Zhan Zhuang means standing like a tree. We do what trees do, and we simply stand still and be one with the universe. In the standing practice we try to stand still and quickly notice that our body is extremely asymmetrical and and produces all sorts of tensions and knots of contraction. We learn to stop wasting energy in these unconscious tensions, and in learning to do this we gain a much better awareness of the body and the subtle energy body – which is the basis for the advanced mindfulness of breathing practice. I quote a practice log from my Zhan Zhuang practice:
“I discovered today that often tension arises on one side of the body due to imbalances in habitual ways of holding oneself, especially in the back and shoulders. I have been able to gently balance muscles that I didn’t realize I had conscious influence over in a sort of dance of motion within the relative container of a stationary stance. It’s amazing the fine grained detail of arising and passing that is possible to observe, even when standing in place. The bliss can get quite strong, and today it seemed like my legs were no longer holding my body up but I had the distinct sensation of floating in place, being held up by the floor and the air around me.”
It is very straightforward to do an initial cleanse of the energy body, learning to stand in 2 introductory poses for a short period of time before and or after the sits. This can play into a daily routine of up to 40 minutes of standing followed by 90 minutes of sitting.
This is a practice that can only be taught by the practitioner doing it- but pay attention to the way your awareness of your body feels, and how it feels when tensions arise and any contraction around that, try to notice the craving and aversion mind-moments. The idea is to 1st just establish a daily standing practice. Try for 5 minutes standing in the Wu Chi posture, and 5 minutes in the balloon posture.
It is recommended to stand in the Wu Chi posture and the Balloon posture for regular intervals every day. This regular practice allows the practitioner to sit with less pain and tension and allows the subtle energetic channels in the body to be less impeded by muscular tension and other bodily fabrications. This practice can be done as a remedial practice to counteract dullness, or as a stand-alone regular energy cultivation practice.
There are a few energetic processes that begin to occur once you start a regular standing practice. In the beginning, you only want to stand for a short amount of time, say, 5 minutes. Then you can increase to 6, 7, and so on, until you get to a point where you could very easily stand indefinitely.
There will be tension and pain in certain areas of the body when you try to keep the posture. This is normal. The basic practice flow is to be present with that tense sense of pain, while also letting whatever tension in the muscles drain away, by trying to relax into it as much as possible. You want to relax, and these tensions are parts of your body that aren’t relaxed. They correlate to some part of your mind that is protecting itself, or some other form of defense that is manifest in the physical body.
The point of the standing practice is to become aware of those tensions in the body and let them go by relaxing into them. We embrace the tense area and try to relax and feel what happens in the body when we do that.
When we try to relax one spot, we can see that other muscles have to compensate, and we are forced to confront this awareness of the body. By maintaining the posture, all the muscles holding that posture have to cooperate, and if there is any conflict, it will become obvious when you do something like trying to stand or sit still for more than a few minutes. You can start to see how interconnected and transient all those little muscular movements are as you stand there.
Often what will happen is there will be an obvious asymmetry in the felt sense of the body, and this is arises because the body is doing some unconscious tension/defense mechanism that makes that one side tense up more than the opposite side. This is also normal, and the practice flow is about watching this and being mindful of the body and mind while doing so. We can easily get into states of highly concentrated flow while doing a stance and paying attention to the body.
Eventually, towards the end of a session, there can be more gross manifestations of the muscles holding the posture. Sometimes when the energy is balancing out quite well, there can be a bouncing motion of the entire body that is semi-volitional. You can make it stop or you can allow it. Observing this process is a clear way of seeing volitional formations.
Eventually the body comes to a sense of contented satisfaction and the posture is effortlessly held for as long as the practitioner wants to stand. The practitioner then may make the 20 minutes standing in each position before sitting, a daily ritual.