Zhan Zhuang (站桩) translates from Chinese as ‘Standing Post’ and refers to exercises where qigong and kung fu practitioners hold postures while standing on posts set into the ground. Standing on the posts creates a challenge and heightened balance awareness which helps the practitioner to develop centredness within themselves. In practice many of the exercises do not require that you stand on a post, they can be performed just fine standing on the ground, and they still help to develop this centreness and can also be used to develop other aspects of healthy energy functioning. For this reason these practices are often also referred to as ‘Standing Like a Tree’. The tree may look like it is still, but it is actually very active on the inside, energy and substances are circulating internally to keep the tree strong and healthy. The tree is also drawing in energy and substances from all around it, the roots sink deep and draw nutrients from the earth, the leaves absorb sunlight from the heavens and the plant also interacts with and draws on the air in the atmosphere all around it.
In this course our focus will be on exercises that we can do standing on the ground, for those that are interested exercises performed standing on a post may be the subject of another course at some point in the future.
Some people may think that standing still doesn’t sound like exercise and couldn’t possibly be difficult, but in my opinion Zhan Zhuang exercises are some of the most challenging qigong exercises – both mentally and physically. Mentally it requires great patience and skill to remain mindfully alert while doing something so simple, but if you have prepared yourself through other qigong practices and meditations you will have already come a long way toward having the necessary focus to have a fulfilling Zhan Zhuang practice. Physically the challenge comes more from the skill required to maintain a balanced posture that will allow the energy to flow within you, rather than any need for brute physical strength.
When we stand still, any physical imbalance or tension gradually becomes more noticeable as we spend more time in the posture. These imbalances and tensions put pressure on blood vessels and nerves and impede the efficient movement of energy through the body. When we are moving we will usually not become aware of these imbalances in the same way as when we are still, because we do not spend long enough in one position for the tension to build up before moving to another. Movement can be an aid to discovering an correcting imbalance in other ways of course, and both movement and stillness are useful tools in seeking to find optimal health, wellbeing and energy flow.
When we spend long times in a posture imbalances and tensions can get to the point where they are quite uncomfortable or even painful. It is my belief that if you force yourself to hold a posture to the point of pain, or even strong discomfort, then you may not actually be helping yourself. The pain or strong discomfort comes from an imbalance in your structure, often created by excess tension somewhere in your body. It is true that sometimes by facing these pains or strong discomforts we are able to find a way to release them and correct our posture and energy flows, but what can also happen is that when we face these pains we actually create more tension as a way to try to protect ourselves from them – and excess tension is where the pain and imbalance came from in the first place.
Personally, I think it is better to focus on a sense of health and ease and flow within the body. By focusing on ease and flow we unconsciously encourage ourselves to reinforce and strengthen these sensations and the healthy postures that create them. Minor discomfort is ok and can act as a tool to help us self correct towards a more balanced posture, but discomfort or pain that is too strong can quickly become our central focus and become counterproductive.
As such, the guidelines in this course will encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you work towards developing your Zhan Zhuang practice. In the different practices you will be given different thing to focus on to help you to make a habit of healthy energy flow in your body, and keep your mind from wandering too much. There will also be advice about how to gently develop and lengthen the time you spend in different postures, so you can do this without straining and without undue pain or discomfort. In so doing you will be able to gently nurture your energy and your qigong practice will become stronger and stronger in a healthy way.
In previous courses we have used the same of similar warm up exercises before each of our practice sessions. In this course we will be introducing some different warmup exercises. These exercises focus on activating the soles of the feet, palms of our hands, and the top of our head. They also focus on helping us find our centre within our body. By gently stretching front and back and side to side we naturally balance the tensions in our body and create space to find the stillness and activity in our centre.
You may of course still like to do the other warm-up exercises that you are familiar with, and that is fine. Sometimes you will also not feel the need to do a warm-up at all, or perhaps to do a shorter warm up session, particularly if you have already been physically active, perhaps doing other qigong exercises or something else completely different that has got your body active, the energy flowing and your awareness within your body. Warm-ups are just a tool to prepare you for the different practices, you can use your own wisdom and judgement about which warm-ups are best for a certain situation and whether you need one at all or not. The warm-ups below are particularly good preparation for standing exercises though, so I highly recommend you try them at least a few times to see what effect they have on your practice.
Warm Up Exercises Video
Start by rising up onto the ball of your feet, then sink back down on to your heels , alternating back and forth and stimulating the muscles, ligaments, nerves and other tissues in the arch of your feet and also the muscles of your lower legs.
Next roll to the outside of your foot, then to the inside of your foot, again stimulating the tissue of the arch. This movement should be from the hip, as in this way the tissues right up and down the inside and outside of the leg are subtly stretched and stimulated. The collective effect of these movements is to stimulation the acupuncture point on the sole of the foot just below the ball. This point is called Yongquan or ‘bubbling spring’ and is the first acupuncture point on the kidney meridian.
Next flex your wrists forwards and backwards, and then twist them inwards and outwards. This will stimulate and stretch the tissues all through your arms and shoulders and activates the acupuncture point in the middle of your palm. This point is called Lao Gong or the ‘palace of labour’ and is the eighth point on the pericardium meridian.
Next tilt your head forward and back and then side to side several times. This will stretch the neck on all sides and stimulate the Bai Hui or ‘hundred meeting place’ point on the top of the head. This point is the 20th point of the governing meridian.
Each of these points stimulated are very key points for taking in and discharging out energy. By activating these before your session, the energy will flow much more freely.
Finally reach down in front of yourself with your hands and then stand up and stretch backwards with your hands raised high, followed by leaning side to side with your hands still high several times. This will stimulate the tissues on the front and back and each side of your body and help you to find your centre and be prepared for energy to flow through you.
That completes the warm-up exercises.
Cool Down Exercises Video
We are also going to introduce another cooldown in this course. Previously we have used self massage as a method of cooldown in each of the courses. This is a good and enjoyable way to calm the energy and settle it within the body, ensuring it is evenly distributed. Sometimes a much simpler cooldown will suffice. This can be as simple as standing for a few moments and letting go of any particular energy focus, and just letting the energy settle within your body. Another option is to do just a few repetitions of stimulating the microcosmic orbit with movement. This exercise is very refreshing and useful for balancing and settling any areas where you may have ‘strained’ your energy a little within your session.
For this exercise we simply breathe in and raise our arms to our sides and up above our head, and then breathe out lowering them in the front of our body, repeated several times.