By John Voigt
The most important qigong gymnastic is standing and doing nothing. Many masters of traditional Chinese martial arts, spiritual sciences, and healing practices have stated that this is the basis, the foundation, of all Asian inner and outer life-energy work.
It is called Zhan Zhuang (站桩), and pronounced Jhan Jwong. It means “Standing [like a wooden] Post.
“If I had to choose one qigong technique to practice, it would undoubtedly be this one. Many Chinese call standing meditation “the million dollar secret of qigong.” Whether you are practicing qigong for self healing, for building healing ch’i, for massage or healing work on others, standing is an essential practice …. for ch’i gathering and flow.” – Kenneth S. Cohen. The Way Of Qigong.
“Zhan zhuang, or stance training, is the most important single category of exercise for developing internal force. It can be safely said that all Taijiquan masters, all Xingyi masters, most Bagua masters, and many Shaolin masters obtained their internal force from zhan zhuang.” – Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit. Stance Training And Becoming A Scholar-Warrior.
Although this practice can over time potentially open to those who do it a path to liberation, it may be summarized in only a few words:
Stand straight and relaxed. Raise your arms and hug an imaginary large tree (or large ball). Breathe slowly, deeply, and smoothly. Relax into any discomfort you experience. Hold the pose as long as possible. If there is any pain, or even a hint of pain, stop immediately.
A Short History Of The Practice
Standing without moving is an ancient meditation practice. Shamans in ecstatic rituals enacted wild animals stalking their prey—the consciousness focused on the kill; the body virtually motionless, waiting to spring. Certain Hindu yoga asanas employ slightly similar standing poses, especially Tadasana, the “Mountain Pose.”
Over two thousand years old (and discovered in 1973 at the Mawangdui archaeological site in Changsha, China) are 44 drawings on silk, called the Daoyin tu, literally meaning “Leading and Guiding [Qi] Diagrams.” Many of the figures appear to be doing stationary standing forms. Here is a section of one of the scrolls. (In Standing Post the arms and hands may be at low, middle, high, or even raised positions.)
Nevertheless these Shaman, Hindu, or ancient Chinese practices are only precursors to Zhan Zhuang as we know and do it today.
If possible, pick a regular time and place. Early morning in a pleasant outdoor setting is best. Fresh air is important: if indoors, and the weather permitting, open a window.
Feel free to use your own regime of loosening and gently stretching the muscles and joints. (But it is best not to do any strenuous physical exercises before doing Standing Post.)
Here are some suggested limbering up qigong forms: Rub the hands together and massage the face and head. Massage (or gently slap or tap) the torso, arms and legs, neck and head areas. Stretch the arm and leg muscles.
With hands on knees, look down at a 45-degree angle, and gently rotate the knees clockwise, then counterclockwise. Rotate the arms in front of the body, circling in, then out. Rotate the hips (as if doing hula hoops) clockwise, then counterclockwise. Do each five or more times each way.
Stand with the feet approximately a fist’s width apart. Raise the arms straight up, palms facing, above your head. This keeps the head from sagging forward and straightens the back. Next bring the arms down by the sides of the body in sweeping semicircles. At the same time extend one foot (usually the left foot) out to the side to about shoulder’s width.
Called “Wuji” – “Empty” – or “Basic” Stance.
This posture, also called by other names, is used to begin many qigong and taijiquan (tai chi) exercises.
From the Preparation stance, continue standing straight (do not lean back). Keep the chin tucked slightly in. Imagine a string at the crown of the head gently but firmly pulling you up—and feel the spine actually lengthen. The arms and hands rest lightly at the sides. Turn the elbows slightly forward to ensure a hollow space in the armpits—enough to hold a “swallow’s egg.” The knees are soft, slightly bent and not locked. The feet are straight. Breathe slowly, smoothly, fully into the lower abdomen. Lower the eyelids and look slightly down with a soft gaze, as if daydreaming. Rest the tip of tongue on the hard palette behind the front top teeth.
Stand in this manner for a few minutes or longer.
HOLDING and EMBRACING the POST
Continuing directly from the Preliminary Posture: inhale and curve the arms and hands and lift them to the front of the chest. Palms face the chest. Fingers are separated. The elbows are slightly lowered. The distance between the hands and chest is approximately one foot. Exhale, and keeping the shoulders loose and the back straight, sink down and sit back on an imaginary tall stool. The knees should not extend past the tips of the toes. Imagine that you are squeezing a large inflated beach ball—or a tree. The important thing is to be completely relaxed in body and mind. When the position is comfortably locked in—(this may take days or months to achieve)— pleasurable, even ecstatic, experiences may occur.
Grand Master Yu Yong Nian teaching Standing Post in Beijing, circa 1985
Mentally holding on to the continual stress and irritation of modern life may make even a few minutes of standing and seemingly doing nothing seem like an eternity. If that happens, it is most likely an indication that your mental and physical energy flow patterns are in disarray. The more mentally torturous just standing and doing “nothing” is for you, the more you need to do it.
To End the Practice
After completing Standing Post, return to standing in the opening Basic – Empty – Wuji stance, but with your palms over each other on the lower abdomen. Stand like this for several minutes to store the energy. Then do the warm up as a cool down. Then take a walk.
“If you have substantial [qi-energy] blockage in your body, the accumulated energy derived from Zhan Zhuang would cause internal injuries.” Wong Kiew Kit. The Shaolin Arts. p. 150. Do not practice when sick, instead see a doctor. Some sources say do not practice if you have high blood pressure, or excessive blood flow during menstruation or menopause, or if pregnant or right after childbirth. As always, consult with a professional health provider before doing any exercise or qigong; especially if you have any medical problems or health issues. And as mentioned throughout this article: if there is pain stop and consult with a professional healer, or an experienced teacher of Standing Post – Zhan Zhuang.
In the Next issue of Chinese Medical Living this article will continue with: 1. additional techniques on how to practice Standing Post; 2. how to deal with its discomfort; 3. its benefits; and 4. sources for more information. And how Dr. Yan Xin, a famous, outstanding, and charismatic qigong master, taught Standing Post in Beijing.
This article is a summation of “The Ultimate Energy Exercise: Zhan Zhuang – Standing (Like A) Post. Qi Journal, vol. 23/n.2; Summer 2013. https://www.qi-journal.com/store.asp?-token.S=qi&ID=3319
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Featured image from TaiChiBasics.com