Saturday, December 12, 2015

Zhan Zhuang - The Hidden Essential of Tai Chi Training

Whether we practice Tai Chi for health or martial arts, the inclusion of Zhan Zhuang (Standing Meditation) at the beginning of our daily training session becomes essential if we are to gain many of the greatest benefits spoken of in the Tai Chi Classics and historical anecdotes.

For health, Zhan Zhuang training initiates the body’s internal healing, strengthening, unification and enhanced Chi flow which is then amplified by proper Tai Chi practice. In this case Zhan Zhuang becomes the Yin to Tai Chi’s Yang. While Tai Chi is often thought of in terms of stillness within movement, Zhan Zhuang may be considered as movement within stillness. Simply put, they are the perfect compliment to one another.

For martial arts, the intimate connection between Zhan Zhuang and Tai Chi is a matter of historical record. Ever wonder about the great accomplishments and stories of the famous martial artists of days gone by? Well, pretty much all their feats of martial prowess and/or radiant health would not have been possible without the inclusion of standing meditation to grow, balance and expand their internal power. That, along with training the form and application techniques 8-10 hours a day, made these famous masters appear almost super-human. 

In his work, ‘The Complete Book of Yiquan,’ Mr. CS Tang a native of Hong Kong, states that even Bruce Lee practiced Zhan Zhuang as part of the Yiquan training he received from the renown master Liang Zipeng. Lee was greatly impressed by among other things, Yiquan’s instantaneous explosive power gained through extensive standing meditation.

Many of the separate benefits of Zhan Zhuang and Tai Chi are quite well known. But how is it that Zhan Zhuang’s influences directly benefit, improve and eventually transform one’s Tai Chi practice?

One of the first elements that improves by daily Zhan Zhuang training that precedes our Tai Chi form practice is our sense of Zhong Ding (Central Equilibrium.) The ability to maintain continuous awareness of our Zhong Ding (which includes the 3 Dan Tiens) throughout the form cannot be overestimated. The Classics say, “...the mind stays with (in) the Dan Tien.”

An important part of the improvement of our Zhong Ding has to do with the opening of the Central Channel. The ability to feel a sense of ‘physical emptiness’ and later the flow of Chi in this area and indeed throughout the entire body leads not only to stronger internal power, but also far better and long-lasting health.

Another element of our Tai Chi form which is also greatly enhanced through Zhan Zhuang training is our sense of whole-body perception and unification; unified movement being one of the basic goals of our form practice. This idea is expressed in the Tai Chi Classics in the phrase, “ part moves, all parts move.
It is well known that prior to Tai Chi’s opening movement, Chi Shr - Commencement, we stand with our feet parallel at hip or shoulder width with our arms hanging at our sides. In the olden days this posture (Wuji Zhan Zhuang) was maintained for an hour before beginning the form movements. In addition to this Wuji posture, Tai Chi practitioners of yesteryear also maintained the seminal Tai Chi postures of Peng, Lu, Ji, An and Dan Pien. (Single Whip) These postures were generally trained individually, and held for prolonged periods of between 30 min to 1 hr. (Usually one posture per day) The value of holding Tai Chi postures as described above, is truly astronomical in its ability to advance and elevate the quality and power of our overall form.

In addition to the above methods, a more gentle, gradual way to incorporate the Zhan Zhuang element into our Tai Chi form practice is to simply stop and hold the ‘end’ of each posture for between 1 and 3 breaths (or more) before proceeding to the next movement in the form. I highly recommend trying out this method. Because if you do one thing is sure; each posture that is maintained in the manner described will rapidly take on an entirely different - more relaxed, integrated  and ‘open’ feeling than ever before. 

The technique is simple:

Start your set as usual. When you reach the 'end' of a posture - pause - then exhale and inhale. Feel a 'sinking' from the base of skull and the secret spot in the brain (at the intersection of the eyes and ears) all the way under the feet on the exhale. When you inhale again, feel an overall expansion of the entire body from the low Dan Tien out to the extremities which propels you into the next movement. Also, during the suspension of movement feel the body making micro-adjustments in the posture itself. Once you’ve gone through the set or sequence you’ve been training, repeat it again in the way you normally practice and see what differences you feel.