Saturday, June 18, 2011

Zhan Zhuang (Standing Post) in Tai Chi (Taiji) Training

Zhan Zhuang (Standing post) 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." It appears that the person is just waiting for something to happen. In truth, it is more about waiting to act, like a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse.

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.

Zhan zhuang also helps you learn to sink your qi to the dan tian. There is nothing mysterious or mystical about sinking your qi. On the simplest level, it 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.

Beginners to zhan zhuang will find that they are not able to stand in this posture for more than a few minutes. With practice, your lower body becomes stronger and more solid. 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.

PostureGetting into the correct posture is fairly simple. Start by standing in wu ji 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. Keep your posture vertical. Avoid leaning back or extending your abdomen forward. If you start to feel pain while standing, it indicates a problem with your posture. Try to identify the source of the posture problems and correct it.

Hold your hands in front of your lower abdomen, keeping a small space in your armpits as if there were a small ball in your armpit between your arms and your upper abdomen. After several weeks of this practice, extend the practice and hold your hands in front of your arms as if they are wrapped around a tree. Hold your hands and elbows at about chest or shoulder 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 or slightly back on your heels.

Internal Work
Now the work really begins. Visualize that all your weight is moving down through your feet into the ground. Imagine your head is floating on the top of your spine and let your body and mind become calm and tranquil. 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 dan 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 arms or 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.

This is a very brief introduction to Standing Post. There are many variations and advanced exercises for you to explore further.

© 2011 Eric Borreson