Zhan Zhuang is a powerful internal practice where a static posture is held for a period of time. Standing is an important part of Tai Chi and Qi Gong training and should be built up gradually whilst the body adapts, the legs grow stronger and the muscles start to relax.
Beginner students usually start with a few minutes and build from there. There are different standing postures, from empty stance, embracing stance, single legged stance, 5 Element stances, 8 Trigram stances to holding any of the Tai Chi movements within the form. All can be practiced for the same effect.
Wu Ji Zhuang
How to stand in the Wu Ji Zhuang posture, also known as Wu Ji posture or empty posture. The easiest way to align the body is to go from your feet upwards;
- Align your feet either straight forward (Qi Gong posture, closed/yin) or slightly opened out (Tai Chi posture, open/yang)
- Centre your weight into the middle of the foot, equal weight on each foot
- Let your bodyweight sink into your feet, and feel it push back up the legs and body
- Make sure your knees are aligned in the direction of your toes (not bowing inwards or outwards)
- Softly bend the knee, not beyond the arch of the foot
- Fill and push the 'ming men' point (opposite navel point) out (without force or tension)
- Relax the lower back as much as possible, this helps the lengthening
- Roll and lengthen the pelvis/tail bone down and under, releasing the lower vertebra and opening the lumbar area (without force or tension)
- Relax any holding in the hip/groin area, let the body holds itself up without effort
- Relax the abdomen, do not contract the abdominal muscles
- Keep the body upright
- Exhale to the end of the breath, this is the chest position needed, slightly hollow with the vertebra between the shoulder blades opened
- Relax the shoulders down, not hunched forward and not thrown back
- Raise the back of the head (the occiput, the rear skull bulge) which withdraws and tusk the chin in a little, this aligns your crown more upwards and opens the back of the neck
- Keep the front and back of the neck soft, don't exaggerate the chin tuck into tension, nor the chin protruding forwards
- Imagine there is a ‘plumb line’ that connects the top of your crown (heaven) and perineum (earth), this line should be vertical, not leaning to one side or the front or back
- Arms hang loosely by the side of the body
- Open the armpits slightly
- Soft bend in the elbows, wrists, hands and fingers
- Hands relaxed down and palms facing the outside thighs
- Eyes half or fully closed
- Mouth and teeth gently closed
- Keep relaxing more and more
Ping Bu Cheng Bao Zhuang
How to stand in the Wu Ji Zhuang posture, also known as embracing posture, hugging the tree and Tai Chi standing. Follow the same sequence as above, the only difference is the hand and arm position.
- Raise your hands slowly from the empty stance posture
- Aim to have your arms in the position as if hugging a tree
- Elbows are heavy, pointing down and out
- Hands and arms follow the curve of the body in an arc
- Palms face the body any height from lower abdomen to chest height
- Fingers are slightly separated
- Fingers are inflated like full of air or water, not tensed and not floppy
- Thumbs point upwards (Tai Chi), thumbs are relaxed down (Qi Gong)
- Shoulders are still relaxed down and not tensed or raised
Alignment and Structure
In your standing posture, root your weight to the ground via the Dan Tian. The aim is to absorb any pressure that is applied from any direction into the ground naturally without effort, without resistance. If someone pushes you from the front or pushes onto your shoulders, your body needs to be in such alignment that the weight is absorbed, meaning you don’t move, your body adapts to the pressure internally.
- Close the mouth and teeth gently
- Touch the tongue on the roof of the palate behind the front teeth
- Breath into the lower abdomen area, feeling the whole diaphragm move down
- The abdomen/sides/lumbar expand as you breathe in
- The abdomen/sides/lumbar naturally fall as you breathe out
- The chest does not rise and fall
- Imagine you are bypassing the lungs in the chest area, for a much deeper breath
- Circular breathing (without pause)
The mind may wander and jump about from topic to topic, some people call this the 'monkey mind'. The aim is to become aware of the internal body, which in turn helps to ease off the monkey mind. Instead, your mind may become aware of areas in the body that are tense, here you can mentally relax and drop away tension. You may also become aware of incorrect alignment in your posture, here you can self adjust with micro movements. You may become aware that your breathing is shallow or erratic, here you can bring the breathing back to the abdomen. As you stand your bring your mind and body into the now. You no longer look to the past or think about the future, there is only what you are doing right now. This helps calm the mind and body, as the body merely reacts to what the mind tells it something fearful or stressful is happening.
Standing still can be uncomfortable to start as a beginner, aches and pains around the body and feelings of frustration, irritation and 'why am I doing this?'. Over time with diligence and patience, you will start to feel the muscles relax more and more. This is the aim, to allow the body to hold itself up without using the muscles, instead using the soft tissue, fascia, ligaments and tendons. All the while relaxing more, softening more and releasing.
Sink Qi to the Dan Tian
Once in your standing posture, bring your focus to moving Qi in the Dan Tian. This means sinking your body weight from your head, shoulders, chest and upper abdomen down to the Dan Tian area. A natural sinking and lowering of your centre of gravity to give you a more solid feeling in the lower body.