Tai Chi Zhan Zhuang Standing Post Training
The original Zhan zhuang were health methods used by Daoists; in recent centuries, martial artists who already had static standing methods combined these with the internal mechanics of Zhan zhuang to create a superior exercise. The goal of Zhan zhuang in martial arts has always been to develop a martially capable body structure, but nowadays most practitioners have again returned to a health-preservation orientation in their training, and few teach Zhan Zhuang as a martial method.
- Your eyes look forward and slightly downward. Put your attention to the Tan Tien point that lies 3cm (1.25in) below your navel, one-third of the way into your body.
- Pull your chin a little back so that upper part of your spine gets in the straight line. Release any tension in your neck.
- Let your arms hang loosely. Drop your shoulders and your elbows.
- Relax your hips and belly. Tuck in your bottom so that lower part of your spine gets in the straight line.
- Stand with your heels at least a shoulder-width apart.
- Inhale and exhale gently through your nose only. Place your tongue up against palate behind your front teeth. Your mouth should be closed, but don’t clamp your teeth shut. If saliva forms, swallow it and mentally follow it down into your stomach.
- Exhale completely and allow your chest to drop: this is the ideal posture.
- Don’t stiffen your fingers. Allow them to curve gently and remain slightly apart.
Unlock your knees. Bend them little so that the tip of your knees is in alignment with the tip of your fingers (like in the illustration).
The word Zhan zhuang is the modern term; it was coined by Wang Xiangzhai. Wang, a student of Xing Yi Quan, created a method of Kung Fu-based entirely upon Zhan zhuang, known as Yiquan, “Intent Fist.” Yiquan’s method of study is Zhan zhuang plus movements that continue the feeling of the Standing Post in action.
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.
Getting 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.
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.