Zhan zhuang is the Chinese word for “standing like a post” or “standing like a tree”. This form of standing stake is a special method of spiritual training in Chinese martial arts. Static postures are used for a certain length of time in order to develop efficiency of movement and perfection of structural alignment. It is very important to those working on core issues of abuse or physical trauma. Surprisingly, it is an efficient recovery process for those suffering from stroke that has lead to partial paralysis.
“Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung is primarily a set of stationary exercises practiced in well-balanced postures which increase the flow of energy in the body and build up internal strength. Externally, you appear to be motionless but in reality you are growing from within.” — Master Lam Kam Chuen
When there is a serious core issue at hand, it is understandable that there may be an aversion to any form of physical exercise. Fortunately, with this posture you will be surprised that just 2 – 3 minutes a day can increase a lot of HEAT in the body. Most people believe that cardiovascular exercise necessitates a lot of vigorous movement, however, zhan zhuang does confer a significant amount of physical conditioning.
“On first glance you may assume that standing in one pose for a few minutes is extremely easy, but don’t let that fool you. Zhan Zhaung is one of the most demanding forms of exercise ever developed. In my opinion standing in the second position “Holding the balloon” for 15 minutes will give you more of a workout than power walking for 3 miles. It will definitely build your endurance!” — Two Bears
You can move into the posture anywhere and anytime you feel cold or have the urge to go to sleep during the day. You could be cooking or at the line in the bank or grocery store. Just a few moments is like having a cup of coffee – it is a natural way to refresh yourself.
“If one is tired and listless then practice Daoyin exercises and close up the breathing to attack the illness.” — Tao Hongjing
Some schools use the practice as a way of removing blockages in Qi flow. This blockage removal happens, when correctly practiced, causes a normalizing effect on the body. It is thought that a normalized body will be less prone to muscular skeletal medical conditions. Furthermore, it is also thought that when practiced for developing a relaxed posture will lead to a calming effect on the mind as well.
Those unfamiliar with zhan zhuang can experience severe muscle fatigue and subsequent trembling at first.
This shaking is normal and once sufficient stamina and strength have been developed, the practitioner can develop “zhong ding” or central equilibrium. Once you develop this sensitivity to specific areas of tension in the body you can more readily sink and relax with simple mindfulness.
Many internal styles of chi kung use this method to develop whole body coordination and relaxation. The standing posture is thought to strengthen the body’s Central Nervous System and develop the coordination required for effective martial arts performance.
How it works:
Any habitual tension is automatically reduced by your own body weight assuming a lower center of gravity. The muscle tissue shortening (or lengthening) is normalized by this practice and the body regains its natural ability to function optimally.
Due to various conditions in life such as poor posture (hunched at your desk), poor sleeping habits (lying on stomach), and poor eating habits (gaining weight) can cause an elongation or shortening of the skin and muscles which throws everything off. Also any painful incident of shock (someone dying), trauma (car accident), or abuse (rape) can upset the mind and leave its imprint in the body.
You just stand still, bend your knees and tuck your tailbone under.
After getting into position, just relax and be a witness to the changes that go through your body and breathing as it tries to regain balance. As you breathe, watch how your body adjusts itself in order to stay balanced. That’s all there is to it. Over time you will build up an effortless strength and a healthy tone to your muscles. When you experience the joy of having a body you are realizing for the first time what it means to be grounded.
Allow the body to self-regulate and don’t force it. When you are tired of playing, then stop and move on to something else. However, if you go at it seeking unreasonable results and trying to stand beyond your current limit will cause more problems than it’s worth.
Some positive effects:
- This exercise is particularly effective for a body that is intolerant of cold
- This practice automatically regulates poor sleeping patterns
Unfortunately, when your nervous system is damaged then you are more susceptible to the harsh cold temperatures. Now there is no more need to rush to get under the covers to combat fatigue or coldness. Whenever you notice you are tired during the daytime then just stand up and do this exercise for a short while.
Some people get into the bad habit of staying up way after midnight. The body will return to normalcy with this exercise and you will discover there is no real need of staying up late anymore. The slight shaking itself can tire you out and put you to bed immediately; giving you a complete rest that night.
After working with this static form for a few weeks it is important to understand some of its side-effects. As I suspected, there seems to be the habit of the body “freezing up” with this form. This locking and stiffness is simply cold, fear-energy coming up. Be mindful of this happening to you. This is a common pattern for those not well-connected to their bodies. I believe it is a big mistake not combining this with a movement exercise.
Whenever the spine and muscles freeze up, often pain sets in shortly after. Therefore, it is most essential to combine this static posture with a movement exercise to free up the cold energy.
This video of the 8 Pieces of Brocade (Ba Duan Jin) seems to go along very well with this form. It takes only about two minutes to perform. The movements will help to keep the body limber and release the cold energy and other blockages. I wish more teachers would emphasize this point of combining static postures with movement forms for our health and safety.
Download the Adobe file of the Eight Pieces of Brocade to see each of the eight movements more clearly in order to memorize the form.
TIP: You could practice zhan zhuang for 2-3 minutes a day and then use the Chinese Health balls for 5 minutes to remove the residual pain in the neck and tailbone. Together they work in perfect combination until you get the proper feeling of what it is like to sit, stand, and walk effortlessly.
The most well-known example of zhan zhuang training is the horse stance. To learn how to perform this exercise properly you can look at some of these videos that I have found to be helpful.
Beginner video: Good instructions and commentary along with ten days worth of lessons of the basic 5 positions with Master Lam Kam Chuen
Intermediate video: Perfectly shown here by martial artist Yogi Cho from Ireland – with 12 positions of standing like a tree: