How does Zhan Zhuang Work? (Post standing Qigong)
Updated: Nov 24, 2019
Inner Complexity Masked by Outer Simplicity
How is it possible to get life-changing results from standing in one spot without moving, for a long time with one’s eyes closed? How can such a simple activity literally help one to open their eyes after doing it feeling strong, refreshed, energised, calm, clear and sharp?
In a previous blog entry we introduced Zhang Zhuang and discussed effective approaches for teaching and learning it ( Link: https://www.daodeqigong.com/post/post-standing-qigong ). In this article we will go further into zhan zhuang (post standing) and reveal some of the specifics about how it works and the mechanisms behind its effectiveness. Stay tuned, sit back, and let yourself immerse into the wonderful world of zhan zhuang!
What is zhan zhuang and how to do it?
Zhan Zhuang is simple. You simply need to stand straight, partially close your eyes and raise your arms up in front of your body to a certain level (there are different ways and positions to hold the arms up depending on the practitioner’s level of expertise). Then you need to continue standing for a set amount of time – without moving (this is very important). All sounds very simple right? Let’s break down the main aspects:
1. Standing in the correct position: It can be very challenging finding the correct position to stand in. Simply put, you need to “stand straight”. This is difficult because “standing straight” can mean something different from person to person. This is because we all have our own ideas about what it means to “stand straight” and not only that, everyone has a different set of imbalances, postural deviations and tensions in their body which distort the correct way of standing. Even if someone is seemingly standing straight and have only minor postural deviations that are only noticeable by an experienced observer, this will still have a major effect on zhan Zhuang practice.
Standing in the “correct position” is also not an idea. It cannot be found through logical thinking or analysis. It is something that has to be felt. The correct way to stand allows one to dissolve tension in the body and nurture unobstructed flow of Qi and this is something that absolutely cannot be worked out with thought, it must be felt. Beginners of zhan Zhuang practice do not have enough experience sensing Qi and thus need to rely on the general guidelines (as stated at the start of this article) of zhan Zhuang practice to start developing this sensitivity. The other part of the equation is to regularly see an experienced teacher who can give you regular adjustments and corrections to your standing position. Corrections could be as simple as “move your left foot to the left half a cm” or “slightly unbend your knees”. I personally have lost count of all the various times that I thought I was finally standing correctly only to be given several corrections by my teacher!
2. Holding the arms in front of the body: Holding the arms up in front of the body activates some very interesting biological mechanisms. It’s easy enough holding the arms up but can you hold them up, for a long time without moving and not tense up or get exhausted? To give some perspective on this, advanced zhan zhuang practitioners can effortlessly hold their arms up, without any kind of strain or discomfort, for an hour or more.
3. Eyes are partially closed: The eyes are not open so that the practitioner can deepen the practice and go inward. This is related to “inner work” which we will look at in more detail later in this article.
4. Standing without moving: This another of the key aspect of zhan zhang. One must find the correct position to stand in and not move. This doesn’t mean stand like a solid, lifeless statue. This means to stand still, fully relaxed, full of life like a mighty, lush tree. Achieving this is a challenge but it is what sets apart correct and incorrect practice.
5. How long to stand: You need to start practice gradually. At first, one may stand for a few minutes. Over time you can increase this to 10, 20, 30 mins etc. To provide an example, most experienced zhan zhuang practitioners stand for at least one hour per day. And this is not done as a chore. Experienced practitioners do this because they love it! Standing is a pleasure and the benefits are great and thus if you have reached this point you would not want to miss even one day of zhan zhuang practice!
Once you have the basic aspects in place that were mentioned above, one then needs to do the correct inner work. One of the keys to performing inner work correctly is Relaxation. Zhan zhuang cannot be done effectively unless you learn how to relax. Relaxation sounds easy, and the word ‘relaxation’ in itself does not fully capture the profundity of the effects when this is applied successfully in zhang zhuang or any other Qigong practice.
What you encounter when you are doing zhan zhuang is yourself. You encounter your imbalances, you encounter your tensions (both mental and physical). Unresolved emotions can arise, limiting thinking patterns can reveal themselves. You may get a sense of the overall disharmony holding you back in your life. You cannot run away because you are standing still. You have chosen to face all of it. The good news is that because these things are revealed, you can dissolve them and empower yourself!
The Main Mechanism of Zhan Zhuang that sets it Apart from other Qigong Exercises
All Qigong exercises are about moving the body in a certain way, with relaxation in order to help the body rebalance itself by promoting good energy flow. Zhan zhuang also does this but it achieves this through stillness. The main difference or mechanism that sets zhan zhuang apart from dynamic (or moving) qigong exercises is that zhan zhuang specifically helps one to accumulate Qi/energy, and a lot of it – raw energy that you can use and put to work in your life!
Yes, dynamic Qigong exercises also help one to accumulate energy but not as much as zhan zhuang. In our school (Daode Qigong) we teach our students dynamic Qigong exercises before zhan zhuang. This is the best possible preparation that builds a good foundation before commencing zhan zhuang practice.
When one has the correct standing position and one is able to hold the arms up without moving and doing inner work correctly and all other aspects are in place, one can start to gain great benefits from accumulating Qi or energy.
The results are life changing! Not only does zhan zhuang increase your energy levels, it can also change how you do things in your life because it is helping you to create fundamental changes from the inside out. Changes on the inside manifest on the outside and changes on the outside manifest in your life. All of this arising from inner complexity masked by outer complexity. Overall, zhan zhuang is very beneficial for your health and inner and state. Health and how you conduct your life are intimately interlinked.
Summary and Conclusion
Zhan zhuang offers many life changing benefits. It is beneficial for clearing and sharpening your mind, strengthening your body and your health, effective for self-development and spirituality and essential for martial arts practice (a whole book as a topic in an of itself can be written about the martial aspect).
Zhan zhuang is a challenging exercise that requires careful study ensuring that all of the different aspects are done correctly and align, but with the correct teacher and guidance, anyone can learn it and get the benefits of practicing it.
In this article we revealed some of the main aspects but purposefully did not delve too deeply. This is because if you would like to learn more about zhan zhaung we recommend you Learn It, not only read about it. You can only read so much about it and revealing aspects that can only be experienced from practice by using text can be in some ways counter-productive. Just like sensing the correct standing position: You have to feel it! So please, if you would like to try zhan zhuang, find yourself a good teacher and Try It and step into an amazing new journey that is likely to keep you engaged and moving in wonder for years to come!
By Luis De Florio
instructor Profile: https://www.daodeqigong.com/dao-de-qigong-instructor