, I will do 20 when I have the time especially on the ones that are more difficult for me. For me, it was easly to get complacent and just go through the routine of doing ten reps and at the end not really feel like I made any real progress. I usually find in the last ten I’ll start moving into the areas where the qi isn’t flowing as smoothly and often find stuck emotions…… which brings me to the next point.

          I’m being softer in releasing emotions when I run into them in the flexibility. My normal response is to let emotions flow similar to in qi flow allowing the emotions to come out through sounds: groaning, weeping, etc. What I have been doing differently is instead of having the sounds come out, I’ve been keeping my breathing soft and allowing my emotions to stay calm and let the emotions dissipate.

          Another change I’ve made this time is that I’m switching up the order of the exercises, and adding different ones in now and then. I almost always do 3 levels, dancing crane, touching toes, lohan takes off shoes, dragonfly, then saint embracing feet. Lately I’ve been changing the order around and I’ve noticed that it changes the way the different patterns feel considerably. I’ve also been adding different exercises from the 18 Lohan Hands and the 18 Lohan Arts to mix it up a bit.

          The last thing I’ve been doing differently is more internal. I realized that a lot of my flexibility blockages are in my mind as much as in my body. By being softer with myself and just being more flexible in my mind and body, I had an instant increase in flexibility.

          Wow, this post ended up being a lot longer than expected. I hope some of it ends up being helpful. Keep us posted on how the training is going.

          All the best,
          Adam Bailey
          Shaolin WahNam USA


          • #6
            Awesome post Adam Sihing,

            I've found Old monk removes shoe, Lohan worships Buddha, and Rhino looks at moon from the 18 Lohan arts are great for leg flexibility since learning them. I also like bull ploughs earth for the waist and spinal stretching.

            Flexibility is hard work no doubt. I've experienced a fine line between pushing just past my limits to get the best results, not pushing hard enough and just going through the motions without effort, and occasionally overdoing it which is of course unpleasant

            Happy training all!
            Last edited by David Langford; 12th July 2014, 06:13 PM.
            Shaolin Wahnam USA

            "Every morning you are born again. What you do today is the most important thing".


            • #7
              2 More Things

              Thanks David!

              I also like to add Night Guard Test Sea and Swallow Flies Through Clouds. Balance and strength go hand in hand with useful flexibility.

              There are two more things I've been playing around with that have been helping.

              With Dragonfly, Lohan Takes off Shoes, and Saint Embraces feet I've been doing 10 repetitions as normal, and 10 repetitions lifting my hands above my head when straightening up. This seems to engage different stabilizer muscles and gets the qi flowing to areas that the normal mode doesn't hit.

              Also, in 3 Levels to Earth, every once in awhile (as in not every practice session) I'll do one repetition very slowly (thank you Anton). I noticed that when doing the pattern slowly I'll hit certain catching points where I don't feel as stable and the movement isn't as smooth. Usually it's where my butt buckles back too much. I've been doing a repetition slowly and pausing for a few breaths where I feel the "catch." Today I did another slow rep and I noticed that the "catch" was much less pronounced than before.

              Currently that's all I have on flexibility training, but who knows, maybe I'll remember something else tomorrow.
              Adam Bailey
              Shaolin WahNam USA


              • #8
                Dear Kevin and family,

                I have, too, found that flexibility is very useful in many ways. In my own practice I have noticed that being flexible allows chi to flow more freely and contributing to more speed, being relaxed and having more force.
                If there is tightness in the muscles or blockages in the body, it not only restricts the movements, but hinders the chi flow.

                I have also noticed, that stuck emotions can be released through flexibility practice, which in our case in Shaolin Wahnam is ofcourse a lot more beneficial than merely physical streching. Although I like to stretch also, outside of kungfu practice, since sometimes is nice to just focus to physically deepening my streches, without overtraining.

                I have found it useful to deepen the Flexibility practices like Three Levels to the Ground or Dancing Crane with relaxing completely and allowing the whole body (and mind) to open and expand in all directions with the breath. Then there seems to be no restrictions and the postures deepen naturally without any need on forcing deeper. This works also on Dragonfly, but there I get so deep that I have to turn my cheek towards the floor, otherwise I'll hit my forhead or nose to the ground (which has happened a few times

                I also like to change the pace of the exercises, sometimes doing them in a very fast and flowing manner, sometimes slowly and calmly. Whatever seems to be the best in the moment.

                I could also set some new goals, because at the moment I'm staying in my current flexibility, and could use some challenge.

                Happy training,

                Nessa Kahila
                Shaolin Nordic Finland



                • #9
                  Flexibility is one of those subjects quite dear to my heart, especially since I had so little of it when I first started! I've listed below the stuff that's helped out my own flexibility.

                  Choice of patterns
                  In general, my go-to patterns are the ones from Art of Flexible Legs from the Art of Shaolin Kung Fu (and the Complete Book of Zen, actually). How I practice them definitely has a bearing on the results I get.

                  At my current level, I've noticed that while my legs and hips have decent flexibility, it's my deep spine muscles which are preventing me from, say, being able to press my chest against my thighs in Lohan Touches Earth or being able to bend very far forward in Dragonfly Plays With Water, so that's generally what I'm working on now. It's pretty funny being able to feel that my legs and hips are relaxed, but my back is the thing that's locking up!

                  I have to admit, since I was at a flexibility plateau for a long time, changing the order and choice of patterns I used helped shake things up a little so that I could approach things from a different direction. For a short time, I tried out some Tongzigong patterns I saw on Youtube (note: the dubbing is hilarious some parts). There are a lot of patterns that I couldn't do completely in that video, but I took a few from across the set, and when I came back to the Art of Flexible Legs patterns, I was able to go deeper into those patterns. I also found that some of the Tongzigong patterns, especially the "sleeping monk" pattern (where the body is parallel to the ground and you are balanced on one elbow and the opposite foot with the other leg stretched out parallel to the ground; the fists are by the ears) developed noticeable internal force for me as well as reinforced proper body structure, alignment, and posture. Hooray for exploration! Having proper posture reinforced by those sorts of patterns enhanced my flexibility as well.

                  Isometric stretching
                  I've found that isometric stretching (mentioned in the big thread about flexibility here) is incredibly effective, as it balances physical strength with flexibility gains. It was a very popular technique amongst my old ballet and modern dance classmates, and their flexibility is phenomenal. The gist of it is to use alternating bouts of engaging, relaxing, and stretching muscles to increase both strength and range of motion. It's my favorite flexibility enhancing method and can get very intense. It's given me the fastest flexibility gains per a given period of time.

                  Passive & Dynamic
                  One thing that I found helped me a lot was a combination of passive and dynamic flexibility practice. As a brush-up, passive flexibility training is staying in and holding a stretched position for a certain period of time, letting the muscles relax and going deeper into the stretch (just hanging the torso and arms in a forward bend in Lohan Touches Earth, for example). Dynamic flexibility training is what we normally think of regarding the Art of Flexibility, e.g. going through the range of motion of various joints over and over, like repeating Lohan Touches Earth many times.

                  What I do is I'll first get into the stretched position of a pattern from Art of Flexibility (to use Three Levels to Earth as an example, I'll go down into the squat) and hold that position for, say, 10 easy breaths. Then I'll get out of the position, relax again, and then do 10-20 repetitions of that flexibility pattern, and take a moment to relax and flow. Then I move on to the next flexibility pattern, using the same idea.

                  I've also found that the Eight Mother Palms of Baguazhang are very, very nice for loosening up the spine and hips. The ones that have helped my flexibility the most are Double Changing Palm (#2), Smooth Flow Palm (#3), Back-Body Palm (#4), and Circle-Body Palm (#6). Heck, I've found that Baguazhang in general is great for the hips, waist, spine, and shoulders.

                  Zhan Zhuang
                  Funnily enough, I've found that doing my flexibility practice before zhan zhuang (I'm currently favoring Golden Bridge) enhances my zhan zhuang, and in the midst of zhan zhuang, I can feel my legs, hips, and waist further relaxing. I wind up more flexible and relaxed both during and after stances, which feels pretty nice!

                  Hope this helps!
                  I like making silly videos (including kung fu ones!) every so often on YouTube and taking pictures of weird things on Instagram.


                  • #10
                    As always Fred is a brilliant encyclopedia of information. Thanks brother!
                    Shaolin Wahnam USA

                    "Every morning you are born again. What you do today is the most important thing".


                    • #11
                      Hi everyone,

                      Thank you all for your great posts and for sharing your experiences of practicing flexibility.

                      Encountering deep seated emotions is part and parcel of practising Flexibility it seems. It has certainly been a characteristic of my training this past while and something which has been very interesting to observe. Through training Flexibility these past two months I have learned more about my Chi Kung practice than I would have in a whole year of training just Lifting the Sky everyday. My comfort zone has been pushed and prodded in ways that other patterns simply would not be able to do.

                      Adam, I am one of the people you mentioned in your post: I don't practice Dragonfly, Lohan takes off shoes and Saint Embracing Feet in my training. The points you made about them are very interesting and illuminating - I'm looking forward to exploring them over the next while.

                      The point you made about the speed at which we train Flexibility is a hugely important one. The whole nature of Flexibility training changes when we perform the patterns slowly - it becomes much more demanding, but much more beneficial.

                      I will always remember Sigung teaching us flexibility on the Intensive Taijiquan in Penang in 2012: Sigung performed all of the patterns very slowly and emphasised this point a number of times. There was no second version of them being taught at a quicker pace.

                      Unfortunately the videos from this outstanding course are secret, but I am very happy to say that Sigung has very kindly given me permission to post them here on this thread. Thank you Sigung! And thank you as well to Siguma Wei Foong for shooting them.

                      Performing flexibility patterns slowly is, in my opinion, one of the great secrets of the Art of Flexibility.

                      Here is the first of the video: Sigung performing Three Levels to the Ground.

                      I hope you all enjoy. I will post more in a few days.


                      • #12
                        Dear Kevin,

                        Thank you for posting the video, and for sharing the points Sifu taught at the 2012 intensive course.

                        Best wishes,

                        Nessa Kahila
                        Shaolin Nordic Finland



                        • #13
                          Hey Kevin,

                          Thanks for the update. Also, thank you for sharing the video of Sigung performing 3 levels and to Sigung for allowing it to go public.

                          I look forward to seeing the others.

                          All the best,
                          Adam Bailey
                          Shaolin WahNam USA


                          • #14
                            Dear Nessa and Adam,

                            I am very glad you liked the video. It is indeed a great lesson taught in it.

                            Sigung has very kindly offered some wisdom on Three Levels to Ground and a deeply inspiring story and asked for them to be posted here. Thank you so much Sigung!!

                            Here it is:

                            "Three Levels to Ground" looks simple, but its benefits are profound. You may like to tell others in your posts that in my healing experience I have used this exercise as the main method to help many people on wheelchairs and clutches to walk again -- in just half an hour or at the most two days!

                            Those who attended the recent Chi Kung Healing Course in Kuala Lumpur this year may remember an inspiring incident. I demonstrated using "Three Levels to Ground" to heal a patient who came in a wheelchair. Two days later when course participants went up from the second floor to the fourth floor of the building to take a group photography, they accidentally saw to their utter surprise that the same patient walked out unaided from a chi kung class! Everyone burst out clapping.


                            • #15
                              Thank you Kevin for sharing with us the profound insights of Three Levels to Ground, and to Sifu for so generously sharing the Shaolin arts with us.

                              With Shaolin Salute,
                              Lee Wei Joo