Zhan Zhuang: An Introduction to Various Training Methods and Their Effects


BP Chan used to say “In internal martial arts, we have two types of exercises: Stillness seeking movement and movement seeking stillness.” The stillness that we seek in our movement is on a spiritual and mental level as well as isolating and training the various centers and axis  of the body which is largely mechanical in nature.

All the internal martial arts have some version of Zhan Zhuang, or standing post training. This type of training teaches alignment, posture, and center in its earliest phases. One learns to separate yin and yang in the body. Every lineage has its own neigong or internal practice that goes along with the standing. These create different results. At the heart of all of the training is the notion of sinking the qi and releasing tension from the body. To that end, we will explore optimal alignments as well as appropriate balances of tension and relaxation of muscle pairs.

Once we go towards the internal exploration and look inward, we can start by exploring the natural mechanics of the body. For example, one may observe how the centers of the body may change as one inhales and exhales. One may observe, for example, the opening and closing of the joints as one breathes. That is an example of looking at the body mechanics. Looking at the subtle movement within the stillness.

At higher levels fo training, we will begin to explore movement of qi within the body. There are various practices one could do within the same postures. One form of training is to empty the mind so as to release qi down to the dantian, or the lower part of the abdomen. You will find that thoughts will hold your qi up in the process. One could also go about releasing the emotions associated with the various organs. 

For example, empty the xin (the heart/mind) allowing the fire element to descend. This is alchemical in nature. The emotion associated with this element is joy and excitation. releasing that emotion, the qi that has been staginating in the organ can settle back to the dantian. You could then go and put your mind to your lungs and let go of sadness and feel even more qi sink and thus feel more pressure build up in your legs, increasing the effectiveness your training, helping you discover the various places qi may be hiding.

Then one might go and consider the liver and the anger that resides within. Release that emotion and feel even more blood and qi descend. Put your mind to the kidneys and release the fear associated with the organ and watch the yao relax as even more qi descends. Always end on the spleen, to return the body to central equilibrium, letting go of anxiety and worry in the process.

Pay close attention to where that qi releases and how it releases, so you can become more familiar with it. It will eventually release from there with all the qi in your first intention. 

These are ways to help a person release more tension, creating the optimal body qualities as well as educating the qi so that it becomes obedient to the yi, or intention. Another type of standing is to simply endeavor to release the mind and the fire below with no other consideration. The goal of this is to create an emptiness in the mind, or to “remove the middle man”. Prolonged training in this fashion will result in an empty mind state every time you raise your hands, allowing you to be in a better mind state for actual free fighting.

Training direction is also a point of consideration. Whether doing standing training or tai chi form practice, traditionally one will face south in the morning to access the yang or the fire element. In the late evening, one would face north to access the yin energies.

Qi moves through the meridian system visiting and nourishing the organs in a cycle that repeats. The cycle is twelve two-hour periods. So when talking about time, we can look at this in several ways. In the simplest way, each of these two-hour periods are named:

We have zi wu liu zhu. Zi and wu are two different periods in the cycle, …. midnight and noon ebb and flow theory. When yin and when yang concentrate…. 

Wu is twelve noon (between 11 AM and 12 noon) It is when the yang energies have reached their peak. Noon is also an astral alignment where the sun is directly overhead. It is also know as tai yang or the extreme of yang. The most yang energy is available to harvest or gather at that time.

Conversely, zi happens between 11 and 12 midnight with midnight being tai yin or the extreme of yin. So facing north between 11 PM and 12 midnight will allow one to access the most yin in their training to make up for deficiencies or illnesses during special types of training.

Another name for san ti shi is Zi Wu shi because some practitioners  prefer to train during the tai yin and tai yang periods.

One can also consider what particular organ they may be having difficulties with and the standing can be modified to address that organ. There are postures specifically to train specific organs. For example, San Ti opens the lung and large intestine meridian and trains the metal element. Metal is the mother of water according to the sheng cycle or creative cycle. The water element is the kidneys and urinary bladder. strengthening the kidneys will affect the vitality of the body on many levels frm qi to hormonal level and is vital importance in qigong training. 

So there are specific shapes and postures for different organs, but that can also be combined with directions and times of standing. One of my favorite times to train is between 3 and 5 in the morning. During the time, the lung meridian is open. Practicing breathing exercises at that time will yield better results. The metal element is the mother of water, so training at that time will strengthen the kidneys, again an important part of ones training.

The kidney meridian is open during 5 and 7pm, but the kidneys are better strengthened during the sheng cycle of 3 and 5am. If one trains from 5 to 7pm, following the sheng cycle they are actually strengthening their liver.

When Swallowing qi or eating qi… direction and time of practice is also of crucial importance.

This technology is important to understand in order to optimize ones training and get the best results with the least amount of effort. These are some examples of what I would like to share with my Brothers and Sisters in the Martial and Health Preservation Arts.

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