Welcome back to our series on Zhàn zhuāng (standing meditation). If you have been reading the previous articles (and practising the content, the important bit!) then you have established a simple standing routine for health.
First of all, well done you! Give yourself a standing ovation (ha). But seriously, meditation is difficult. Even standing, which is much more physical than sitting or lying meditation, is working with the mind and that takes time, effort and discipline.
Honestly this simple routine is more than enough for most people. Not that there isn't more to learn (there is loads, Taoist mystics really get into stuff!) but that for 90% of people this is enough. If you stand with better posture, breathe better and can get a bit more "sung", you will feel happier and healthier. If you have some ongoing health problems (say a joint injury in the shoulder like I had), you are extremely physically active (heavy manual work or an athlete), have specific martial arts or physical goals (like punching power or stance/posture work) or are interested in learning to still the body and mind for meditation; then you may need some more material and postures in your standing practice.
So what is next?
Well there is a lot to learn here lets have a look at all the key internal development points that we can address during standing practice:
1) Breathing methods: We started here with deep abdominal breathing but there are many more types of breathing to learn (reverse, circular, breathing into different body parts and lengthening the breath)
2) Alignments: Again we got the basics sorted but there is virtually unlimited detail here. Big extra areas include opening the knees and hip joints, freeing the sacrum and tailbone and in the days of the smartphone releasing the cervical spine and adjusting alignments in the jaw and face. There are also a huge number of specific postures for particular martial purposes, all with their own alignments. Similarly there are postures designed to induce certain emotional states to work with emotional energy in preparation for meditation.
3) Moving energy: Now dont rage quit on me! I dont think there is energy in the body, rather there are a set of practices to do with working with the weird tingly feelings you get when you do qi gong. These tend not to have straight linear translations into western physical processes in the body. For example there is a process called wrapping where you focus on breathing and feeling a sense of opening and closing inside the body. Do we know what exactly is going on here? No really but we have a hunch it might be to do with lengthening and relaxing the fascia the tissue that surrounds muscle tissue and often gets scarred up. There are a host of things like this that all we have are the weird tingly feelings (that Taoist mystics called qi or energy) so we work with those feelings.
4) Dissolving: Again we started here with relaxation and "Sung" the next stage is sinking and then after that we start the process of breaking down individual places of tension in the body with our minds, this is called dissolving.
5) Bending and stretching: Aka all the stuff that is in modern yoga. Well Taoists had this stuff too. We can hold static standing stretches to open up the arms and shoulders or we might bend over to stretch the spine, just like in yoga.
6) Opening and closing: We haven't really touched on this apart from the short qi gong routine I introduced at the end of article 5. Imagine the body like a big rubber band, if we open and stretch it out then close it over and over it will get warm and loose and then stretch and move better. This is an analogy for opening and closing the joints. We do this in standing with breathing and small full body opening and closing movements.
7) Spiralling: Again this is best done in moving practices as we learn to spiral the body as we move from our centre. We often twist the body in slight spirals in static standing postures to learn this feeling.
8) The spine: Similar to yoga, qi gong places a lot of emphasis on the spine. We have specific practices and stretches for opening it up.
9) Integration: We do each of these parts one by one but really we want to be doing all of them all the time...woah. So we need some time integrating and combining all of these practices together so they just happen...by themselves.
There is more to do, here we have Mark in the mother posture, the foundation posture for Taiji practice that teaches the ward off posture and relaxes the chest.
Ok so there is a long list. As I said there is a lot of detail here if you want to get really into it, who would have thought standing still could be so hard! If you want more detail on standing practice my first suggestion is to buy: Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body. My teacher Master Mark Green once said this is probably the best book on qi gong ever written. I pretty much agree! This book covers all the stuff I worked through in 5 articles in much more detail and adds in dissolving and a load of great moving qi gong (the three swings and wave hands like clouds).
If, however, you want to really learn all the details and develop a tailored standing and qi gong routine for your specific health and fitness goals then please get in touch. I do private coaching online via zoom. Please take a look here if interested.