Zhan Zhuang (Chin. 站桩) is considered to be the most powerful exercise of all the Taiji Quan (Chin. 太极拳) and qigong (Chin. 气功) postures, and is often used as a separate exercise to increase leg strength, concentration, deep breathing and qi flow.
Zhan Zhuang is very basic form of exercise, but very powerful exercise to enhance energy, mental clarity, and internal strength. It’s an excellent standing meditation for improving your productivity and bringing more aliveness to everything you do.
Zhan Zhuang means standing like a tree or standing like a post, where one stands still, in an upright posture, as if standing like a tree.
The tree metaphor is apt as your legs and torso form the trunk of the tree. Your head and limbs form the branches. And your feet, sinking and extending down beneath the ground, establish the roots. It offers many of the mental benefits of mindfulness training.
The most common Zhan Zhuang method is known as Chēng Bào (撑抱, "Tree Hugging stance”).
The idea behind standing still in static positions, for instance with our arms holding an energetic ball around our chest or other positions, is that in order to be able to hold these positions for more than a few minutes, we have to completely relax. So our body has to find harmony, and we need to use our bodies as a unit in order to be able to stand there. Then we are holding our arms in place with our dantien rather than the muscles in our arms and legs.
The Benefits of Zhan Zhuang
There are two types of muscles employed when we are moving and standing. Phasic muscles and Tonic muscles. Phasic muscles are the fast twitch muscles we use for work. We need them to work and mobilize, but they get tired pretty quickly. Tonic muscles are for more for keeping our posture happy and stabilizing the body. They are not good for doing work or for lifting stuff. The problem with most of us is that the two jobs have become confused. So postural muscles are being used to do work, and the movement muscles are being used for posture. Therefore the whole system gets exhausted in its disorganization. Zhan Zhuang makes us use the postural muscles to stand there, because we cannot hold the Phasic muscles for that long until they get exhausted. So it balances the body out.
Zhan Zhuang has a normalizing effect on the body, and any habitual tension or tissue shortening will be normalized by the practice, and the body regains its natural ability to function optimally. Restructured body will be less prone to muscular-skeletal medical conditions.
In contrast to many other methods, Zhan Zhuang develops our internal energy in a very efficient way, instead of consuming it. Zhan Zhuang is practiced in well-balanced standing positions which increase the flow of energy and build up internal strength. The Zhan Zhuang system is based on a unique combination of exertion and relaxation which stimulates, cleanses and internally massages the whole organism. It is a powerful way of healing used for medical treatment. The process of healing and rejuvenation is a constant one, involving the repair of old injuries, recent injuries and a repeated rebalancing of the activity stemming from our normal everyday lives.
The majority of injuries to the sinews (muscle, tendon, ligament) involve some form of contraction, tightening or even shortening over time. The one main exception to this can occur from very severe injuries in which the sinews are stretched beyond their limit or even tear. The result of such events is flaccidity where the tissue becomes very weak and without any springiness.
Proper springiness is necessary for the healthy functioning of all the sinews. And this is where Standing Meditation is of great value. Standing Meditation has the innate ability to repair, regenerate and even amplify this springiness. And not only that, it also creates a stronger connection within all the body’s network of ‘springs,’ both individually and in relation to one another.
According to clinical experimentation and tests, there are many kinds of chronic diseases such as chronic tracheitis, chronic gastroenteritis, chronic hepatitis, cardiopathy, high blood pressure, neurasthenic, chronic rheumatoid arthritis and similar rheumatoid arthritis, but also diseases which may affect severely the appearance of the patient’s body such as adenoma, goiter, fingers shivering, etc…
The primary benefit of Zhan Zhuang is a feeling of abundance of physical energy. This increase in energy is the result of correcting your body’s posture, because incorrect posture is usual for almost all modern people. Incorrect posture, or long term creates fatigue by slowing or stopping the flow of energy in the body.
Vital energy Qi (Chinese 气), flows freely throughout the body’s energetic pathways, called vessels or channels.
In Chinese medicine, there are eight vessels, twelve primary Qi channels, and thousands of secondary channels branching out from the primary ones. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the root cause (basic) of diseases are, stagnation, deficiency, or excess of vital energy Qi, as a form of physical, spiritual, and mental ailments. The goal of Zhan Zhuang is to unblock Qi stagnation, or revive Qi deficiency, as reduce abundant qi in particular organ, and to open and connect all the body’s energetic pathways.
Zhan Zhuang helps rebalance your energy from your head to the center point of your body or Dan Tian 丹田(acupuncture point) which is three inches below the navel. By exercising awareness to the Dan Tian we start connecting our spirit with body and our mind, and activates our instincts and intuitions.
The Basic Principle of Standing Meditation
What you need is just a place with good sunshine and fresh air, no matter if it is indoor or outdoor, assume your posture, stand and do not move, like immobilized, breath naturally, your whole body keeps a general state “relaxed but not slack, contracted but not rigid”.
In order to stand still in Zhan Zhuang position we must first stand correctly, in the proper body alignment. Zhan Zhuang practice makes systematic improvements in our ability to maintain proper equilibrium. With proper alignment, the skeleton structure creates a natural vessel for us to maintain and cultivate a reservoir of energy that circulates around the body’s meridians.
The goal of this practice is to hold your body in a relaxed, extended, and open position, and our mind will be empty, active, and alert.
Holding the ball
This exercise is the most common standing position and ideal for beginners.
Stand comfortably with feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, with the knees slightly bent (i.e. unlocked) and hips and spine relaxed, as if you were lowering yourself onto the edge of a high stool. Gently raise your arms to mid-chest height as if holding a large delicate ball, with the hands relaxed and fingers lightly extended.
Imagine there is a balloon between your knees, and your head is suspended by a piece of string. Breathe softly and quietly, preferably through the nose. Feel and observe the body and mind, gently encouraging the whole body to soften without letting the posture collapse or becoming rigid or tense. Hold for two to three minutes, gradually building up to 10 to 15 minutes a day.
General rules how to keep position Zhan Zhuang
Stand with your feet shoulder-width, and parallel. Bend your knees just slightly (feeling the backs of the knees as soft and hollow), allowing your weight to sink fully into your feet at the bubbling well – the hollow spot center and just below the upper pad area, legs and pelvis are relaxed.
Gently roll the knees out a bit without moving the feet. This will tend to lift the arch. Don’t allow the big toes to lose contact with the floor. Then float your hands and elbows up to the level of your heart – elbows lower than wrists, palms facing your torso, creating a circle with your arms, with four or five inches between the gently extended fingers of your right & left hands – just as though you were indeed hugging a tree.
Sink the shoulders down. And then imagine that you are hugging that tree, and as you hug the tree you’re also becoming a tree: feel your roots descending, sap being drawn upward through the center of your torso, your arms & legs lengthening, the crown of your head softening to receive sunlight and the energy of the sky from above you.
Use inhalation to expand body and exhalation to release unnecessary tension down into the ground using the bones as conduits. Continue to feel your limbs energize, your spine elongate and your muscles relax into the position. Hold for some time.
Slowly, with practice over time, work toward sinking lower, widening the distance between the feet (still kept parallel), and holding for longer periods of time. The body will relax into the pose, your mind will cease wandering and your muscles and tendons will become more flexible and supple. This should not hurt your knees or lower back if done correctly. If it hurts the front of the thighs (quadriceps), that is a good sign.