One of the most effective ways of having a healthy body and mind is also one of the simplest to learn and practice on ones own. That technique is known as Standing Mediation, or “Zhou Zhuang.”
Standing Meditation has many of the same benefits of seated meditation including relaxing the body and mind, centering the self, focusing awareness, and integrating body, breath, and mind. One key difference with seated meditation, though, is that Standing Meditation emphasizes the muscular structure of the body and engages core muscles, which are vital for balance, proprioception, and movement. For this reason, Standing Meditation is more dynamic and is referred to as “yang” whereas seated meditation is a “yin” practice.
Yin seated meditation is described as “being in the midst of stillness” and Yang Standing Meditation is “being in the midst of commotion.” Or, to put it differently, seated meditation is a turning inward of the gaze of awareness; Standing Meditation is both an internal awareness of body, breath, and mind and an awareness of external space. Standing Meditation is perceived as a transition between self and world where the individual trains to extend centered awareness into physical action.
Standing Meditation comes in many various forms, but some of the most classic include “Standing Pole,” “Embrace the Tree (Wu Ji)”, “Receiving Chi (Qi),” and “San Ti,” a mainstay for practitioners of Baguazhang.
In my Cultivating Qi book, I discuss Standing Pole and Embrace the Tree postures in detail, and I would recommend consulting the book for a more detailed discussion, but I will provide a brief overview here of these essential and important fundamentals so that you can begin your own practice.
SOME FUNDAMENTALS BEFORE YOU BEGIN
When a person first begins meditation, use a timer so that the attention does not need to shift back and forth watching a clock. Initially start with one or two minutes. If that meditation time passes without undue physical strain and mental distraction for one week, then add one minute to the session. Increase the amount of time spent in the meditative posture gradually and as a response to what feels natural. The amount of time need not exceed twenty minutes, but it should be performed once a day.
STANDING POLE MEDITATION
Standing Pole Meditation rests upon proper structure of the body then focusing upon feeling body and breath. The important principles for setting up the body are
- The body should be aligned vertically forming the ‘Standing Pole.”
- The Neck and Head are aligned with the spine, and the top of the head should feel as if it is suspended by a thread from above. Draw the head up from inside the body.
- Sink the Chest and Raise the Back.
- Relax the Shoulders and sink the elbows.
- Relax the waist and hips; the Kua or Bridge of the Hips should be open.
- Knees are open (slightly bent) and lower abdomen is relaxed.
- Draw the tailbone up.
- No tilting or leaning in the posture; maintain the integrity of the standing pole.
To align the neck and spine and bring the entire body into position, two phrases are useful pointers. The first saying is “Imagine that you are one inch taller.” The second saying is “Without turning your head, listen behind you.” These two sayings refine the standing pole and harmonize the whole. Once the body is in a relaxed but structured position, the awareness focuses upon feeling the body and the breath. The goal is to heighten and sustain that depth of feeling as much as possible.
WUJI STANDING MEDITATION
Wuji Standing Meditation, also known as “Embracing the Tree,” is an ancient form of Standing Taoist Meditation, and within Chen style T’ai Chi Chuan practice, it is regarded as a “closed” secret. The term “Wuji” means “No Polarity,” and refers to the complete harmony prior to Yin and Yang. The name helps to reveal the feeling behind the technique: the practitioner achieves a state of harmonious balance where weight is equally dispersed, stance is solid, and mind, heart, and body are relaxed.
The standing posture adheres to basic Standing Post Qigong:
- Feet are shoulder-width with the toes either parallel or turning slightly outward
- Knees are open with a slight natural bend
- Hips and waist are soft allowing the weight of the body to be released downward into the ground
- Shoulders are relaxed with slightly bent elbows and soft hands and fingers slightly curved
- The center of the chest (sternum) is hollowed slightly allowing the diaphragm to relax downward
- Chin is tucked in slightly, bringing the neck and head in alignment with the spine
- Top of the head is suspended upward
- Tongue is on the roof of the mouth, behind the top teeth, touching the heart palate
- Breathing is in and through the nose using Abdominal/Buddhist Method of Breathing
The stance is stuctured like a post in the ground—aligned, rooted, and erect. The stance should feel natural with the body in comfortable alignment. Once the body is in proper position, the breathing can be deep, long, slow, soft, even, and tranquil, and the mind can be serene.
To perform Wuji Standing Meditation, first align oneself in the Standing Post Qigong, then with the feeling of the toes gripping the ground, lift the arms as if holding a ball in front of the chest. The hands are soft and relaxed with the fingers slightly separated from one another and curved inward. The palms of the hands face inward toward the chest and are approximately one foot from the chest. A space of approximately six inches separates the hands. The shoulders are relaxed, arms pits are open, and elbows are slightly bent and soft. There should not be any tension in the chest, back, shoulders, and arms. The tongue rests on the heart palate, and breathing is in and out through the nose following Abdominal or Buddhist technique. The focus of the mind is upon the Dantian—watching, observing, and feeling. The gaze is directed at the space between the two hands.
The objective of Wuji Meditation is to unite body, breath, and mind naturally—and not through force. Simply allow the body, breath, and mind to relax and merge together.
The “Receiving Qi posture also builds upon the Standing Pole, but the arms are both extended slightly forward with the palms turned upwards and at shoulder height. The arms do not rest against the body, and the arm pits are open. This posture includes the visualization of drawing Qi, Light, Energy, or Grace in through the palms in a spot known as the Labor Valley. With the inhalation, visualization drawing in through the center of the palms, and with the exhalation relax into the feeling of the body. This practice dissolves the separation of the flow self and the world, and is a dynamic form of broadening awareness beyond the self and into the world at large.
“San Ti” uses a different stance, wherein one foot is turned slightly outwards (30-35 degree angle) and the other foot is one to one-and-a-half foot lengths forward and in a straight position. This position is the classic “bow” stance of T’ai Chi and other Internal Arts. The weight of the body rests with about 70% on the back leg and 30% on the front. The arm that is on the same side of the body as the foot that is forward is extended straight ahead (elbow relaxed and not locked) with the palm facing toward the floor. (Right arm forward/right foot forward, for example.) The opposite hand is also palm down and placed near the inside of the elbow of the fully extended arm. The arm pits are open, and the old saying is to imagine holding eggs under the arms. After standing for a period on one side, then switch the feet and hands to stand with the other arm and foot forward. This Standing Meditation posture is ideal for building core strength and a solid foundation for stance and movement. It is the classic Standing Meditation technique for anyone interested in the martial side of the Internal Arts.
Most importantly, enjoy the feelings of being as present as possible: look inward to build awareness of body, breath, and mind; and be content in knowing that you are strengthening your body and deepening concentration and awareness.