Friday, February 18, 2011

Tai Chi Practice - Standing Post (Zhan Zhuang)

Standing post, or zhan zhuang, is a common practice in tai chi training. One way to describe standing post is to say that it is standing meditation. This is partly true, but it only touches the surface of the practice. Looks are deceiving. There is a lot going on while "just standing there." There is an old saying, "Doing nothing, accomplishing everything."

Zhan zhuang helps you learn to sink your qi to the dan tian. There is nothing mysterious or mystical about sinking your qi. It simply means to lower your weight, or center of gravity, from your chest or upper abdomen down to your dan tian. You learn to relax your weight and let it sink. Your lower body becomes stronger and more solid.

Zhan zhuang also helps you strengthen your legs. Beginners to zhan zhuang will find that they are not able to stand in posture for more than a few minutes. Experienced practitioners can generally stand for half an hour or more. This is especially important as we get older. Strong and flexible legs are what keep you walking instead of using a cane, walker, or wheel chair.

One principle energy, or direction, is a centered stance, called zhong ding. Zhong ding is the key direction of the 5 steps and represents the balance of yin and yang around the center. While you are standing in zhan zhuang, you learn to develop zhong ding.

Getting into the correct posture is fairly simple. Start by standing in wu ji (insert link) and allow your body and mind to calm down. Relax your knees and let them bend just a little bit. Make sure that your weight is centered on your feet and that your body is upright. Relax into the posture and let your weight sink on each exhale. Visualize that all your weight is moving down through your feet into the ground. Hold your hands in front of you as if your arms are around a tree. Hold your hands somewhere between your dan tian and chest level.

Tuck in your tail bone and pull in your chin slightly to help straighten your spine. Check your posture to verify that you are still upright and not leaning. Check the feeling on the bottom of your feet to verify that your weight is centered on your feet.

Now the work really begins. Visualize song and let relaxation spread to every part of your body, including your arms and legs. Breathe deeply and visualize qi energy entering your body with every breath. Move the qi to your tan tian and store it there. Imagine your arms enclosing a ball of energy. Let the ball enlarge and expand with every inhale, but use your arms to contain it. As best as you can, forget everything else and focus on these things. If your mind wanders, just bring it back to your body and breath.

When your legs get tired, call it a day. Don't push it unless you are doing martial arts training and your teacher tells you otherwise. Improvement comes from long term practice, not from overdoing it until you hurt. Five minutes a day is plenty for beginners. With regular practice, you will be able to bring your mind to your dan tian even when you aren't standing in this posture. Imagine the calming effect if you can use this technique the next time you are in a stressful situation.

© 2011 Eric Borreson