LEARNING TO STAND
The Zhan Zhuang system begins with two basic standing exercises. These start to build up and release the natural flow of energy inside you. The first position, a simple standing posture (pp. 28-29), enables you to relax your body in preparation for the other exercises. The second position, "Holding the Balloon" (pp. 34-35), is the key position in the whole system. It is essential to become thoroughly comfortable in both these positions before moving on to the exercises in Part Two, the intermediate level.
The simple warm up routines on the following pages prepare your body for the internal changes that take place during the Zhan Zhuang exercises. They are essential for beginners, because although the standing positions do not look strenuous, if you do them properly the resulting activity inside your body is enormous, and affects your whole system.
During the exercises in this chapter you may feel a little weak, start to tremble, or begin to tense up. But don't move: breathe naturally and relax. Use the time to notice all the remarkable changes and sensations in your body. Remember: standing still is not doing nothing, it is the exercise.
When you are familiar with the first two standing exercises, you will need to learn how to breathe and relax, as described in Chapter 2. This will give you the experience of simultaneous exertion and relaxation during the standing postures, which is fundamental to this exercise system. The curious sensations you are likely to experience when you begin the exercises are described in Chapter 3.
Start by doing the standing exercises for five minutes a day. After three weeks, increase this to ten minutes. Three weeks later, aim for 15 minutes, and 20 minutes after a further three weeks. You can stand for longer if you wish, but 20 minutes will refresh your whole system. Follow the step-by-step advice, practising a little every day. Do not skip ahead: developing self-control is part of the training.
As with all exercise routines, the warm up is essential. It helps your body become flexible and helps open up the internal channels along which your energy flows. The two largest and most important joints are the knees and shoulders. So by loosening these up first you are most likely to get the rich benefits of the later Zhan Zhuang exercises.
As a beginner, it is important to do these warm up exercises every time you start your Zhan Zhuang practice. They will take you about six or seven minutes.
Regularly practised, they give long-term protection against arthritis and other painful ailments that reduce the original flexibility of the body. If you are an advanced student (for example, if you have practised Tai Chi Chuan for several years), you can warm up instead with the Ba Duan Jin system described in Chapter 4.
Wu Chi - the first position
Ali Zhan Zhuang training begins with this position, which is profoundly important. Even at extraordinarily advanced levels of exercise, we begin with a period of quiet standing in the Wu Chi position - the position of primal energy.
The Wu Chi position involves simply standing still. It is an opportunity to pay careful attention to the tensions in your body and its nervous system. At the same time it becomes a moment of powerful, deep relaxation in your day. Simple as it may seem, this opening position, correctly practised, holds the key to unlock the storehouse of your great internal energy reserves.
It is a good idea to go to the toilet before starting, to ensure that you do not have to interrupt your stationary exercise.
Try to do your training outside, with your back toward the sun. If you can stand near a large tree with the sun on your back, this is the best location of all. Don't stand in the rain or fog.
If you're indoors, you can either use a quiet room or create a tranquil environment by playing a recording of softly flowing instrumental music.
Aligning mind and body
When you stand still in the first position, with your body correctly aligned, you are drawing energy (Chi) from the earth, and accelerating its flow through your body. This practice of standing still is an ancient discipline. The first known reference to it dates back to the oldest and most influential book in the history of world medicine, The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Ti Nei Ching), thought to have been written about 4,000 years ago. In the opening section, the Emperor tells the court physician:
I have heard that in ancient times there were the so-called Spiritual Beings:
They stood between Heaven and Earth, connecting the Universe;
They understood and were able to control both Yin and Yang, the two fundamental principles of nature;
They inhaled the vital essence of life;
They remained unmoving in their spirit;
Their muscles and flesh were as one -
This is the Tao, the Way you are looking for.
Adjusting your position
When you become comfortable in this position, think about the points below. Quietly adjust your body to correct your balance and position.
A FIELD OF ENERGY
The Chinese like to exercise in the presence of trees, whose Chi is wonderful. Trees are totally exposed to the elements and draw their power from everything around them. They reach deep into the soil with their roots. They reach upward toward the light. Their fibrous trunks are filled with the flow of life. They take strength from the earth, from water and rain, from the sun, from the air, and from the space that surrounds them. This is what we have in mind when we say "stand like a tree". You are a field of energy. You are nourished by everything around you, like a tree standing in the midst of all the elements.
The Tree in Winter
This is the time of hidden regeneration. Mist hangs above the ground. Frost forms on open fields.
The tree is still. It stands alone and quiet. In the darkness of the early morning, nature is asleep. There is no movement in the air, no hint of trembling in the branches. The tree is silent in the darkness like a stone - a pillar in the courtyard of an empty temple.
A distant sound breaks through the stillness. The day's first light advances on the earth. The shadow of the tree moves with the dawn, but the tree is motionless.
The ground beneath the tree is frozen hard. Above the ground, the bark is cold, the limbs are stiff A passer-by might wonder if the tree will live in spring.
But underneath the ground the earth is warm. The weight of all the tree sinks to its roots. They are indifferent to the frozen soil, they grow toward the centre of the earth.
The tree is not afraid. It was a seed: it knows the earth is holding it. Within its core, a vital ring is being formed. Around its spine, new life is rising from the earth, while flakes of snow are settling on the silent and unmoving tree.
Holding the balloon - the second position
The next step in Zhan Zhuang training is to start "Holding the Balloon". This position forms the basis for many of the more advanced exercises, and speeds the inner circulation of energy through your feet, up through your entire body, and to your hands and head.
Try holding the second position for up to five minutes. You will probably experience considerable pain from the tension in your shoulders, arms, and knees. This is partly muscle fatigue, partly the reaction of your nervous system. Be patient. Nothing you are doing is harmful. You are returning to an original state of being. Your journey will take discipline and diligence.
As you hold this position, imagine that you are resting on a series of other balloons that take your full weight (see right).
To begin with, as you stand quietly holding the imaginary balloon, review all the guidelines for this position (see right).
The Tree in Blossom
The season changes imperceptibly. The early morning light is pale. Clouds drift on the horizon. In the distance nothing moves. The dawn is still.
The tree remains unmoving, but is changed.
The morning air is warm, the grass is moist. The tiny creatures of the soil are moving in the ground.
The tree's roots stretch their new growth in the earth - alive to countless changes' in their dark and humid world. Their slender filaments draw in the silent dew that glistens in the soil.
The earth is rising through the tree. Inside its mighty trunk, life trembles and awakens.
Immense, alone, the tree is giving birth. New shoots are opening in the air. Curled leaves emerge in miniature - the work of winter's still and solitary months.
The tree is utterly consumed in growth. Its bark is stretched. Innumerable cells are giving birth.
The morning winds sweep through the spreading tree. On every branch the buds and blossoms tremble in the breeze. The growing leaves reach out to every sunbeam. The leaves' open pores are breathing and their veins are full.
The tree is wreathed in silence like a waterfall. It stands transfixed:poised motionless between the mighty pull of all its tiny root hairs and the fragrant, evanescent petals on its boughs.
The benefits of Zhan Zhuang practice result from inner growth and transformation. The fundamental changes begin to occur in your internal organs and nervous system. Without unusual sensitivity or training, most of us cannot sense these at first, whereas we can all feel the immediate effect of hard muscular activity such as jogging or weight training. The initial impact of Zhan Zhuang takes place deep inside you, like an explosion in the depths of the sea, and so it is all the more important to be aware of what to do when you start your training.
Points To Remember
* If you feel tired or faint, don't close your eyes, otherwise you might risk falling down.
* Remind yourself to relax while holding the correct position. You will need to check for tension over and over again.
* When you finish the second position, lower your arms and stand quietly for two or three minutes. Then gently shake your arms and legs. Then it's a good idea to make a final series of 20 circles with your arms at moderate speed.
* Finally, walk around slowly for a couple of minutes. You are then ready for the day!
* Women: your increased blood circulation may make your periods heavier. In this case, stand for less than 20 minutes during menstruation.
Copyright © 1991 Gala Books Limited