Holding a posture for a longer period (from 5 minutes to one hour and more) is the first step in acquiring Internal Power. The emphasis should be on relaxing all muscles and feeling how the body balances against gravity. Gradually the use of phasic muscles is eliminated from the postural function of the body.
Slow, very subtle movements can be felt under the guide of kinesthetic visualization (finding movement in stillness). When we are learning to move using ‘intent’, the body’s structure should always be supported by postural muscles only, producing the feeling of standing at any point in the movement (finding stillness in movement).
Zhan Zhuang is about “Training your Mind”
The best way to train your mind is to practice only when you concentrate. That’s why one minute is probably a good starting point. As you keep practicing, you naturally start to concentrate for longer and so you practice longer. Even when you can stand for a long time, if one day you can’t concentrate, stop practicing. If you force yourself to stand for a set period, you learn not to concentrate, the practice becomes boring and soon you would give up. When you concentrate, it’s enjoyable and you progress faster.
We Do Not Train with Pain
Pain is distracting. Remember, you are training your mind – if the pain in your legs or arms distracts you, you can’t concentrate, so stop practicing or change to another posture. If you have pain in any of your joints, stop practicing – you should never feel pain in your joints. Muscle pain could be OK, but take a break and restart after a few minutes.
Stand with your feet about the width of your shoulders apart, feet parallel or toes pointing slightly out, whichever is more comfortable. Bend your knees slightly so that you can relax the lower back. Feel the whole body soft and balanced. Feel that your head is held as if suspended from above by a string attached to the crown of the head. The neck will then be relaxed and free from any tension. The spine, and especially the coccyx, should hang down – an image of reaching down with your bottom, as if about to sit on a high stool, can help with this. Eyes can be either open or closed, mouth nearly open (but not quite), breathing softly and quietly, preferably through the nose. Feeling calm and happy.
After a period of settling down, start observing how your body keeps the balance. Gradually you will become aware of small movements of your body. At the beginning, you are likely to feel the whole body sway a little and get automatically corrected into a balanced position. Try not to control these movements but imagine standing in (warm) water and feel your body swaying as if moved by slow waves. Feel the whole body swaying as one unit – do not move your arms independently of the body. Some people, because they think their body should be still in standing postures, try to keep the body motionless. That is a mistake – the body should be as soft and relaxed as possible.
Where the Mind Goes, the Ki Follows
The parallels between Ki and the use of postural muscles should be becoming a bit clearer now. When I use intent to guide my postural muscles to lift my arms, I do not feel any effort – it is as if my arms are being lifted by invisible threads. When I use postural muscles to absorb or neutralize a push, I don’t feel any effort and my body reacts automatically to produce a balanced outcome for me. And when you start using postural muscles, you develop a feedback through subtle sensations such as heat, ache, flow and others. All these are properties of Ki. If we describe (human) Ki as ‘those processes of the body/mind that are outside conscious control’ than we would cover most aspects.
Building Stamina for the Mind and Body
Zhan Zhuang is an exercise that builds stamina and internal power. Within weeks you will feel you have more willpower, more energy and especially more strength in your movements. This may be a paradox, but it is real.
This is a great exercise for those physically active, going to the gym or practicing any demanding sport, but also for everyone else who wants to be healthier and stronger.
A great exercise of patience, Zhan Zhuang will teach you how to listen to the subtle voice of your body. When we are in silence, we can perceive different sounds which otherwise are not accessible to us. When we do not move, we can perceive sensation otherwise not open to our mind.