During a seminar in the United States, Chen Qingzhou (Ching Joe) was asked: what was the most important thing that someone could do to improve. He responded:
“I will tell you exactly what to do and it will improve your health, tai chi, your martial and mental abilities, and will only take you three minutes a day. But you won’t do it.”
Are you on the edge of your seat? We were.
“Why won’t I do it?” he was further probed.
“Because I have said this many times and no one follows through.”
“What is it?” we asked.
“Stand,” and he assumed a Zhan Zhuang (post stance) posture as an example. Did I heed his words?
No. He was right. I started out strong for a few weeks but eventually began to skip and then abandon the practice. Also understand that we spent a weekend working with him and had direct correction. Theoretically, I was given the key to improve my practice, I received precise instruction, and the time investment seemed completely doable. Why did I fail?
Without buy-in no one sticks with any practice.
So while the standing practice did not stay with me initially, Chen Qingzhou’s challenge did. I did research to try to understand why practitioners of standing arts (Chen TC, Qi Gong, Yiquan…) are so adamant about the benefits of standing meditation. I’ve come around to understand the value of standing and why his words are excitingly true.
This is the second half of a two part essay where I initially defined Zhan Zhuang and will now present some science and theory behind why standing meditation 1) improves health, 2) improves your martial abilities, and 3) reprograms the body. Truth be told, standing meditation can be boring and painful. The accumulated knowledge that follows created the buy-in necessary for me to commit to practice for a series of days until the benefits could be felt.
1. Gain more benefits of standing meditation by employing deep postures to improves your health
Here is the overview. You assume a posture which is like you are about to sit in chair that does not exist. Your spine is erect and you are breathing deep into the belly. Your thighs start to burn, you begin sweating, and your back may ache a bit. Your mind rebels and you have to fight to slow your breath down and remain in the posture. Yes, all in 180 seconds.
Here is what is happening physiologically:
Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found inside your bones. In the larger bones— such as your spine, breastbone, hips, ribs, legs, or skull—bone marrow contains cells that produce approximately 500 billion white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets per day (hematopoiesis). During deep standing meditation, you are asking your large bones and posture to take back your body weight when it is normally held up by furniture and stabilizer muscles. This creates intense pressure on these structures and acts as a catalyst for activity. Zhan Zhuang puts a flame under the caldron that is directly responsible for your immunity and rebuilding tissue. 500 billion blood cells! The magnitude of the bone marrow’s task is unequaled. Pretty elegant training system.
Long Bone Structure
Got your colored pencils ready? Here is a page on Long Bone Structure from the Anatomy Coloring Book. It will take you 5 minutes to color and brings the point home.
2. The benefits of standing meditation: Improving Martial Abilities
“As we continued our visit: Hall of Abbot, Hall of Damo. On the uppermost level of Shaolin Temple sits the One Thousand Buddhas Pavilion. From the outside, it seems a quite ordinary hall of weathered gray planks and stone, but inside 48 indentations in the stonework of the floor immediately grab the attention. Careful examination reveals they are set in pairs and positioned in straight rows, each depression approximating the size and shape of a human foot. In fact, decades of stamping feet of practicing monks eroded the stone slabs. A 70 years old master said: “During the past Chinese dynasties monks used to practice post standing but later this practice was forgotten. You should take this as an important indication.”
Shaolin, top martial art of past Dynasties- First edition 1982
The best summary of martial improvement from pole standing can be found in Yu Yong Nian’s 201 page “Zhan Zhuang and the Search for Wu.”
You can improve very rapidly your physical condition.
- With very good basic techniques you can easily grasp application movement, as movements are direct extensions of stances.
- Solid basic techniques are the necessary foundations for top level techniques.
- They can avoid you from getting harmed or injured during training.
- They can prolong the duration of practice. Through accurate and regular basic techniques training, practitioners can still continue to practice even in advanced age.
- Basic techniques training can enhance the quality of your movements, improving every joint’s elasticity and every muscle’s control. As a result, your movements are more harmonious, presenting their own beauty and in a word your body reaches a state of “highly adaptive while being in perfect control.”
3. How Standing Meditation Reprograms the Body
Hey, hey, I was with you with on the health and martial topics, but reprograms the body? Getting all mystic are we? I have to admit that I was slow to accept this “grand” assertion until I started getting physiological feedback that I couldn’t explain and heard the same explanation from two different sources.
Here is Wang Xiangzhai in his explanation of Zhan Zhuang.
“Yangshengzhuang (health nourishing postures) is a form of cultivating health, kind of basic exercises of internal training. Because the postures and movements conform with physiology of human body, nervous system is resting and is being positively regulated, and at the same time body is trained, the goal of cultivating health and healing can be achieved (it has been proved in practice already).”
Here is Chen Youze, paraphrased from a lecture on the benefits of standing and tai chi over physical exercise.
“The heart is a strong muscle that provides all of the blood to the entire body. Deep postures stress the body in good ways to make it stronger and increase blood flow and clean the body through sweat. Running or other exercises do the same thing but stress the heart. Work and life also stress the heart. If we are doing exercise that stresses the heart and have life stress, the heart never gets to relax. Standing [meditation] gives us all the benefits of changing our posture and strengthening the body without stressing the body.”
Back to the original question: How do I simultaneously improve my health and martial ability in 3 minutes/day?
Stand. You already knew the answer by now but hopefully I provided the needed buy-in to make the practice valuable. See the resources below for more reading.
Standing vs. Sitting and Qi Gong
As a side note, the initial conversation with Chen Qing Zhou took place six years ago. Eight months ago his son, Chen Youze was teaching a seminar on qi gong and meditation. When asked about whether the sets could/should be performed standing or sitting he responded that the sets should always be performed standing except in temporary (injury) or cumulative (age) circumstances. It is hard for everyone at first, but your time will increase. He highlighted some fairly talented masters of Ba Gua and Yang Tai Chi who were now in their eighties and had mobility issues. He felt that this was partly due to the breaking of the posture at the inguinal crease that sitting causes and lack of strengthening the legs.
Zhan Zhuang and the Search for Wu by Yu Yong Nian
Zhan Zhuang by Wang Xiangzhai
The Way of Energy by Lam Kam Chuen
Wikipedia: Bone Marrow