Comparing Zhan Zhuang (pole standing) and Standing Qi Gong


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, the difference between Zhan Zhuang (pole standing) and qi gong standing meditation are pretty big.

Zhan Zhuang is a single-posture standing meditation practice that increases vitality and health by stimulating the production of energy to support the bones, bone marrow, and organs. Intense sets in low postures can be completed in 3 minutes or high postures are practiced longer. Zhan Zhuang was originally a Taoist standing meditation practice that has been adopted by internal arts like Yiquan and tai chi to improve martial abilities and health.

Qi gong standing meditation is performed in a single posture or in sets of movements that can last from 2-90 minutes on average. As a whole, qi gong regulates disturbances of the mind, body, and breathing so that the practitioner can heal, think clearly, or improve their overall health and wellbeing. There are thousands of qi gong sets, with specific health focuses, that have been in use for thousands of years.

At it’s core, Zhan Zhuang is a qi gong standing meditation posture. However, the goals of Zhan Zhuang and other standing qi gong sets can be radically different. The risk in not understanding the difference or muddying the two is that you will do a standing meditation that doesn’t match your goals, you won’t make progress, and you will abandon the practice. More exciting though, if you understand the differences between the two, you have more tools in your wellness toolbox and have a better chance of reaping the rewards of Zhan Zhuang or standing qi gong meditation. Let’s take a closer look:

The Differences Between Zhan Zhuang and Qi Gong Standing Meditation

Zhan ZhuangQiGong Standing Meditation
Performed intensely in low postures for 2-3 minutes or for longer in higher postures.Performed for 10-90 minutes on average, usually in a higher comfortable posture.
Always uses a single unmoving posture.May use an unmoving posture or may include body movements like squatting down or arm and hand movements.
The focus is on the breath and posture. May include counting or silent tones but otherwise thought is limited.The focus is on the breath and posture but also may have a specific medical focus such as concentrating on an organ or working to move energy to a region or throughout the body.
Low postures cause pain in the legs, shaking, erratic breath, and a perceived increase in body temperature. High postures are calm and relaxed.Postures are typically calm and relaxed.
Used for cultivation of martial abilities, mental health, and physical development.Generally used to improve mental and physical health. 

So, Is Zhan Zhuang a Form of Qi Gong?

So hopefully this makes clear that Zhan Zhuong is a qi gong standing meditation. On the other hand, all qi gong standing meditations are not Zhan Zhuong. There are said to be over 10,000 qi gong standing meditation sets that are designed to improve specific aspects of physical or mental health. If there is something you want to improve, seek out a qi gong set that matches your goals or more commonly improves overall health. Let’s use this time to better understand Zhan Zhuang.

There are two primary types of Zhan Zhuang poses. The original Taoist standing meditation tree pose (Hun Yuan) is the most practiced and can be done in both a higher (longer, less taxing) or lower (shorter, more painful) stance. I practice and teach in the Chen Tai Chi tradition so I am going to be talking about the lower, more intense form of Zhan Zhuang meditation in this article. This Zhan Zhuang posture is practiced in a deep stance with the left hand aligned behind the lower back and the right hand flat and open in front of the eyes.


Let’s start with how to pronounce Zhan Zhuang and the rough translation(s)

Zhan Zhuang is pronounced “Jan Joo-ong” with the “Jan” being half way between “Jan” and “Jen” and the “Joo-ong” being pronounced in one long syllable, not two. You can hear it here: Zhan Zhuang Google Translate.

Benefits of Standing Meditation

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. It is a heavy comfortable feeling.

  • standing on stake
  • standing qigong
  • standing like a tree
  • post standing
  • pile standing
  • pole standing
  • standing like a post

It is typically written two different ways: 站樁 and 站桩. The first character (站) means to stand but also means to stop or halt. I love this idea. Yes you are standing there. But, you are also stopping all internal and external motion, thinking, worry, or anything keeping you from being present. The meaning of the second character, which I have seen interchangeably as 樁 or 桩, is pile, pole, or stilt. What is neat about this character is that parts of it are used in words like scope, rise, and reach. So when I first heard of the meaning of Zhan Zhuang I thought it had to do with balance or sturdiness which is partly true. But the meaning of the word also means to vault yourself upwards or to help raise you up.

Man, Chinese is beautiful! Think of Zhan Zhuang as meaning: to stand, stay present, and enjoy the mental freedom made by halting all thought and motion (Zhan 站), while you are creating stability to reach greater heights (Zhang 樁).

How do you perform 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. When we instruct in tai chi class, here are the points that we use to get students in the proper posture:

  • Feet shoulder width apart.
  • Sit as though you are on an invisible stool.
  • Soften the lower back. This DOES tuck the tailbone but is better than saying “tuck the tailbone” because that can lock the pelvis.
  • Sink the chest slightly.
  • Relax the shoulders.
  • Simultaneously pull up from the crown of the head and down from the tailbone elongating the back.
  • With your left hand, gather all of your fingers around your thumb into a “bird’s beak.” Place it behind your back in front of the ming men.
  • Place your right hand one foot in front of your eyes, palm flat facing left, elbow pointing down.
  • Soften your eyes so that they are 2/3s closed. You should be looking right above your right middle finger.
  • Light close the teeth together.
  • Touch the upper palate with your tongue
  • Breathe through the nose deep into the belly

Here is a great cartoon drawing of Zhan Zhuang that is easy to follow:  Brisbane Chen Tai Chi

How to Perform Zhan Zhuang with a Partner

The best situation to be in is if you have a partner to work with because the body shifts to make itself more comfortable and unless you are practicing with a mirror, this is difficult to notice. With a partner, you can each take 3 minutes to do Zhan Zhuang standing while the other makes corrections and then switch. Here are the corrections to improve your standing. A partner can make for primary corrections:

Benefits of Standing Meditation
Chen Youze
  • From the front, place both hands on the pelvis crease and push to make them sit again. As we do the posture, we tend to rise up as the discomfort grows in the thighs. Push them back down! They won’t be happy but will thank you later.
  • From the side, put one hand on the lower back and one hand on the clavicle (upper chest). Hold their lower back in place and sit them upright. As we stand, we start to bend forward to compensate for leg discomfort.
  • From the side, put one hand on the chin and grab a couple hairs on the top of their head. Pull their had back and up over their spine. As we stand, our head creeps forward and we start to look down.
  • From the front, cup the elbow(s) in your palms and rotate them towards the ground, pulling down to relax the shoulders. Say “Relax your shoulders.” The shoulders tend to rise. Pushing down on them doesn’t work because it causes more tension on the thighs. Reorient the elbows down and out instead.

You don’t want to make corrections every time you stand because that gets tedious. Every so often just correct each other. Truth is, most of us practice alone! You can have someone you know read this and correct you. It will be more stressful on your thighs. That’s the point.

How long should I do Zhan Zhuang?

Teachings vary between 2 minutes and 120 minutes.  Obviously a lower, more erect posture limits a practitioner to around three 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 effective?

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. Additionally, you are heating up and putting pressure on the largest bones which are the storehouses and factories of bone marrow. White blood cells are manufactured here which drives your immunity.

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.

There is a great series of short videos on Zhan Zhuang put together by EmptyMindFilms.

Is Zhan Zhuang dangerous?

Zhan Zhuang is not dangerous. I wanted to answer this question directly but also acknowledge where the concern is coming from. If you can stand for a few minutes you can do Zhan Zhuang. If you cannot stand initially for 180 seconds, you can work up to it. It is a standing meditation that produces health BENEFITs, not problems.

three zhan zhuang pose heights

So why do people wonder if Zhan Zhuang is dangerous? This pose requires the legs and back to hold and feel 100% of a person’s body weight which can feel painful. Typically, we are moving, leaning, or shifting our weight so we don’t sense our weight. People with knee or back issues will feel pain. However, you can shorten the time or stand higher. The “pain” is actually blood flow to an area that probably needs it. Pain is also an indicator of bad posture. If your lower back hurts, it is probably rounded and should be flat. If your knees hurt, they are probably too far in front of the toes, push your butt back. Lastly, Zhan Zhuang causes your body temperature and blood pressure to rise like when you are working out – because this is a workout! Just like any workout, start at a level that is acceptable and increase over time. Yes running hurts, but it is good for you at a certain dosage. The same logic applies here.


Zhan Zhuang Standing Meditation: A Case Study

Each year in our tai chi community we have been undertaking a 21 Day Standing Meditation Challenge to bring in the new year and to help introduce standing meditation and reap the benefits.  The benefits of Zhan Zhuang standing meditation are often difficult to explain because of their subtlety.  A student responded with his experience so I thought it only appropriate to share.

standing meditation challenge

My Experience with Standing Meditation

This time last year, I found myself in very tumultuous times personally. I had hit a depressive state that I had not experienced since my mother passed away over 20 years ago. I was very unfocused, in a very dark place, and constantly had suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, during that time in my youth I was surrounded by amazing friends and remarkable professors, one of whom integrated some Tai Chi, Chi Gong, and Yoga into our daily warm-ups in class. His class was one of the most transformative classes I have ever experienced in my life. What I learned in his class laid the foundation for how I take care of myself today mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Week 1

When I heard about the standing meditation challenge last January, I felt like I was needing something like this since I found myself struggling with depression again. I liked how they spent some significant time during that first class in January to explain what was behind the meditation (including this article: Benefits of Standing Meditation). They told a story about how Master Chen Qing Zhou would not tell them the secret to improving one’s Tai Chi, because they would not believe it.  Ultimately he shared that standing daily would improve their Tai Chi. One of the sound bites that stayed with me throughout the time that I did the standing meditation and even today is that it only takes 5 minutes of your day.

 Most students do not maintain a standing practice and never achieve the benefits of Zhan Zhuang.  Why is this?

The True Commitment

I did the math: There are 1,440 minutes in a day. This meditation would only take .3% of my day. That’s less than one percent of my time during my daily routine. I was also looking forward to doing the challenge with my fellow Tai Chi peers. Basically, every week we would report about our progress and talk about the challenge in class, and it was inspiring to see so many fellow peers committed to doing it every day.

Trouble with Weight, Sleep and Health

During the month of December I had lost 5 pounds due to a loss of appetite. I was really struggling with depression that came about due to some personal challenges that I was facing. I was at 200 pounds when we started the standing meditation challenge at the beginning of January. I was also struggling with insomnia, so sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night, and toss and turn for 1 to 2 hours before being able to go back to sleep. I would try to force myself back to sleep because I knew that in the morning I would feel very tired going to work. I was a high school teacher at that time. In addition, I had been cautioned frequently by my physician that I needed to take care of myself, since I have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Both of my parents died of cancer, and I have witnessed many of my relatives fight a losing battle with these illnesses. This provides a lot of motivation for me to be proactive about my health.

Week 2

Despite all this motivation my greatest challenge in doing the standing meditation was finding those 5 minutes in my very busy schedule to do it. So my attitude became that I would make sure to do it everyday no matter what. And one of the drastic measures that I took was that I quit watching television completely. I started dedicating those 2 hours a day to playing music, and doing my standing meditation. There were several days where I did the standing  meditation in the morning before I took a shower to go to work. Some days I would do it after coming home from work when I felt really exhausted and stressed out.

The standing meditation would reenergize me on those days, and I would be more productive the rest of the day. And some days I would do the meditation before doing my routine to go to bed. I would be really tired, and not really feel like doing it, but I would push myself.

Even during the 21 day challenge I continued to struggle with insomnia. It would not be until much later in the year that I figured out that the stress level at work was really affecting my sleep. The stress of being a teacher is not the students. The stress comes from the toxic attitudes of colleagues and administrators, the pressures of high stakes testing, and politics in education. These problems kept me up more times than not in the middle of the night. There were times when I would just get out of bed and do the standing meditation as well as a few other Chi Gong exercises that I had previously learned that helped with settling your core so it would lead to better sleep. I had also discovered that the nights I got the best uninterrupted sleep was on Tuesday nights after Tai Chi class.

There was another discovery I made about the standing meditation: The more I did it, the more difficult it got because I would need to sink deeper into my stance to experience the sensations you experience when you are doing it right. However, I kept going knowing that my Tai Chi peers were doing the same. After about 2 weeks, I started to experience several positive effects. One of them was the reenergizing effect the meditation had on my mental state as well as my physical state. I was able to easily deflect the negativity I was experiencing from some of my colleagues and administrators at the high school, even if figuratively speaking they threw daggers, knives and spears at me.

During those first 2 weeks of the standing mediation, I started getting my appetite back, but I was also eating a lot healthier. I was staying gluten-free, cutting down on the carbs, eating more protein like fish and chicken, and making sure that I ate more veggies and fruits. I stayed away from wheat, dairy and sugar. And I drank lots of water along with my daily dose of green tea.

Week 3

During the third week of the challenge I had sustained a minor injury that landed me in a medical clinic. It was there that I got on the scale that I was so surprised. The scale read 190 pounds. I didn’t have time to really take it in because they hurried me over to one of their examination rooms, but I even told myself, “that scale must be off or broken. It can’t be.” When I returned to Tai Chi class the following week I weighed myself on the scale right outside the
weight room, and it was true. I was down to 190 pounds. I was blown away because I hadn’t been anywhere near that weight since college. More than anything I liked the way I was feeling physically. I had more energy during the day. And I started to notice that I was sinking deeper into my stances as I was practicing Tai Chi in class.

tai chi  opening movement before meditating

Month 2

However, life kept coming at me in so many ways that even after the 21 day challenge was over I continued to do the standing meditation. The meditation would bring me back to center when I felt my life was spinning out of control. I was also still battling my depressive states at times. My work environment was not improving, and I was still facing personal challenges that created emotional instability.

I continued doing the standing meditation all through the month of February without missing a day. I continued to observe small improvements in my Tai Chi form. I remember in late February several aha moments where I was either doing one of the exercises with the bowling ball or doing the form and feeling like “Wow, this is how this is supposed to feel!”

Month 3

I continued doing the standing meditation in March. The second week in March I attended theSXSW Edu conference, and I continued to do the standing meditation daily. The following week was Spring Break, and I attended the SXSW Interactive, Film & Music Festival. I wanted to keep the streak alive, and I succeeded for one day of the festival. Then on March 12th I came home extremely tired and worn out from being at the festival for over 14 hours that I just went to sleep. I had gone 67 straight days doing the standing meditation.

The Rest of the Year

Even though my streak stopped, I still continued to make the standing meditation a part of my daily routine after Spring Break. I haven’t had a streak like that since then, but I will have streaks where I still do the standing mediation for like ten days straight. I also bought a bowling ball so that I could do the strengthening exercises that we do in Tai Chi class at home at least two times a week. I continue to see positive results in my Tai Chi form, and in my overall health.

I am looking forward to another 21 day challenge with all my peers at the Chen Tai Chi Association of Austin. I decided to share this story because I know how tough it is to overcome procrastination, challenges that life presents us, and depression. I hope that this personal story that I am sharing with you will inspire you to commit to something that enhances your well being. You deserve it.

References:

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

24 thoughts on “Comparing Zhan Zhuang (pole standing) and Standing Qi Gong

  1. Hi
    I am a student of Yang long form traditional style.
    I would be delighted to receive your newsletter etc

    1. Hi John,
      If you haven’t done so already, subscribe in the upper right corner of the screen and you will be notified when a post is released. We don’t spam and they come out about once a month. Welcome to the conversation.

  2. Hello! I would like to know if zhan zhuang is similiar to zenmeditations in the results?

    1. This is a really hard question to answer (quantify). Yes it can have achieve results similar to internal meditations but Zhan Zhuang is more dynamic. Typcially, sitting/internal meditations have the goal of “transcending” the body and in Zhan Zhuang you stay present and aware of the body. This focus is what let’s the mind stop spinning and stay centered. So you questioned whether the results can be similar and the answer could be yes (centered, free mind) but note that process is not similar. I feel light and mentally grounded from Zhan Zhuang so my results might mirror yours. My personality relates better to a physical activity to keep me focused so I may benefit from ZZ standing more than when I sit and meditate. However, I also sit and meditate and work on internal processes and active, mindfullness-ish focuses. I can’t do these standing because of the fatigue. Try both. Sit and meditate and stand and meditate. How would you describe the difference? Is there any for you?

      1. I am a 35+ year of Xing Yi and Yi Chuan and 50 years a Buddhist I have taught Dharma Studies and Taiji/Qi Gong at City Of Ten Thousand Buddhas where during the intensive 3 week long Chan meditations the monks also are encouraged to stand as well as sit and walk. It is important to know you should always walk afterwards, walk for around 5 to 10 minutes after standing do not go straight to sitting as it can lead to health issues.

        1. Great point. I will add here from Chen Tai Chi. Before and after standing meditation we traditionally do 18 dan tien rotations (9 in each direction) with the palms on the dantien circling. We do not stand up immediately after finishing the standing but bring our hands to our belly (while the legs are still bent) and rotate up and out of the stance. 9 circles in each direction, slowly rising and falling 2-3 inches bringing blood flow back into the legs. See it here in the first 30 seconds of this tai chi ball video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1Iu-iGXlZg

          1. That’s one of my favorite videos, lol he is great. I think, as you say, after standing most of the true schools have some kind of a gather the Qi and store in the dan tien, but some of the people have no access to that so at least take a walk unless you have a tradition to follow.

    2. I was taught to make the chi go down into the dantien. This is also stated in sitting meditation. In zhan zhuang and bagua I was taught to make the dantien go down (like peeing or coughing). I specifically asked was this part of making chi go down. My teacher said yes. This is like an isometric and in my experience develops core strength. This can be done sitting done. You will develop core strength. In both cases many do not do anything with the dantien which is wrong for standing according to my teacher and maybe sitting as well. I am wondering if this part of sitting meditation is lost as it is almost lost in standing? The spine is the same and will develop.

  3. EU ESTOU COM 52 ANOS DE IDADE E APÓS SOFRER UM ACIDENTE, A QUEDA DE UM PORTÃO BASCULANTE DA GARAGEM DE MINHA CASA, PREJUDICOU TODA MINHA COLUNA, ESPECIALMENTE A CERVICAL E A LOMBAR, ISSO FAZEM 02 ANOS,COMENTEI O FATO COM MINA EX-PROFESSORA DE TAI CHI QUE ME RECOMENDOU ZZ E DISSE VC PODE CONTINUAR TOMANDO MEDICAÇÃO MAS O IMPORTANTE É FAZER OS EXERCÍCIOS ZHAN ZHUANG ELES VÃO FAZER VOCÊ MELHORAR.

    1. Hi Jose,
      I will respond and do my best to translate but I haven’t spoken Portuguese for a while. Please put this message in google translate. I believe you shared that you have injuries to your cervical and lumbar areas of your back. Yes Zhan Zhuang can help but there are some important things to keep in mind. I will share a bit here. Know that I am not a doctor so I am suggesting further reading for you. People HAVE healed their back or reduced their cronic pain.

      1. Elongate the spine: Zhan Zhuang can give your discs the opportunity to heal but the most important part of the exercise for you will be to push up with the crown (top) of the head. You want to elongate the spine.

      2. Meditation: the meditation part of zhan zhuang can help. However, it is hard to improve from an injury if you are new to meditation. There is a guided meditation book that focuses on injuries.
      You Are the Placebo is the book (http://www.youaretheplacebo.com/)
      Here is a piece in Portuguese: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-qk6yUjkdQ

      3. Posture: I highly recommend this book. It helps you heal while you are sitting and sleeping which is very important for lumbar injuries:
      8 steps to a pain free back by esther gokhale

      I don’t know if you can find these resources in portuguese but they are great.

      Oi Jose,
      Vou responder e fazer o meu melhor para traduzir mas eu não falei Português por um tempo. Por favor, coloque esta mensagem Traduz Google. Eu acredito que você compartilhou que você tem lesões nas áreas cervical e lombar das costas. Sim, Zhan Zhuang pode ajudar, mas há algumas coisas importantes a ter em mente. Eu vou compartilhar um pouco aqui. Saiba que eu não sou um médico assim que eu estou sugerindo ainda a leitura para você. As pessoas têm curado suas costas ou reduziram sua dor crônica.

      1. Alongar a coluna: Zhan Zhuang pode dar os seus discos a oportunidade de curar, mas a parte mais importante do exercício para você será para empurrar para cima com a coroa (parte superior) da cabeça. Você quer alongar a coluna vertebral.

      2. Meditação: a meditação parte de Zhan Zhuang pode ajudar. No entanto, é difícil para melhorar de uma lesão se você é novo para a meditação. Há um livro de meditação guiada que incide sobre os ferimentos.
      Você é o Placebo é o livro (http://www.youaretheplacebo.com/)
      Aqui é uma peça em Português: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-qk6yUjkdQ

      3. Postura: Eu recomendo altamente este livro. Ele ajuda a curar enquanto você está sentado e dormir, que é muito importante para lesões lombares:
      8 passos para uma livre da dor traseira por Esther Gokhale

      Eu não sei se você pode encontrar estes recursos em português, mas eles são grandes.

  4. Hi i like to know more about zhan zhuang. I had a car accident which fracture my thigh and hip. I have no problem trying to relax my shoulders and lower my elbow (in the hugging tree posture) but i feel unbalance below. Where should i focus my weight on below my feet? While relax my weight would shift forward to my toes then back to my heels, its like im rocking back and forth. Im not sure should i push the weight to the side of my feet or let it sink into the inner sole. I dont know if im doing it right because i feel a strong pressure sinking down while my spine feels really sore at first. And after i try to relax the spine the pressure went down to my lower feet and thats where i start to feel unbalance.

    1. Your situation sounds extremely specific so I will suggest a resource here and then add some additional points of focus to continue you on your way.

      Here is a book on Zhan Zhuang and there are other optioons on Amazon to read about: Inside Zhan Zhuang

      Aside from your injuries, your progress is extremely typical. We tend to work from bottom to top becoming more connected and relax and then run into “sticking points.” So congrats on your progress so far. If you are interested in siting meditation, the point that you are at is a common goal to be able to access the micro cosmic orbit which requires relaxation of the upper torso.

      Aside from that:
      Height: Maintain a high enough posture so that you don’t compromise your injury. You can accomplish what you need to in a near erect posture with soft joints.
      Time: Stand for a bit longer than you currently are. Discomfort will often direct your body into a better posture to alleviate leaning or other bad joint relationships.

      Hips: Is your butt out? Is the front of your pelvis pushed forward? Poor hip alignment will irritate the lower body. You should feel as though you are about to sit on an invisible stool.

      Bahui/top of the head: Too much focus on the lower extremities could indicated that you are not pulling up on the crown of the head. Pretend you are elongating the neck to touch a shelf right above your head.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Hello,,i have the book The way of energy by master Lam Kam Chuen,,great book and very informative,,but just a small detail i can’t seen to get..When i am in the basic stance sitting on a big ball after about 3 days of practicing,,my back is so sore,,i am up to 10 mins holding the stance,,knees slightly bent,,do you sit naturally or do you judd the pelvis forward,,like putting the coccyx underneath you,,there should be a book just on the stance of this qigong…thanks for the help.

    1. What I like about your comment is that it shows that there is a lot to all of this “standing.” Seems simple but it is not. We are doing a 21 day standing challenge this month and it is going to start with a whole class on… standing! You guessed it!

      Here are some initial pointers and I would be happy to continue this thread as it would be beneficial for lots of people. Please let me know. 1) how low your posture is and 2) what part of your back is sore.

      1. If you are doing the low standing posture (thighs burning) you should stand for only 3 minutes max. Your goals is to have a better, deeper 3 minutes that occurs daily. Not to extend the time.

      2. Pain is a message to you. Typically your back will hurt at the point that you are bending. You WILL NOT feel like you are bending because your proprioceptive system (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception) is telling you that your posture is perfect and your ego is always eager to agree.

      3. Forget about the pelvis. Reach for the sky with the top of your head. Reach for the floor with your tailbone. This will align everything perfectly.

      4. Your knees might be crossing in front of your toes. Put your toes against the wall and sink into the posture. Your knees and your nose should not hit the wall.

      5. Have someone take a picture of your from the side and evaluate.

      Let me know what you think or if this helps.

      1. Thank you for the great advice,i appreciate it,,sometimes the most simplest things like a shoulder width stance are the hardest to obtain properly..I usually only sink about 3 or 5 inches when doing Zhan Zhuan postures,,it’s funny my thighs don’t trenble till after the 10 mins are up,,most of the burning are in my shoulders..I did what you said,toes up against a wall and when i pushed my pelvis a bit forward ,my knee’s immediately hit the wall,to remedy this i put my pelvis back to normal and it took care of itself..I think i got the idea of tucking the tailbone from Geoff Pikes book THE POWER OF CHI,,when doing the low horse stances.Thanks again for the help,and all the best.

        1. There definitely is a tuck to the tailbone that many practitioners describe but I think that it is the result of correcting the overall posture and not a goal unto itself. The suggestions I also feel are an attempt to take the sway out of the lower back which does result in your tailbone coming forward. However, you can achieve this all by pulling up and down on the crown of the head and bottom of the tailbone. You get the added benefit of the stretching of each vertebrae away from each disc.

          On the trembling, work to get there by 2 minutes. If you are doing the low stance then 3 minutes is sufficient. If you are doing the high stance, there is no trembling. Teachers that are in disciplines that only do standing work up to 90 minutes. Understand that the higher, longer stances have different goals than the lower.

          1. what are the different goals between high, long stances and low shorter stances?

          2. Hi mic,
            Zhan Zhuang has many goals and postural differences. Not to mislead you and to give you further reading I am included a couple great resources. This from “The Search for Wu”
            There are eight basic standing posts. From the First form up to the Fifth form, all are Basic Healing posts; from the Sixth form to the
            Eighth form, all are Basic combat posts. These eight posts are the most commonly used in Zhan Zhuang are arranged according to the ascending order of physical strain required.

            The illustrations along with the writing above show continually lower and more contorted postures as you progress through the eight.

            This from “The Way of Energy”
            The Zhan Zhuang system begins with two basic standing exercises. These start to build up and release the natural flow of energy inside you. The first position, a simple standing posture, enables you to relax your body in preparation for the other exercises. The second position, “Holding the Balloon”, is the key position in the whole system.

            The Zhan Zhuang exercises outlined in this book will enable you to exert the full capacity of your muscle networks over long periods without exhausting your lungs. In fact, your breathing will become even deeper and slower, generating a generous supply of oxygen to your heart. At the same time, your pulse rate will rise, enabling your heart to carry these high volumes of oxygen to your muscles and internal organs. Even though you will be exercising
            yourself as never before, you will not be left gasping grotesquely for air. You will be able to exercise without fighting against yourself.

            The overall goals of the different heights are health and martial related. There are groups that only or primarily (Chen Tai Chi) do the low stances. These can be grueling and would be done for 3 minutes. Your goal is to always have a better 3 minutes but not to increase the time. This camp would contend that you can get amazing benefits from these 3 minutes each day. It innervates the endocrine system, opens your pores, clears your breathing channels. More than 3 minutes is not needed.

            The other camp would contend that you begin at 10 minutes with the goal to build to 90. There is no way you can do a low stance a la Chen style for more than 3 minutes. So this would be a higher stance, albeit strenuous and uncomfortable at first. This stance (“hold ball”) would have the same health goals, martial goals (Yi Chuan, Chen TC) of stance, grounding, and leg strength), meditative abilities (falong gong). The esoteric side of this is after connecting you to earth and heaven. They contend that standing Zhan zhuang will make this happen without you having to get too intellectual.

            This subject is worthy of additional reading. My take, if you have never stood for 20-30 days, choose a time and height that allows you to make a 30 day commitment. No amount of writing can explain what you feel. The 3 minute-low stance is quickest but it hurts. The longer higher takes longer to get gains but they say the gains are worth the time.
            Yours in health, s

  6. Greetings. I am new to the blog and appreciate the discussions.
    My question for Sprath is what would be the goal of doing higher and longer stances vs lower stances. I assume the lower stance is for martial practice.

    1. Like every good answer to a martial arts related question, the answer is both. Both health and martial uses for higher and lower stances. There are many good resources on zhan zhuang to get further into your question but here are a few examples from my understanding and use of the different heights.

      Low stances

      Health
      The lower stance has numerous implications for health. It: raises body temperature, increases bloodflow, can be used to train the breath to be lengthened, innervates the bone marrow in the large bones specifically the femur (bone marrow contains the bodies growth and repair centers – stem cells), and helps us self-diagnose poor posture. On the metaphysical side, the lower stance is described as separating heavy/dark and light qi and moving “stale” qi down while bringing fresh qi in through the top of the head.

      Martial
      Low standing for 3 minutes each day has to be the quickest way to build up leg strength, confidence in stance work, and flexibility. Any stance work should be accompanied by standing meditation. I don’t know how one would learn how to empty-step while maintaining their root without experiencing the heavy sensation that deep standing provides.

      High stances
      Health
      The higher stance allows us a lot of time to cultivate internal sensitivity, meditate, and work on long periods of relaxation. Arts that are heavy into standing such as I Chuan (Yi Quan) work up to 60-90 minutes of standing. It would not be beneficial to try to do that in the lower stance. Qi gong sets that build up chi and use chi cannot be done in the lower stance. You can’t concentrate and maintain the stance for the amount of time it takes the internal energy to build up or for a novice to develop.

      Martial
      The higher stance can be used to cultivate awareness of opponents and some of the harder qi gongs and gong fu harden their skin in higher standing postures.

      The overall point is that the heights and the stances are tools that can be used for a variety of reasons. After studying for some time, it is increasingly apparent that nearly every tai chi activity can serve both health and the martial focuses, depending on intent. Your question is a good one though Jiimjo and probably warrants one or several posts.

  7. Whats the best stance for ridding your body of pains, like upper/lower body pain, and chronic fatigue?

    1. This has to be a two part answer. It is very hard for me to write about reducing pain. People that are in pain feel a sense of despair that people who are not in pain cannot understand. This makes them hopeful and it is too easy to say “do this!” and have people try it with no avail. So I would like to write about standing from two directions.

      1. Zhan Zhuang is the biggest bang for your buck. 3 minutes / day in a deep stance can make a world of difference but it takes awhile to build up. It is like pumping an old style well. You pump for quite a while and get nothing. Then a trickle. Then it comes easy. If you stop it goes back down and you have to work at it again. Read into Zhan Zhang to find out about all of the benefits but basically you are innervating the growth centers in the bones to promote healing. There are a few great books on it. Mark Cohen I believe just released a new book just on this standing.

      2. There is a second part to standing or sitting meditation that isn’t talked about much. Here we go… Chances are there is something in your life that is not good for you and internal persuits help you find out what that is. Standing/sitting meditation can give you this beautiful pain free few moments. You gain a gut sense of what should feel right and what feels wrong. You then use this feeling to judge your daily life. Something about your eating/posture/job/relationship will feel yucky and you have to explore this. You can explore through reading and self education.

      Here are some great books. If you have back pain read: 8 steps to a pain free back
      Nerve /MS pain read Brain Maker
      Read anything you can on sleep and check out The Model Health Show podcasts. There is a series of shows from the first half of 2016 all on sleep.

      It is a sad and overwhelming state to be in constant pain. I know from experience. I have used meditation and qi gong to reduce back pain and heal but you have to put your time in self-educate. Standing is a great way to reduce pain and fatigue but you HAVE to put your time in. It is free. What do you have to lose?

  8. It’s so wonderful for me to find your post. Thank you. I started this practice about ten years ago. It was offered at a local library, and I thought it was strange, since it was advertised as free tai chi, but all we did was stand.

    For some reason it stuck with me, and I practiced it almost every day since before the form. I stand for half hour, do form for half hour.

    I have so many questions about it I don’t know where to start, so I won’t. I’ll live with this posting of yours for a while and see if you’ve already indicated what I’m wondering about, perhaps in the books you recommend.

    I only want to say that this practice has changed my life for the better and recommend anyone to stay with it. If one feels the pain and makes small adjustments to lengthen practice time, the body will assume the proper posture by itself, it seems, as the proper posture makes itself evident as the time of practice lengthens. Eventually you will be consumed by an irresistible smile as blood and body fluids circulate.

    I look forward to further research as indicated in your post. Thanks again.

    1. Glad to hear. There is another (newer) book out specifically on Zhang Zhuang: Inside Zhang Zhuang by Mark Cohen. I haven’t read it but know that he has practiced for a long time and writes for Tai Chi Magazine. I often wonder if Mark and Ken Cohen are related??? Or there just happens to be two guys who write on qi gong with the same last name. Someone chime in if they know.

      Eckhart Tolle has this piece on Honey saying that your could study the molecular make-up of Honey, write poems about it, become a expert on Honey and even write a thesis about it. But you would gain a world of knowledge just by tasting it and truly not know honey until you did. I think it is a metaphor on meditation. Your post highlights how much can be gained but you HAVE TO STAND. No words will ever express the experience after some time has been put in.

      Last January we did a 21 day standing challenge with our tai chi class. We used the tai chi (deep) pole-standing posture for 3 minutes/day. It finally gave a small group the needed buy-in and I have seen their progress in tai chi and standing really take off this year. We may do it again this coming January.

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