Most styles of internal martial arts incorporate standing meditation as a core component, if not the most important part of their training. While the practices are elegantly simple and instruction on correct posture abounds.
Most students do not maintain a standing practice and never achieve the benefits of Zhan Zhuang. Why is this?
Lack of commitment is normally due to lack of understanding and therefore lack of buy-in.
This essay is a two part series where I will first better define WHAT pole-standing is and then WHY this simple, short practice can have a very positive effect on your life. As a note, I will not go into the hows of practice as each art varies on which standing practice is important to them and how they teach. However, for in-depth instruction or tips, references have been included at the end.
Let’s start with the rough translation(s) of Zhan Zhuang:
- standing qigong
- standing like a tree
- standing like a post
I like presenting all of the translations of Zhan Zhuang collectively because the important point is what it all hints at. You are assuming a posture that gradually transfers the strain/weight to your lower extremities and gives that sensation that you are cemented to pylons/roots that extend through the ground beneath you.
What is Zhan Zhuang?
Zhan Zhuang is a stance practice in which the body is kept essentially still and mostly upright, though there are some stances where the spine is not vertical.
What is the purpose of Zhan Zhuang?
The purpose of these standing exercises is to become aware of the body and how it stabilizes itself. You are then able to gain a measure of control over this autonomic process and use it to improve health, posture, and martial abilities. Still too esoteric? Let’s break it down a bit. Normally your stabilizer muscles keep you from falling down. However, this relies on balancing with minute, continual adjustments against gravity. Secondly, the same muscles that stabilizes you also constrict your blood flow. By aligning your posture you are asking you major muscles and your bones to take your bodies weight. This allows the blood to rush freely while you concentrate on your breath and mental presence.
What does Zhan Zhuang feel like?
Those unfamiliar with Zhan Zhuang can be shocked when they initially experience severe muscle fatigue and “trembling.” You sweat, your mind asks you to stop, and your breathing races if not controlled. For those of you who haven’t yet experienced this, it is shocking and intriguing that you can induce this state in 180 seconds. Once sufficient stamina and strength have been developed the practitioner can use Zhan Zhuang to work on developing ‘opposing forces,’ central equilibrium, and sensitivity to specific areas of tension in the body.
Types of Zhan Zhuang:
The most common Zhan Zhuang method is known as ‘Hun Yuan’ (‘Round Smoothness’) or Chen Bao (‘Tree Hugging’ stance). This posture is entirely Daoist in its origins and has many variations. Zhan Zhuang is also practiced in a deep stance with the left hand aligned behind the back at the ming men and the right hand flat and open in front of the eyes.
How long should pole standing be practiced?
Teachings vary between 2 minutes and 120 minutes. Obviously a lower, more erect posture limits a practitioner to around four minutes. Three minutes of correct posture is enough to shake, feel like you are going to collapse, and raise your body temperature. Chen Qingzhou counseled that you work towards a more perfect three minutes and not on increasing the time. Karel Koskuba in the article: Yiquan – Power of the Mind suggested to begin with 5-10 seconds daily because making the practice habitual and learning how to quiet the mind where initially essential. Yi Quan and many external arts maintain a higher posture and work up to 90 minutes.
Is Zhan Zhuang a Form of Qi Gong?
Please note that Zhan Zhuang is not considered to be a form of qi gong because of its purpose or intention but is often grouped with qi gong because the practice looks similar. “Many styles, especially the internal styles, combine post standing with qigong training and other coordinated body methods to develop whole body coordination for martial purposes. The martial practice is thought to strengthen the body’s Central Nervous System and develop the coordination required for effective martial performance. In Yi Quan, a clear distinction is made between ‘health postures’ and ‘martially oriented postures’. In Bagua Zhang’s circle walking practice, the upper body is held as a Zhan Zhuang posture, while the lower body is more dynamic.”
References on Zhan Zhuang
If you want to know more begin looking here:
Here is a great cartoon drawing of Zhan Zhuang that is easy to follow: Brisbane Chen Tai Chi