Hopefully, you have already read the previous blog on Zhan Zhuang Standing Meditation. Let’s looks at some helpful pointers and instruction.
Here are two aspects that are vital to your practice success: “fix your posture” meaning good alignment, and relax your body. Both are necessary!
Before you begin, place your attention on your feet. Then sink any muscle tension down into them and into the ground below. When you release your muscle tension and sink your energy downward, your feet may feel heavy and possibly like they are glued to the ground. This is a good sign!
Breathe comfortably, quietly, and slowly through your nose. Some practitioners breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth. That optional but don’t breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose! Keep your abdominal breathing relaxed and pay attention to what is going on inside your body. With each exhale, let your body relax deeper and deeper.
In Zhan Zhuang, the mind and body work together as one. We learn how to stay both alert and quiet by focusing our attention on our bodies. If intruding thoughts come into our minds, we let them float away as on a cloud passing by.
For beginners, you can let your arms and hands hang loose (but relaxed) at your sides. Once that is comfortable for you, try raising them a bit, perhaps in front of your lower Dantian.When you feel ready, you can move them up to heart level. Don’t force any position! If it causes you tension and/or discomfort, either modify the position or rest and try again at a later time.
If you are working with an instructor or experienced practitioner, basic corrections on the structure should be provided at your first lesson and become progressive. This helps to eliminate bad habits. If you are working on your own, it is a good idea to read through the instructions and pointers. You should also use a mirror to check your posture and alignment.
Remember reading in the last blog, that in Zhan Zhuang you just “stand still”. That sounded simple didn’t it? Well, It isn’t as easy as it sounds. In the same way that Tai Chi and Qigong forms look simple to the untrained eye, a casual observer doesn’t see all the numerous details and practice it takes to make it look “simple”.
Instructions and pointers for this simple posture with many details:
- Stand with your body weight equally distributed between both feet. Feet are parallel, shoulder-width apart, and flat on the floor or ground, and pointed forward.
- If you are new to Zhan Zhuang, let your arms relax at your sides, palms facing hips. Leave a small space in the arm pit so that the hands will will be a couple (2-3) inches from your thighs.
- When you gain more experience, you can hold your arms up as if you are holding a ball or hugging a tree, at heart level. If your arms get tired, you can lower them to your lower Dantian. Don’t force or rush it. Give it time until it feels natural to you.
- Keep your head erect with the neck relaxed. It should feel like you are suspended from your crown to the sky above.
- Tucking your chin inward and up towards the top of your head,opens up the space where your spine meets your skull.
- Place your tongue on the roof (palate) of your mouth, just behind your teeth. Lips closed gently and jaw relaxed.
- Your gaze should be soft and forward, particularly if you are new to Zhan Zhuang. New students may find closing their eyes makes them feel tense, tired, or unbalanced. Having them wide open can cause distraction. More experienced practitioners may prefer to keep their eyes closed in order to improve their focus and attain a sense of peace and tranquility.
- Relax your shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands. Lowering your shoulders (not necessarily your arms) will make your position more comfortable.
- Your chest should be relaxed.
- Relax your “Kua” (hip folds).
- Soften, relax your knees, ankles, and feet. Knees should never extend beyond your toes.
- Relax and lengthen your spine, but don’t arch your back.
- Allow your hips to slightly sink like you were sitting on a high chair or stool. This will straighten your spine in order to improve the flow of energy. Don’t go too low or force the posture. It will happen over time with regular practice.
When you are finished with your session of Zhan Zhuang, slowly return your arms to the sides of you body. You can cover your Dantian and breathe gently. Relax your shoulders, arms, elbows, and hands. You can also shake, rock, or tap your body (particular meridian points) to release any stagnant energy.
A few more pointers for beginners who are practicing without an instructor:
- Be sure to practice in front of a mirror (angled if possible) to get a good sense of your body’s position and alignment.
- If you find that you are having difficulty releasing your tension, try tensing your entire body for a few seconds and then releasing it.
- You could also shake out your entire body to get rid of the tension.
- Place your attention on the bottom of your feet to remove some of your energy from your head.
- Be careful not to sink too low into your posture if you are new to Zhan Zhuang, not feeling well, or physically exhausted.
Once you have achieved proper alignment on a regular basis, you will easily notice tension whenever your body is out of alignment. Once we have truly developed this sense of awareness, we will also notice the most “subtle physical and energetic blockages or tension”.
Sensations you may experience during practice:
You may experience some temporary aching, warmth, coolness, tingling, numbness, or relaxation when you start to practice regularly. This is not something to be alarmed about. These are signs that energy is trying to flow freely through your body. If you pay attention, you may also discover a lot about your internal body.
How long should you practice?
In a perfect world, you would practice Zhan Zhuang a little each day. However, that may not be reasonable or doable for you. If that’s the case, three or four times a week should provide good results. The important thing is not to be a “weekend warrior” doing occasional exhausting long sessions whenever you find the time and/or motivation.
Many instructors and/or practitioners suggest starting with 1-2 minutes of practice at each session. Keeping practice to 2 minutes can calm your mind, provide mental clarity, and improve your level of energy. Two minutes also helps to eliminate or decrease “mind drift”. Once two minutes are comfortable for you, gradually increase to 10 minutes or more. At this level, you will find that Zhan Zhuang can recharge your energy and bring a new perspective to all your daily activities.
Did I mention that Zhan Zhuang has approximately 200 postures with different arm and leg positions. If you don’t like the one you first try, or you just want to experiment, or even if you get bored with the one you have been doing, try a different one!
Bottom Line: Like all Tai Chi and/or Qigong practice, quality, not just quantity, is vital!
Happy “Tree Hugging”!