When I envisioned the book, Inside Zhan Zhuang, my primary intention was to help practitioners around the world avoid years of trial and error, and not understanding or knowing what it is that makes Standing Meditation such a powerful tool for the enhancement of health, martial power and expanding awareness.
It appears from the many emails I’ve received, that I have succeeded. Below are some of the reactions of actual people who have purchased the book.
Aloha and Greetings from Maui, Here's an updated article that's been in several Internal Martial Arts magazines, entitled: "Zhan Zhuang - What Really Happens When We Stand" Enjoy!
ZHAN ZHUANG - WHAT REALLY HAPPENS
WHEN WE STAND?
Tai Chi Chuan is taught very differently today
than it was one or two hundred years ago. While this statement seems obvious to
those in the know, it is this difference that is fundamental in answering the
question of why many practitioners in olden times had such awesome power, skill
and in many cases, radiant health and most today do not.
A SECRET HIDES IN PLAIN SIGHT
One answer lies in the very beginning of the
Tai Chi form, just prior to Commencement. What are we doing then? Probably
standing with our feet parallel, somewhere between shoulder and hip width,
depending on style. And there it
is, one of the biggest secrets of Tai Chi, hiding in plain sight.
The truth is, the original Tai Chi lineage
practice contained Zhan Zhuang training. The practitioners of old often stood
in the Wuji posture, arms resting at their sides just as they are prior to
Commencement, for an hour or more before beginning their form repetitions.
THE THREE CATEGORIES OF DEVELOPMENT
one begins Zhan Zhuang training their goals generally fall into one of three
categories: health and longevity, internal martial power and mental/spiritual
development. And since most all achievement in the internal arts is based on
greater and greater relaxation and integration, standing meditation naturally
becomes an excellent method of choice for rapid accomplishment.
So, we find a suitable location, get ourselves
into position, correct our alignments, center our feeling attention in the
lower (or upper) Dan Tien and then what?
It is obvious that over
time much happens to the individual during Zhan Zhuang practice, such as
the transformation of the nerves,
healing of various injuries, the acquisition of genuine internal power and even
energizing the brain and expanding consciousness. It is fair to say that nearly
all great internal martial artists of the previous centuries acquired their
achievement to a major extent by first passing through the gate of Zhan Zhuang.
(This includes Yang Cheng Fu who trained Zhan Zhuang but only taught it to a
handful of people.)
So the question becomes, how did they do this?
What occurred inside their bodies that allowed them to reach such high levels?
The answer to this question has three components: Physical, Energetic, and the Shen force. (Shen
force can be thought of as a combination of Xin - heart/mind and Yi –
intention, as well as that part of us which controls both.)
AS THE WATER SETTLES THE ROCKS APPEAR
first thing people generally feel when they begin standing are various
‘discomforts’ in the physical body. These imbalances are generated by causes
such as old injuries, energetic blockages, including organ or gland imbalances, psychic/emotional karma,
and general mental rigidity.
this discussion we will primarily focus on the physical arena as these issues
must be reckoned with before the other areas become steadily accessible.
what is it exactly that causes our discomfort and pain and perhaps more
importantly, how do we change it and become relaxed?
can be said that all discomfort within the body is caused by incorrect tension
between two primary dynamic forces - the descendingHeaven energy (gravity, sinking, Yang) and the
ascending Earth energy (lifting, rising, Yin.) These can be thought of as
opposite pressures which when not properly equalized, create pain, discomfort
or at the very least odd feelings or sensations in the body. These pressures
manifest both physically and energetically. Our goal here is to enable a
the laws of hydrodynamics (the study of fluids in motion) we can postulate that
an imbalance of pressure - either too much or too little - exerted on liquid within a defined,
somewhat flexible membrane (the body) creates actual physical distortions.
Eventually these can become ingrained and also warp the energy body(s).
these imbalances become habitual, the body adapts and creates a “new normal.”
The definition of “normal” in this case being what we accept as natural for us,
such that no area of the body calls attention to itself. In the case of an
injury, normal refers to how things felt before the damage. Of course the “new
normal” is actually an aberrated pattern. This means that after a time we “get
used” to the imbalance and begin to experience it as normal.
body is often miraculous in it’s ability to self-heal and yet this same
adaptive ability can also be a double-edged sword in that what can’t be
corrected by the body’s self-healing, eventually gets blotted out of the
conscious mind and feeling. When this occurs the pattern has been locked into
the subconscious. And that’s where Zhan Zhuang can be most helpful.
continuous practice of the standing exercise reveals these aberrated
subconscious patterns and eventually helps resolve them.
MUSCLE BLOCKAGES AND RELEASING THEM
we have a muscular injury, in most cases the muscle contracts like a spring,
upward and inward. If this is not resolved then ultimately the injured muscle
becomes “stuck” to the bone, fascia or other nearby muscles. When this happens
the pain or discomfort becomes pretty much constant. To resolve this type of
injury we primarily use the descending, lengthening Heaven energy.
extreme cases it is possible for the opposite to happen. The muscle “spring”
can be so sprung that flaccidity occurs. This can be particularly challenging
when tendons and ligaments are involved. In this case, in addition to the
descending Heaven energy, we must rely heavily on the rising, lifting Earth
energy to slowly retighten the spring.
good news is, with time, Zhan Zhuang can
resolve and heal many of these injuries. What actually happens is that the
contracted muscle elongates and comes “unstuck from the bone.”This process can
sometimes be quite strenuous, especially when long unused/newly freed muscles
come back online or when the body attempts to return to the original energy
flows that were present before injury. However, with continued practice
these sinews gradually regain their strength (correct dynamic tension) and the
soreness vanishes. Please note: if the injury is severe this process can take a
HOW STANDING IS DIFFERENT FROM MOVING
it’s apparent simplicity, standing meditation is actually one of the most
challenging things a person can do. One of the reasons is because Zhan Zhuang
practice requires absolute mental and emotional honesty. Let me explain. When we practice movement, whether it be Tai Chi, Xingyi or
Ba Gua, especially at the beginning, it is easily possible to do it incorrectly
and think we’re doing it right. Only later when the teacher corrects us, do we
realize our error. This is where Zhan Zhuang is different.
Standing for an
extended period of time, (40 minutes a day for health, an hour or more for
martial achievement) we cannot deceive ourselves into believing we’re relaxed
when we are not because sooner or later some uncomfortable sensation appears to
remind us. Therefore, when we finally do achieve some degree of relaxation, we
can know it is genuine. Of course there are many, many deepening levels of
relaxation that become available over the years.
example of this can be a feeling of profound contentment, like we are exactly
where we’re supposed to be as a human being. Heaven above, the Earth below and
we, man or woman in between, nothing to do, nothing to achieve, just pure
beingness. Or sometimes we feel as if our muscles are “melting.” When this
occurs, the body will respond to our feeling-awareness and release blockages
wherever we focus.
same is true of Nei Kung “energy experiences.” When we work with various Taoist
alchemies or the like, our imagination becomes so refined that we can create
experiences. But the question is, are these feelings and experiences real or
just mock-ups of our imagination? With Zhan Zhuang however, there is generally
no question whether some energy or feeling is real. Since we are not seeking
any particular experience, just greater relaxation, when something does happen
out-of-the-blue so to speak, we know it’s real because we had no part in trying
to create it. Also after one of these experiences, we are often able to
duplicate and utilize the new awareness.
STRUCTURE VS. RELAXATION
I first began Zhan Zhuang training, I asked the following question: What is
more important, posture or relaxation? The answer I was given after long
deliberation was relaxation. While structure is obviously important for many
reasons such as integration and Chi flow for example, it is the ability to
relax more and more deeply that actually brings achievement.
it is important to point out that obsessive preoccupation with a posture’s
alignment will almost always bring negative results in the way of unwanted
tension. Therefore, the symmetry of structure and the quest for its perfection
can be deceiving, just look at nature. Nowhere in nature will we find symmetry
in the way humans define it. The branches of a tree are not symmetrical nor
equidistant, or even completely straight for that matter and yet the tree
thrives and grows healthy and tall. This means that the sooner we accept our
imperfections and learn to be okay just the way we are, the faster our
concentrating on relaxation, eventually the body will begin to correct and
adjust imbalances of itself, or suggest to us how to work with the asymmetrical
elements. Here, there are two keys to remember, 1) The body wants to heal
itself and 2) The body has certain innate wisdoms we can trust. That said, the
best way to deal with this dilemma is a balanced approach, to use both
elements, alignment (structure) and relaxation interchangeably. The phrase,
“Set it and forget it,” is appropriate here. In other words, do your best to
set up your structure and then let go of it and work mainly with relaxation.
THE BOTTOMS OF THE FEET ARE THE
feet are the place through which all the forces of gravity must pass. There are
literally thousands of “gravity filaments” or vertical lines of force
throughout the body, all of which must be balanced and released from the top of
the head/shoulders down into the ground. In this way the front, back, insides
and outsides of the bottoms of the feet each reveal the result of our
progressive relaxation. The key here is evenness. Generally when we stand,
especially at first, some parts of the feet will feel more pressure than
others. By tracing these excesses (or deficiencies, not enough pressure) up
their respective meridians, we can find the source of the resistance or
recognized, the next step is to relax and try to empty the suspect area and
then continue to relax the relative muscle channel(s) all the way down under
the bottom of the foot. The goal here is equal pressure, no place too much or
too little. Finally, with enough practice even our feeling of this equal
pressure inevitably disappears as we merge with the earth. When this is
accomplished we have effectively sunk the Chi and created, at least in part,
the highly-prized state of Sung.
THE FIVE POINTS OF THE FOOT
are five locations on the bottoms of the feet, knowledge of which will greatly
aid in our quest. They are: Yongquan,
Kidney 1 - the bubbling well, the center of the heel, the big ball - located
behind the big toe/second toe, the little ball - located behind the pinky/4th toeand lastly the
Center Point, equidistant between the tip of the toes and back of the heel.
This point is located directly below Jiexi
point, St-41 when standing in Wuji posture. Jiexi
point can be found on the midpoint of the transverse crease of the ankle in a
depression between the two tendons.
is a sixth point which also proves very useful. This is Zulinqi point, GB-41 and when properly opened, has the power to
help release the hip, especially the side of the hip. Zulinqi point is located on the top of
the foot toward the outside, behind the 4th metatarsophalangeal joint in
a depression lateral to the tendon of extensor digiti minimi.
checking to see if our Chi has sunk, these locations assist in simplifying the
task of isolating and resolving blockages. It is important to note that
focusing on the bubbling well will cause energy to rise and focusing on the
bottom of the heel will cause energy to descend. Focusing on the Center Point
will ideally allow energy to ascend and descend simultaneously.
WUJI POSTURE: THE QUICKEST WAY TO THE
leaving our arms relaxed at our sides as we do in the Wuji standing posture,
our attention more naturally stays inside the torso. Test this for yourself.
First, stand with your hands at your sides for a minute or so. Then raise your
arms and form the embracing the tree/holding the ball posture and maintain that
for a minute. Notice that as soon as your raise your hands, your conscious
attention naturally tends to shift to the arms and upper body. Finally, return
your arms to the sides of the body and notice what happens. Your
feeling-awareness begins to leave the arms and return to the torso.
addition to this, the width of the feet can influence our ability to be aware
of the spine. When we stand in a wide stance
(shoulder width or wider) just as with the arms, our feeling-awareness
tends to move to the outsides of the body. On the other hand, when we position
the feet at hip width or narrower, of necessity we must stand “taller,” that
is, stretch the body more vertically. This of itself brings greater awareness
of the spine.
THE CHI ADHERES TO THE BACK
of the Tai Chi classics are quite familiar with this saying. But what does it
mean and why is it important in our Zhan Zhuang and Tai Chi practice? In terms
of Zhan Zhuang, the Chi gathering and adhering to the back primarily refers to
the Yang Chi and the spine.
happens with enough practice is that more and more of the “Yin tissue” in the
front of the body (chest, abdomen and innards) elongates and relaxes back
toward the spine. This is especially true of the all-important Psoas muscles.
When this occurs, the Yin tissue feels more insubstantial while the Yang Chi of
the back becomes more tangible.
importance of the spine both for health and martial achievement cannot be
over-estimated. On the health side, the nerves of the spine energize all the
organs and glands and much more. In addition, every nerve message which passes
from the brain to the body and vice-versa, goes through the spinal column. On
the martial side, the spine is central to issuing powerful Jin.
THE POSITION OF THE EYES
The use of the eyes depends upon one’s goal(s)
in Zhan Zhuang practice. For health, it is beneficial to close the eyes. This
makes focusing inside easier and in my experience is useful no matter what your
goal. With all methods, it is important to retain great relaxation in the eyes.
martial arts, it is often best to keep the eyes open. One
reason for this is to cultivate our peripheral vision. Another reason is
because at higher levels, the eyes are indispensable in the projection of
the first method we use a specific focus on some distant object and while
holding our attention there, engage our peripheral vision or what some have
termed, “Eagle Vision.” A variation of this is to gaze into the distance with
our eyes straight ahead (at the horizon for instance) with no specific focal
mental and spiritual cultivation of the Shen
force, there two other techniques that can be very useful. The
Half-Inside/Half-Outside Method often works well.
one looks straight ahead while half-closing their eyes. Let the eyelids relax
and get heavy such that they obscure half your field of vision. Then, and
here’s the trick, while keeping your attention focused straight ahead, relax
the eye muscles and lower the eyes as if going to sleep. At this point your
attention, which is still looking straight ahead, will have become focused on
your “inner screen” - eyelids obscuring the upper half of the objective world
while your physical eyes are lightly focused downward on the physical reality.
As we maintain this relaxed focus, inside, light will begin to accumulate and
this leads to the second method.
Eyes Shut Method. This method is similar to the first but with the eyes
completely closed. Simply gaze straight ahead, close your eyes and relax them
like going to sleep while maintaining your inner vision steady on your “inner screen.”
This kind of seeing - using one’s inner visual attention rather than what the
physical eyes see - has as its basis the Taoist axiom of Wu Wei – effortless
doing or doing as though not doing andis
used in such practices as “Circulation of the Light.”
TWO APPROACHES TO RELAXATION
first approach involves using the mind to square everything away, so to speak.
That is, going through the body step-by-step from Baihui point and above the head, down through the bottoms of the
feet, correcting alignments, opening the various points and locations by
relaxing and adjusting as necessary. This method is useful when we have
difficulty quieting the mind. Concentrating in this manner gives the mind something
to do and tends to get rid of excessive thought. Once this is done, we find our
center and automatically shift to the second method which involves only
second approach is deceptively simple. “Don’t think, feel!” This Bruce Lee aphorism
uttered in the movie, “Enter the Dragon,” says it all. In other words, briefly use the mind to
put your body in the most balanced posture possible at that moment, find your
center and then forget the mind and enter the realm of pure feeling/being.
are a number of ways to find one’s center. The following method has been found
to work extremely well. Place one hand on your Navel/Low Dan Tien area and the
other at the Ming Men on the low
back. Here it is important to note that there are actually two Ming Men. One is the acupuncture Ming
Men which lies just below the second lumbar vertebra and the other is the Chi
Kung Ming Men which is found between
the 5th lumbar vertebra and the Sacrum. With a judicious hand placement you can
your hands are in position, move your feeling awareness from your front hand,
through the body to your back hand. Then move your feeling from your back hand
to a point inside your body, halfway between back and front. Lastly, lower your
hands to your sides (Wuji posture) and just feel.
those who prefer more specificity, five locations can be used. 1) the outside
of the abdomen, the skin where your hand is touching. 2) the low Dan Tien, 2 to
4 inches inside the body. 3) the Center Point, equidistant between front and
back. 4) the inside of the lumbar vertebra, 2 to 4 inches inside the body from
the back. 5) the outside of the back, where your other hand is touching.
first your Center Point location may be vague or amorphous, but with continued
practice it will become refined to a single point, after which, many wonderful
things begin to happen such as the spontaneous
opening of various channels, energy centers or even the entire energy body
to find your center by going from back to front, not the other way around. The
reason for this is that we as human beings have much more awareness of the
front of our bodies than we do of our backs. Without going from the back first,
there is a tendency to skew our awareness of the center point.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HARDWIRING
In Zhan Zhuang, as with all the internal martial arts, there are many
embedded layers of deeper and deeper integration, body coordination and
application. On the physical side this includes, bone alignments, opening and
closing the joints, stretching the tissue linearly and spiraling the tissue. On
the Nei Kung side, there are also many phases such as
working with the Left and Right Chi Kung Channels, working with the Central Channel, working with the organs and glands, etc.
Hardwiring is the mechanism that enables the linkage of the many parts of
the body to a central location, in this case, the low Dan Tien. Later, in advanced practices, this central focus can be in
other areas like the middle and upper Dan Tien or even multiple regions. But for health and indeed martial
power, for now we’ll focus exclusively on the low Dan Tien or navel area. This method is most suitable to Zhan Zhuang as well as the other internal arts.
Judicious use of hardwiring allows us to actualize the embedded layers of coordination
available in each posture or movement. On a physical level, what we do is focus
on one particular part of the body at a time in relationship to a central
point, in order to create what some have called a dimmer switch.
That is, the ability to
activate part or all of one’s unified energy at will by focusing on just one
energy center. For now, two basic examples should suffice to clarify the
technique. The first method uses breathing to create the linkage, while the
second relies on repetitive movement.
The Breathing Method:
Choose a part of the body. In the beginning this should probably be somewhere
in the torso. For this example we’ll use the upper back. Next, focus your
breathing in the low Dan Tien for a few rounds, until you feel a relative evenness between the
inhale and the exhale. A feeling of body relaxation begins to occur. During this process you will have sensed a
gentle expansion and condensing in the lower abdominal area. Now quietly shift
your attention to your upper back and feel it expand and condense with the abdomen. Continue this process for a number of rounds while periodically
shifting your feeling-awareness back and forth between the two areas.
With continued practice
you will almost be able to be aware of the two locations simultaneously. I say
almost because our brain has the ability to switch between the two places at lightening
speed, such that it almost feels simultaneous.
I’m speaking about our
conscious awareness here. First we feel this, then we feel that, only really
However, there is
another method which can superimpose or join the two locations completely. For
that we must access our peripheral feeling-awareness while basically letting go of our fixed
conscious focus and allowing it to become more amorphous.
Here’s how: Focus your
conscious feeling-awareness in your physical center which falls on the plane of
the navel area, specifically, halfway between the navel and the outside of the
back. Now, while keeping some of your conscious feeling-awareness there, let
your peripheral feeling-awareness open to the region of the upper back. Feel
the two locations rise and fall in unison.
the Nei Kung practices you can create a sphere in your
center and feel it expand and condense, taking whatever part(s) of the body you
desire to link with it. Later, these spheres will begin to rotate, similar to
the Dan Tien Rotation famous in Chen Tai Chi style. This turning or spinning is important because of how it
amplifies, propels and accelerates the Chi.
Eventually hardwiring will include the entire body, from head to toe and from inside
to outside. When accomplished, our center will now act much like a dimmer
switch in its ability to power the body’s overall energetic state either up or
down, that is, increase or decrease it at will.
In order to continue
the hardwiring procedure, repeat the earlier basic process to link each
region to the center, one-at-a-time. Please note, this should first start with
the exterior muscles and sinews and then proceed inward to the deeper parts of
the body, organs etc.
Now for the Moving
Method. This technique uses all the principals of the previous method, only now
we apply the same foci while moving, say in Tai Chi form movements for example.
So, while doing each
movement singly and repeatedly, we look at one part of the body in relation to
what the center is doing. Let’s choose the knees. What are our knees doing in relationship to the low Dan Tien during a particular movement? Are they coordinated, retaining
their alignment, expanding and condensing in unison, sending and receiving,
opening and closing together as one?
The progression of hardwiring begins with individual areas of the body being linked to the
center, but from there it expands step-by-step to include more locations
simultaneously until eventually ‘everything’ is linked in.
A good way to proceed
after attaining the basic individual mastery is to use the external six
harmonies. This involves hardwiring certain parts of the body to each other in addition to the Dan Tien. For example, we can work the linkage between the elbows and knees and then later use multiple pairs such as the shoulders and hips and elbows and knees.
In Zhan Zhuang, the easiest way to affect linkage both to the Dan Tien as well as from one part to another, is by using the breath.
With the Dan Tien method, breathe into the low Dan Tien and abdominal region until you begin to feel a gently rounded
sensation like a sphere getting larger on the inhale and smaller during the
exhale. Next, while keeping a percentage of your feeling-awareness in your abdomen, divert the rest of your feeling-awareness to the region you wish
to hardwire. Relax the region as you inhale and expand the abdomen, allowing it to open and condense in unison with the Dan Tien.
As you continue cycling
your breath, you can check on both locations by rapidly moving your
feeling-awareness between the two. When you get it right, you will find that
the rhythmic expansion and contraction of the two locations and the breath,
will have activated the Universal Pulse. This is the breathing of the Earth and
the world around us including the sun, moon, planets and stars.
Once this is in place
all the body’s tissue will be moving in concert as the Chi circulates, uninhibited. At that point you’re well on your way to
achieving what the Classics call ‘stillness in motion.’
Eventually, while the
majority of your conscious feeling-awareness is held in your center, your peripheral feeling-awareness allows you to simultaneously feel what the
rest of the body is doing.
INVESTIGATING THE NATURE OF
essence, what we are doing in Zhan Zhuang practice is investigating the nature
of relaxation. However, relaxation in this case is not simply becoming limp,
for if we completely relax all our muscles, we will certainly fall down.
Therefore, the type of relaxation we are looking for involves the minimum
dynamic tension required to hold the body upright.
much practice, our equilibrium becomes very refined and we are able to “balance
on the bones.” At that point, the perceived dynamic tension of the body’s soft
tissue becomes virtually nil. This deep relaxation will eventually permeate
even further and include the organs, glands and even the brain.
is this so important? Because so much of one’s progress literally comes from
deeper and deeper relaxation. Wang Xiang Zhai, the creator of Yiquan, was clear about the necessity
for personal investigation and experimentation in this regard. So what are the components of relaxation and how can we
has three basic components: physical, energetic and mental. We will first
address calming the mind for without this, deep relaxation is simply not possible.
USING THE PHYSICAL TO INFLUENCE THE
of the simplest ways to calm the mind is by using the breath. Regulating the
breath (making it even) will in turn soothe and slow the mind.
technique is to relax the eyes and especially the back of the eyes where they
attach to the optic nerve. Doing this can dramatically slow nerve messages as
well as thought.
we are doing in a sense is creating space in the body. Some people describe it
as hollowness, emptiness or lack of differentiation between their body and the
surrounding air molecules. These stages are clearly beyond merely being
physically comfortable, although deep body relaxation is definitely a
ENTERING THE VOID
one achieves a considerable amount of genuine relaxation, it sometimes happens
that they experience a “time warp,” a sort of space/time distortion. Wang Xiang
Zhai called it entering the Void. We think we’ve been standing for 15 or 20
minutes, but when we check the time, it turns out to be closer to 40 or 50
minutes, for example. When this occurs it feels like our blood sparkles and we
are filled with vitality.
HOW ZHAN ZHUANG EXPANDS AWARENESS
three concentric circles, each separated from the other. (See Diagram) Now put
yourself in the center of the innermost circle. This circle represents our
conscious awareness, what we can feel. The second circle represents our
peripheral feeling awareness, what we can just barely feel, sense or glimpse.
And the third circle represents what we cannot yet feel or perceive.
happens over time in Zhan Zhuang practice is
that parts of the second circle (our peripheral feeling awareness) become
magnified to the point that they fuse with our conscious awareness (the first
circle.) At the same time, elements of the third circle are amplified enough to
move into the second circle (our peripheral awareness.)
cycle continues to play out again and again and with each round our conscious
awareness grows, sometimes exponentially. The amazing thing about Zhan Zhuang
is that everyone who practices daily will inevitably gain such expansions and
all the benefits that go with them, including profound improvement in their Tai
Chi form and push hands.