Zhan Zhuang - Pole Stance Note

April 16, 2019 | Author: Tata Sarabanda | Category: Qi, Qigong, Tai Chi, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hand
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Basic info on Zhan Zhuang...


Zhan Zhuang - Pole Stance Zhanzhuang is first and foremost a form of Qigong, unlike other forms of moving Qigong Zhanzhuang or "Standing Pole Exercise" as the translation suggests, is an entirely stationary exercise. There are variations on both the position of the arms, feet and trunk but once the Zhanzhuang posture is adopted its static nature is the feature to be nurtured.

Fig A The majority of Longfei students are familiar with Daoyin Yangsheng Gong exercises. This system of moving Qigong is very popular but it also adopts some more stationary techniques. I have found that the popularity of standing postures depends entirely on the character of the student. My own introduction was to a one and a half hour session. This period was interspersed interspersed with not too frequent instructions to straighten the legs and then to resume the sitting posture. This is not the kind of treatment the majority of students welcome, my own reaction was a version of Nils Carborundum. In 1991 Master Lam Kam Chuen published a very good book on the subject, "The Way Of  Energy", this was followed by his equally good TV series "Stand Still to Get Fit" in 1995, subtitled Standing Like a Tree. It presented five basic postures of this system and the programme introduced warming up and cooling down exercises. Although Although Lam's presentation did not include the martial aspect. He is a Taijiquan master of note. However his Zhan Zhuang deals specifically with fitness and health promotion. The TV series is probably available on video and can be recommended for its content, philosophy and presentation. The prerequisite of all Daoyin, Qigong or Yangsheng Gong in all of the varieties is the cultivation and the art of nourishing life, in traditional Chinese medicine the "Three Gems" (San Bao). These represent the three forces of nature inherent in human beings, essence (Jing), vital breath (Qi), spirit (Shen). These terms are difficult to define in as much as the different Chinese traditions have arrived at separate conclusions. One common thread running through most systems is the use of respiratory disciplines referred to as "Tuna" (taking in and pushing out) or "Xing-Qi" (moving the breath). One quote by Tao Hongjing exemplifies the importance played to Tuna and Xing-Qi: "If one is tired and listless then practice Daoyin exercises and close up the breathing to attack the illness."

 At some time in Qigong training it must be necessary to take a view on a practical and pragmatic approach to the work. If you ask the average Chinese on the street about Qi, he or she will quite likely wave an arm indicating the air and the ozone. This observation is of course correct but serves little purpose as it represents just a tiny overview of the semantics that can be employed. Perhaps the best approach is through the more reliable source books on Traditional Chinese Medicine and avoid the avenues of mysticism. Chinese medicine emphasises the relationships between human beings and their environment. Chinese doctors considered the Qi of humanity to be an end result of the interaction of the Qi of  heaven and earth. It's interesting to note that the characters that indicate Qi are at the same time material and non-material; the two characters indicate vapour and rice. Commentators suggest this implies that which cannot be grasped (vapour, immaterial) and that which can be grasped (rice, material). This does help to understand the Chinese approach to calisthenics having the dual purpose of  working on the material of the body and at the same time guiding Qi and nourishing Shen (hence, Daoyin and Qigong). The uniqueness of this self cultivation approach is self evident when students without a clue of the foregoing comment on how good they feel after training, in a relaxed mood and spirit lifted. My introduction to Zhanzhuang came from master Chu King Hung of the International Tai Chi Chuan Association many years before Master Lam's TV programme and book. In this issue I present some elements of my own training with the help of a few line drawings. Wuji Posture The Lower Limbs Taiji and Wuji are terms that have roots in Chinese Cosmogony. Taiji is itself rooted in Taoist concepts that signify the origin of the duality of existence as manifested from the void (Wuji). Taiji is the mother of Yin and Yang. This whole concept is a clue to the posture to be a dopted; to be formless with absolutely nothing happening, physically, mentally, emotionally with a quiet spirit. The foundation is in the lower limbs, the feet should be parallel, shoulder width and support the ankle. In turn the ankles will rest directly under the tibia and fibula which in turn support the knee and femur. The knees should be gently pushed out as if a large balloon was being supported and at the same time being inflated. The feet however should be equally weighed from heels to toes and from inside to outside edges. At the same time do not lose sight of the concept of nothing happening. The Torso The trunk should be upright. When dealing with the body one should also address the head. The head should be lifted from the crown (acupoint Baihui), the feeling should be as if a balloon filled with air was lightly drawing the crown up. At the same time one can visualise a weight is lightly drawing down the base of the spine. So the feeling visualised is an opening of the vertebrae of  the backbone. In the Wuji posture because the arms are by the sides it can h elp to relax the shoulders which is important for eradicating discomfort in the shoulder and upper back. The defining line of the trunk would be plumb from Baihui (DU20) and Huiyin (REN1). It is important to give attention to the relaxation of the a bdomen, the inguinal joints, hip joints and the sacro illiac area. This will help to sink the Qi to Dantian. Visualisation can be applied to the

relaxation of the internal organs. The overall aim should be calm and loose without collapsing. Upper Limbs The arm and hand directives in this posture can be simple. They should hang loosely by the sides with a feeling that a pair of rolled socks were being held in the armpits. The hands and fingers should be relaxed and loose, the hand is slightly dish shaped with the fingers pointed to the ground and at the root of each finger a gap the size of a garden pea. Head The head position is important and we have already commented on the raising of Baihui. The tongue rests on the roof of the mouth connecting the two governing vessels, Du and Ren. The eyes must remain relaxed and look directly ahead; alternatively they can be averted down. When the eyes are averted take care that the head remains lifted. This care with the head should also apply when we lift the crown point. It's a common fault with beginners, that when instructed to lift the crown they also lift the chin. This will be counter productive to the relaxation of the neck, when lifting the crown one must also tuck the chin.  As in all meditation techniques all students are confronted with their endless discursive mind. Whatever problems this may present are best discussed with an experienced instructor. With more practice the chattering mind can lose some impetus and the student will adapt his or her  approach over a suitable period of time. Remember the instruction to do nothing can be applied on all levels of being. Breathing Breathing should be performed quietly through the nose keeping it simple, warm and friendly. The accent is on being natural and treating yourself gently. The respiration should be deep and slow but this should arrive naturally and never forcefully. Remember that any mental effort to govern the breath will be counter productive to some overall relaxation. It is permissable and practical to be attentive to the flow of breath even to count them as an aid to meditation. General guides to good practice It is better not to push yourself too hard; we are looking for nourishment not punishment. Perseverance and patience and a little training daily will bring its own rewards eventually. When practice is established non-practice can result in withdrawal symptoms. The exercise we are discussing is not directed to martial arts training. Standing still has been found to be very beneficial for a variety of health problems but one can only gain experience for oneself. So the aim is to build strength and improve general health. When I was training with Master Chu, when the legs become tired I was urged to use a technique of rocking backward and forward and from side to side. This served two purposes: the first is quite obvious, when rocking to either direction there is alternating relief for the legs; the second, and not so obvious purpose, is finding a position where the legs experience the least strain. When the legs experience the least amount of strain it allows the upper body to relax more. When rocking forward or backward one feels the greater pressure on the legs that arises to stop us from falling over. With experience this will enable us to find a resting posture with just sufficient leg strength to keep us upright. In the work of Yiquan this is known as stablising one's posture and allowing the mobilising muscles to be passive. I have discussed Zhan Zhuang with Professor Li. He feels that there is insufficient knowledge about the beginning of this form of exercise to place dates on its arrival in Chinese history. In the

programme "Stand Still to Get Fit" Lam Kam Chuen's teacher, professor Yu, remarks that this form of exercise dates back 2,700 years to the times of Lao Tzu and was one of the most ancient forms of oriental exercise. There is a tendency in Chinese health arts to assume that locating the beginnings in antiquity will somehow bring greater credibility. However a great deal of the current popularity of stationary postures can be attributed to the work of professor Yu's teacher, Wang Xiangzhai (1885-1963). Master Wang was among the most famous Chinese martial artists of the twentieth century. Wang developed the art of Yiquan from his previous martial arts experience which was heavily influenced by his Xingyiquan training. Yiquan fundamental training is based in stillness unlike many other martial arts with the basics concentrated in forms. Wang was considered a formidable fighter and built a considerable reputation but when the communists came to power in 1 949 he abandoned his Yiquan Club in Beijing, apparently discouraged from teaching the Yiquan as a martial art by the authorities. He was subsequently invited to teach the standing meditation at the Hebei Institute for Traditional Chinese Medicine. This prohibition would have continued through the cultural revolution and until the passing of Mao Zedong some twelve years after Wang's own death. This sequence of events goes some way to explain why Zhan Zhuang became more popular  during the second half of the twentieth century. Its spread to the West has been a slow process since China opened up after President Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972. I have no personal reference to any teacher presenting standing exercise before Master Chu King Hung brought it to London in 1976. Chu stressed both the benefits to health and its application to martial arts practice. More about this aspect later.

Fig B Most of the general observations for Figure A, apply equally to Figures B and C. It's obvious from the illustrations that the knees are bent, the bending of the knees is not excessive and a good guideline is not to allow the knee to move forward beyond the toe. Care must be taken not to lean back or to incline the body forward.  A third point to note is that the bottom must not stick out. The sitting must be just that, as if we

were sitting on a bar stool. This is by no means an easy posture to adopt for a novice and supervision is advised with regular checks on attaining the correct posture. Each one of us can bring a variety of problems to the training, these can be from a lifetime of bad postures or  inherited traits and also from accumulated psychological tension. The position of the arms is very comfortable, it allows the shoulders to relax, sink and sit comfortably. The elbows must also sink and relax. The fingers are open as in Figure A, the tips are apart with a gap approximately the width of the head. The feeling is not as if holding and clutching something heavy to the body; on the contrary it's as if the arms were floating or being supported by a balloon, with the muscles and tendons relaxed and the ligaments open. Cultivating the correct feeling is of prime importance. Remember in Figure A, the knees are relaxed but not bent in Figure B they are bent using the guidelines above.

Fig C The obvious change here is the lowering of the arms, the arm formation is with the palms facing up as if supporting the abdomen and the feeling as if sinking the energy to Dan Tien. All the general observations for postures in Figures A and B apply equally to Figure C. Before starting practice one should do some gentle warming up exercises, stretching and loosening the body in preparation for sitting. It's also advisable to cool do wn with some breathing exercise. The continual process of practising Zhan Zhuang is self-learning and self cultivation, correction to postural defects, arranging the skeletal structure as if we were erecting a building so that we have a good foundation, a sound structure allowing our internal organs to breathe and our metabolism to function at its optimum. In the West the work of the Alexander technique and the Feldenkrais system have brought awareness to the problems of habitual postural abuse and its effect on function. In Chinese medicine the simple view that senility begins from the ground up (not confined to the brain) explains the position of Zhan Zhuang's approach to strengthen the legs. In recent years we are constantly being reminded of the need to use exercise to strengthen our leg bones and muscles to counter the onset of osteoporosis. Perhaps the gentle work of Zhan Zhuang ideally fits the bill.

It's certain that osteoporosis sufferers need to be very selective about their exercise to avoid the onset of stress fractures. Longfei has been working with the North London Osteoporosis Society for some years. When the body's framework is arranged correctly with the muscles relaxed and using only enough strength to maintain equilibrium we can experience the unobstructed circulation of the blood (and Qi). While this form of exercise will bring a slight rise in the heart rate it certainly avoids the excessive rise in metabolic rates induced in more vigorous forms of activity. This will facilitate the possibility of taking the exercise into our most advanced years. In general practitioners should proceed at their preferred rate. However one should persevere in a disciplined fashion, it's very easy to shorten or retreat from regular and correct training.  A good plan would be to make a start with five minutes twice a day with posture A progressing to fifteen minutes and then experiment with postures B and C. Practice can be taken indoors or in the open, the air outside is considered beneficial in most of the Chinese methods of exercise. The aim of Zhan Zhuang is to bring a greater awareness of the body a nd its functions, to improve overall health and to improve one's energy quotient strengthening both body and resolve. In our  next issue we will take a look at the more martial postures the training and the function. Richard Watson ========================================================================= ====================== Part Two: ========= In the previous article we looked at the pole stance as a pure health nourishing exercise, with reference to the nurturing of one's Essence (Jing), Breath (Qi), Spirit (Shen). The term essence appears in traditional Chinese medical books under three different headings: "Pre-Heaven Essence" "Post-Heaven Essence" "Kidney Essence" PRE-HEAVEN ESSENCE is a combining of the sexual energies of male and female and forms the essence of a newly conceived human being. Pre-Heaven Essence sustains a foetus until it has independent physiological activity. Pre-Heaven Essence creates a person's unique individuality. Since it is inherited from the parents it is said to be fixed at birth and is difficult to influence positively in adult life.  According to Chinese medicine the positive way to affect the Pre-Heaven Essence is to live a balanced life, with all that may be implied by this advice. A direct way to positively influence one's essence is through breathing exercises, Taijiquan and Qigong. POST-HEAVEN ESSENCE is refined from our intake of food and fluids and is extracted by the spleen and stomach. After birth, when the baby begins digestion and respiration, the lungs, stomach and spleen function to produce Qi from food, fluids and air. At the basis of all is Qi, all the other vital substances are manifestations of Qi in varying degrees, from the completely material, such as body fluids, to the totally immaterial, such as the mind (Shen).

THE ESSENCE (KIDNEY) is derived both from Pre and Post-Heaven Essence and plays an important part in human physiology. It is a hereditary energy and determines a person's constitution. It determines growth, reproduction, development, sexual maturation, conception and pregnancy. There are differences between Essence and Qi in human beings: * Essence is mostly derived from parents - Qi is formed after birth. * Essence is fluid like - Qi is energy like. * Essence resides mostly in the kidneys - Qi is everywhere. * Essence is replenished with difficulty - Qi can easily be replenished on a day-to-day basis. * Essence follows long cycles of 7 or 8 years - Qi follows shorter cycles, some yearly, some circadian, some shorter still. * Essence changes slowly over long periods - whereas Qi moves and changes quickly from moment to moment. BREATH (Qi). The lungs govern Qi and respiration and are responsible for inhaling air (Qi). For  this reason, and also because they influence the skin, they are the intermediary organ between the organism and the environment. The functions of the lungs are: * To govern Qi and respiration. They control channels and blood vessels. * To control dispersing and descending. They regulate water passages. * To control skin and hair. They open into the nose. * To house the Corporeal Soul. The lungs extract clean Qi for the body which combines with the food Qi coming from the spleen. The constant exchange and renewal of Qi by the lungs ensures the proper functioning of all the body's physiological processes which take Qi as their basis. The Corporeal Soul is the most physical and material part of the human being's soul. It could be said to be the somatic manifestation of the soul. SHEN (MIND, SPIRIT). Essence-Qi-Mind are called in Chinese the "Three Treasures" (San Bao). Health, strength, vitality, happiness, volition, mental stability and clarity all depend on a good supply of these three vital substances. Essence is related to the kidneys, Qi to the lungs and mind to the heart. Qi is the refined energy that nourishes the body and mind and the mind is the most refined and immaterial of the three substances. If Essence and Qi are strong the mind will be healthy and if the Essence and Qi a re weak the mind will suffer. The condition of the essence gives an indication of the hereditary Qi and the inherited constitution while the condition of the Qi gives an indication of the acquired Qi. The two together determine the state of mind. Chinese medicine holds that the heart is the seat of the mind (Shen). Shen can have many different meanings, in the context of Chinese medicine there are two. First, Shen relates to the complex of mental faculties which are said to reside in the heart. In this sense Shen corresponds to the mind and is related to the h eart. Second, Shen is used to embrace the whole of emotional, mental and spiritual aspects. In this sense it is related not only to the heart but also covers the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of our nature.  According to Chinese medicine mental activity and the emotional state, in particular, five functions are affected by the state of the heart:

Mental activity and emotional states. Consciousness, memory. Thinking, sleep. If the heart is strong there will be normal mental activity, a balanced emotional life, clear  consciousness, a good memory, keen thinking and good sleep patterns. This brief excursion into the three treasures is simply to give a clue to the aims of Zhan Zhuang training. The same of course applies to all genuine forms of Qigong and Taijiquan. Please bear in mind that we should always look for guidance from a teacher. With regard to Chinese medicine I have barely skimmed the surface and would recommend further study from a reliable source or a good book on the subject. In the previous article we looked at the meditation and health aspects of Zhan Zhuang. In this issue I would like to look at strength building and the martial exercises that I learned in the ITCCA with Master Chu King Hung.

Figure 1. This is a very common posture widely practised among Taiji practitoners. All the instructions that applied to figures A, B and C in the first article can be a dopted again. The only obvious change is the raising of the arms. To raise the arms in this way puts a greater strain on the shoulders, but note that the shoulders are not raised and the elbows remain sunken. Keep in mind previous instructions for the lower limbs, upper limbs, the torso, head, breathing and general

guides to good practice. Holding the arms above the head for any length of time can become a little like an endurance test. However, remaining relaxed will help to reduce discomfort. The main difference in martial postures is in feeling. Visualisation is employed to imagine holding a large ball. The ball will inflate and deflate a little, causing the arms to open and close. This feeling can be enhanced with the help of a partner - your partner can place a light pressure on the outside of the arms.

Figure 2. For those familiar with the term "Peng", in the application of "Grasp Sparrow's Tail", should understand the required feeling of "Peng Jin". In figures 1 and 2 the feeling of expansion should come to the back of the wrist and the lower  forearm. Note that while there is little noticeable movement of the arms, the feeling includes a rotation of the forearm. This can be experienced by twisting the little finger toward the abdomen.  At the beginning of the training the arms can move a little so the expansion can be seen by an observer. Later the expansion can be felt b y the practitioner but remain unobserved. Breathing can be coordinated with the unseen movement but should remain normal and not forced. The expansion should move with the inhalation.  At a later stage the legs can move from the bent posture and straighten a little, with a slight opening of the knees. This should coordinate with the arm movement and the breathing. Eventually the whole exercise should be experienced from the ground up with the feeling of the body opening and closing. Remember to remain loose and relaxed but not collapsed.

Figure 3. Before moving on to this posture one should be comfortable and accomplished with the previous postures. Therefore all visible movement will be minimal. All the principle ingredients remain essential. In posture 3, both hands are above the head in the manner of the right hand performing the posture. "White Crane Spreads Wings" from the traditional Yang Style Taijiquan. Note the roundness of the arms, no right angles at the elbows. While the arms exert only sufficient energy to maintain the lift of the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints should be open, loose and relaxed. The attention should be directed to the heels of the wrists and focus on the opening of the joints and again the twisting of the forearms. In this exercise the little fingers incline to the rear. This posture has obvious use in the protection of the head and upper body, also from punches and kicks to the head.

Figure 4. The 4th posture represents the resting (Yin aspect) of posture 3. All the basic principles apply. Once again note the roundness of the arms, the sloping, relaxed shoulders. The turning in of the fingers and wrists effectively give the required twist to the forearms. In posture 4 the emphasis is on the heel of the hand as if blocking downward, not on the fingers. It is obvious in both 3 and 4 that the hands are not to the centre, however the slightest turn to left or right of the upper body and this would be so. But please remember we are looking for a feeling of strength that manifests in the training. If you are following this training in the appropriate manner, at this stage you should experience some realisation. It will not happen without the correct amount of input.

Figure 5. Posture 5 is the combination of the two previous positions. If the lower hand was more to the side the hand positions would represent the "White Crane Spreads Wings" in mirror image. The right hand is also in the transition mode of "Brush Knee". In a training programme the mirror  image should be developed equally and the split practise can bring some relief to discomfort in the shoulders. Follow the focus instructions for the wrists as posture 3 and 4. The upper hand used for blocking above the head would follow an upward curve from the right hand. If it were blocking to the side of the head the curve would spiral upward and outward.

Figure 6. Posture 6 can be seen as a variation of 5. In 5 the palms were Yang and the backs of  the hands were Yin, in posture 6 they reverse. The upper hand can be viewed as "Peng" (warding off) very similar to the "White Crane". When the hands change position the lower hand follows a curve similar to the movement that follows the "White Crane" and precipitates the movement of  "Brush Knee". The spiral in the arms can be felt by the twisting out of the thumbs; bring the little fingers towards the body. The emphasis changes to the back of the wrists. It is necessary to apply the whole of the text to every exercise, especially in the areas of  relaxation, openness curves, breathing etc. One should remain mindful and meditative and sink the energy to "Dantian". The object of health and strength should be borne in mind as should the nurturing of the "Three Treasures." In the next issue I will conclude the exercises with a couple that concentrate on leg strength and balance.

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