Sunday, 8 January 2017

Zhan Zhuang - The Art of Standing for a More Connected You


[okosai.jpg]Zhan Zhuang, in Chinese means "standing like a post", though it is often called "standing meditation". The most common practise of Zhan Zhuang is the embracing posture, which can be held by practitioners for mere minutes to hours at a time. The claimed benefits of the practise are many, and in this article I hope to expound on these as well as the many levels of intricacy of this practise. But before that lets look at some history, and how it came to be what it is today.

The Zhan Zhuang postures, of which there are many variations, were originally health and longevity practises of the Daoist masters. In more recent centuries these postures were combined with martial arts practises, in particular the neijia, or internal styles such as Tai Chi. Though the practise of Zhan Zhuang is commonly thought of as a Tai Chi training method in western circles (in particular, the non martial oriented practitioners of qigong), it's story of adoption into the martial arts lies with another style, Xingyiquan. Used on the battlefields and adapted from spear fighting techniques, Xingyiquan was revered for it's combat efficacy amongst the neijia, or internal styles. The most fundamental practise of Xingiquan is San Ti Shi (trinity pile standing), which in itself is a form of Zhan Zhuang intended to teach the novice practitioner how to relax in perfect alignment so that he (from an historical context it was only taught to males) may learn to issue maximum force with minimum effort. The other purpose of Zhan Zhuang in the martial arts was that of mental focus. Xingyiquan was originally Xin Yi Quan, which means fighting art of the harmony of Mind and Heart. This is the meditational aspect of Zhan Zhuang in martial arts, and one can see why meditation is important to the fighter in developing quick reflexes by doing away with mental clutter and other inefficient thought forms in both mind and the emotional body.

Wang Xiangzhai
A famous 19th century Xingyiquan master by the name of Guo Yunshen was sent a young Wang Xiangzhai by his parents to learn the art in order to improve his health, being a weak child. Most of the training in martial arts at the time, including Xingyi, consisted mostly of practising choreographed movements in sequence without much spontaneity or practical application. One dark cold morning, a young Wang Xiangzhai woke to find his master missing, and thinking him to be outside, he rushed out to take him his coat. What he witnessed his master practising was unlike any other Xingyi training he had ever seen before. After seeing that the boy had been considerate enough to bring him his coat, Guo Yunshen had respect for the child and decided to teach him these practises, in particular the Zhan Zhuang postures and also other methods by which to train the power of intention in both movement and stillness. Years later, Wang Xiangzhai travelled China learning from many styles, incorporating what he thought was useful, discarding what he thought to be superfluous, and refining what he believed to be the purest essence of Kung Fu. When he began to teach his style he gave it no name as he believed that his style should be formless and therefore nameless, however, his students named it Dacheng quan, which alludes to the greatest achievement in Daoism. Master Wang, being a humble man, later renamed the style Yiquan, meaning fighting style of intention (or willpower), and that name has stuck ever since.


After his younger days had passed him, and he had earned the reputation of being a highly formidable fighter and respected teacher of fighters amongst the Chinese martial arts community, Master Wang began to focus on the health and longevity enhancing aspects of Zhan Zhuang. He taught this along with practising Chinese Medicine, and it was also adopted by Tai Chi practitioners as Qigong began to find a resurgence in China, since the so-called "Cultural Revolution" (a dark blemish on the history of China and humanity as a whole) had finally ended and attitudes somewhat changed.

A SIMPLE GUIDE

Following will be a brief guide to a very basic practise of Zhan Zhuang as a form of meditation. This can also be very useful as a preparation to seated meditation as practising will help to align and quiet the impulsive nature of the mind, especially since the body is the doorway to the subconscious. Here are nine simple steps to follow:

1. Stand upright. Begin to breathe through the diaphragm (ie. - allowing the belly, rather than the chest, to expand on inhalation and contract on exhalation).

2. Separate the feet to around shoulder width, pointing slightly out from forward, with equal distribution of weight.

3. Bend the knees slightly (just enough so that they are not locked out), allowing the centre of gravity to sink. Ensure that the knees are not pinching inward but rather pointing more outward. As you sink your dantian (centre of gravity) into this stance, tuck the pelvis forward so that your butt is not sticking out.  This will create a neutral spinal position, now adjust your head so that it is level and aligned with spine and pelvis. A natural curvature that is firm but not stiff, relaxed and not slack - is the ideal way to stand.

4. Begin to let your arms float up in front of you with your wrists in front of your shoulders, palms down, with your elbows bent around 120 degrees. Continue to raise them until your hands are in front of your neck, around 6 to 8 inches apart.

5. Now turn your palms inward so that they face you, the fingers of each hand pointing to each other and separated as though you have cotton balls between your fingers.

6. Allow your elbows and shoulders to relax down gently as though you are embracing a large soft ball. This "roundness" extends to your ribcage, expanding with every breath.


7. As you relax more into the posture, feel the roundedness harmonise the circle of the arms and ribcage with the circles of pelvis and legs. It may take some time of practise to gain the feel for this, however, by learning to hold the posture by relaxing more into it one can begin to feel how to balance the tension with relaxation against gravity.

8. As you breathe you will find the need to make minor adjustments to your posture. Remember that the point is not to be perfectly still, but to form a connection between the various parts of your body and being. If your posture must expand, then so be it, if it must contract, allow it to contract. Flow with these changes and allow them to be cyclic.

9. Allow yourself to enter a state of meditation. I have outlined some steps in the previous article (scroll down).

At first you will not be able to complete all stages, as it is advisable to only begin practising for two minutes at a time. Also this is to be practised mostly in the morning or throughout the day but not too close to bedtime as it may cause restlessness.

Personally, I like to do this in the Morning Sun, with a little sungazing (mostly with eyes closed or very partially opened) and use it as a time to connect with the Universal spiral of life as it is manifest to us. I also use it in my warm up and cool downs, and during workouts to maintain postural integrity whilst lifting heavy weights, and also to muster up "full-body" functional strength rather than muscular force alone. That is because, over time, Zhan Zhuang teaches one to incorporate into movement the deep muscle fibres that are not under conscious control, but are under the control of the subconscious. It teaches to incorporate the skeletal structure and diaphragm pressure on the thoracic cavity also.

The implications and applications of Zhan Zhuang are so extensive that I couldn't possibly write it all in one article, so it is my intention to expand on this in more articles to come.

Please feel free to comment below






 

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