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How Standing Stake - Zhan Zhuang - Can Improve Your Tai Chi

Dan-Tienby Ken Gullette

Zhan Zhuang is also called "Standing Stake" or "Standing Like A Pole." It is the most important exercise in Tai Chi. It can be used for meditation and qigong, but it also will help improve your Tai Chi.

Here are the basics of getting into a Zhan Zhuang stance:

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

2. Raise your arms as if hugging a tree with the palms facing you.

3. Relax the knees and let them flex a bit.

4. Relax every muscle in your body - neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, hips and legs.

5. Keep the head up and the chin slightly tucked.

6. "Sink" your weight -- your "energy" -- and feel as if your weight is sinking into the ground or floor.

7. Calm the mind along with the body.

Here are important things you need to incorporate into your Zhan Zhuang practice:

8. Relax the lower back. We usually keep it tense when we are standing. When you relax the muscles in the lower back, you will feel your buttocks sink and "tuck" slightly. That is a good thing.

9. You should feel your weight centered in the feet between the heel and the ball of the foot, just behind the ball of each foot. You may have to adjust your sinking, or lean slightly forward from the waist to the head to feel your weight reaching this point in the feet. 

Usually when we stand up, we are actually leaning backward. By leaning slightly forward from the waist to the head, you may feel like you are leaning too far forward, but usually, that is right where you want to be.

10. Maintain a feeling of ground path and peng jin. Your arms should feel as if there is a gentle pressure pushing outward, as if you are hugging a large balloon that is having air pumped into it. At the same time, you should feel as if someone is pushing gently inward on your arms and you are grounding the push through your feet. 

Stand in this position for at least five minutes. If you are a beginner, your legs may start getting tired before then -- they may start shaking. 

Every day, your goal is to do a little more time -- perhaps one minute longer. Your goal should be to do Zhan Zhuang for 30 minutes each day.

Here is how Zhan Zhuang helps your Tai Chi:

-- It helps strengthen your legs. Strong legs are crucial to good Tai Chi. By relaxing the legs, relaxing the knees and keeping them flexed as you sink your weight, you are working the muscles. As you get accustomed to standing for five, 10, 15 minutes or more, you will find that when you do a Tai Chi form, you will feel stronger, and your base will feel more stable.

-- It helps you to manage stress. Calm the mind and turn your thoughts away from daily worries such as deadlines at work or school, relationships, bills, and other things. Focus on your breathing and on the mental visualization of energy collecting in the Dan T'ien and growing warmer each time you inhale.

-- It helps teach you to sink and relax. One of the problems many Tai Chi players have is keeping the "chi in the chest." That means their weight is not sunk properly. Zhan Zhuang teaches you to sink and relax the shoulders, chest, arms, hips, and you should carry that into your Tai Chi practice.

-- It teaches you to maintain a "centered stance." In your Tai Chi practice, you need to keep the weight centered in the feet as much as possible. In Tai Chi and in push hands, you are constantly trying to maintain or find your center.

-- It is an outstanding Qigong exercise. Even though I do not think chi is a scientific reality, it is a great mental visualization tool. When I do Zhan Zhuang, I imagine chi entering the body when I inhale and when I exhale, I imagine a ball of chi growing warmer in my Dan T'ien. I also sometimes imagine it flowing through my body. There are many exercises explained in detail on my Qigong DVD and in my Kindle ebook.

Zhan Zhuang can change your life. If you learn to calm the mind and relax the body, and if you recreate those feelings when you find yourself in a tense, stressful situation, you can teach yourself to react to stress with relaxation and calmness rather than tension. That is the most important lesson of all.

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