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Qigong Standing Meditation Zhan Zhuang
Zhan Zhuang - Standing Qigong Meditation
What is Standing Meditation
"Standing Meditation is the single most important and widely practiced form of gigong, integrating all elements of posture, relaxation, and breathing
It is a way of developing better alignment and balance, stronger legs and waist, deeper respiration, accurate body awareness, and a tranquil mind."
Kenneth S. Cohen The Way of Qigong p. 133
"Although there is no obvious movement, practitioners are deeply engaged in one of the most demanding and powerful forms of exercise ever developed. It is so utterly focused on deep, internal growth that it literally requires learning to stand like a tree. It is known in Chinese as Zhan Zhuang, "standing like a stake', or "standing like a tree." It is pronounced "Jan Jong" Master Lam, Kam Chuen, The Way of Energy, p. 11 So, how do you Stand Like A Tree'?
Find a quiet, warm place to practice, away from distractions like other family members, the phone, TV, radio etc. Some soft music is permissible. You can light some candles or incense if you wish, but this is not essential. Try to practice for a while in the morning facing east to benefit from the yang energy of the rising sun and at night about an hour before bed, facing south, to align youself with the Earth's magnetic field and benefit from the abundant yin energy. Don't practice when hungry or immediately after a heavy meal. If you suffer from insomnia and wake in the night, get up and try 5 minutes of zhan zhuang practice to relax the mind.
OK, ready to begin?
Take a few deep breaths and centre yourself.
The first step of Qigong training is to learn to stand in the correct posture:
Step 1. Regulation of the Body
Stand with feet facing forwards, about shoulder width apart, knees 'soft' (bent slightly) Keep head upright (raise the baihui
) as if the crown is being pulled upwards slightly.
Keep the torso straight (not leaning forwards or backwards). Eyes gaze forward and level, or can be closed if you prefer. If the eyes are open try not to fix your gaze on anything that will distract you and try not to 'watch' anything (eg children playing / traffic going past). Some people focus on a candle or a simple object, this is fine. Soften the chest, making it slightly concave and expand the back so it feels rounded with a slight stretch across the shoulderblades and into the arms. Drop the shoulders down. Hold the arms at chest level in the 'ball holding' position you learnt in class. Fingers are extended gently and the fingertips face each other, about 20cm apart. Relax the waist and abdomen. Sink the elbows but keep the armpits open as if holding a small balloon under each armpit; keep the kua
(crease where legs meet torso) open and the dang
(crotch) rounded. Imagine trying to sit on a chair, but keep the bottom tucked under slightly and don't bend the knees too far forwards. They should never pass the tips of your toes or you may cause joint damage. Your weight should be evenly balanced over yongquan
(bubbling well points behind the balls of feet) and the heels, but slightly more forwards than backwards. Put the tip of the tongue to the roof of your mouth. Ears listen behind. You should only be using as much strength as is required to hold the posture. Let all other tension go - shoulders, thighs, buttocks, chest, abdomen. This first step may take several weeks or even months of practice until you can simply relax into the posture and stay there without tensing up. so if you are beginning Qigong practice, stop here.
By the time you have 'swept' from head to toe and adjusted your body in accordance with the points above, it will probably be time to start a second, third, fourth etc sweep of the body, correcting the posture and relaxing all tension as you go. don't worry about the breathing at this stage just let it be relaxed.
When you feel you have got the posture right, it's time to pay attention to the breathing and the mind:
Steps 2 & 3 Regulation of the Breath and Regulation of the Mind
Traditionally these are taught as individual steps but in my personal experience i have found that they integrate well together as follows:
Centering the mind, or bringing it to focus on one simple thing takes patience and practice and many people give up the important practice of zhan zhuang because it is boring in it's initial stages, or nothing seems to be happening, or simply because they crave stimulation or feel that because they can't concentrate for more than a few seconds without their mind wandering that they will never get it. Imagine if Mozart had given up trying to play the piano within a few weeks or months! Remember: Kung Fu = skill acquired over time and the effort you put in = the rewards you will reap. So be consistent and don't listen when the mind says 'this is useless, i'll never get it, im fed up'. Set a time to practice, 5 minutes is fine to start with, and stick with it. Each time you practice you will become better at it. Taming the mind is one of the hardest aspects of Qigong training. Gradually increase the period of time you practice until you are standing for 20 minutes or more.
So what should you think about? Well, trynot to 'THINK' at all. Just be 'AWARE' of what you can feel, hear, smell etc without letting your mind expand upon it. Ultimately you should aim to bring your awareness to the Dantien (3" below the navel, where Qi is stored). This can be difficult and most people find that they need to 'replace 1000 thoughts with just one thought' as an initial part of your qigong training. You can do this by counting breaths. One in... one out, two in...two out..etc. Don't force or hold your breath and only breathe in and out to 80% of your maximum capacity. This is relaxed natural breathing. Breathe from the stomach, letting it expand and contract and try not to let the chest and shoulders rise and fall with the breath. This is called horizontal (Buddhist) breathing (the torso expands outwards, rather than elongating with each in breath).
When your mind wanders, don't worry. Everyone's does to begin with - just bring it back to observing the breathing or Dantien, without getting frustrated with yourself. Over time, the period between when your mind wanders will get longer. It's all part of the training so keep with it! Remember: Just as the growth of a tree (that you are trying to emulate) is imperceptible day by day, when you look back after a month or so you will see new growth and vitality!
When this becomes easy / natural you can develop the breathing a bit further and introduce the 'Daoist Breathing' technique aka 'reverse breathing'.
In Daoist breathing the abdomen pulls in/ contracts with the in breath and expands with the out breath. Additionally, with the in breath, the huiyin / anus area should be gently lifted and with the out breath that area should be relaxed. This can be hard to coordinate for beginners so don't try to introduce Daoist breathing until you are competent with regulating the body and breath using the natural relaxed (Buddhist) breathing method.
"If I had to choose one qigong technique to practice, it would undoubtedly be this one. Many Chinese call standing meditation "the million dollar secret of qigong." By practicing standing meditation one can connect with the ch'i of the universe, and send it through one's body to cure illness and promote long life. Standing is probably the single most important qigong exercise. One of the reasons that standing is such a powerful way to gather and accumulate fresh ch'i in the body is that during the practice of standing the body is in the optimal posture for ch'i gathering and flow."
Kenneth S. Cohen
There are further steps in Zhan Zhuan training: Regulating the Qi and Regulating the Spirit but first it is necessary to regulate the body, breathing and mind, in that order. So what are you waiting for? Get practicing!
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