While doing zhan zhuang exercises, you can use various imaginations, which will help you in achieving the state of relax, comfort and feeling elastic force. You don't need to try to learn and master many various images. These are only a tool which you can use if they are really helpful. So use them according to actual needs.
Various methods can be more or less useful for various people. Everybody knows himself/herself and knows what helps him/her in become relaxed. According to this personal knowledge, appropriate imaginations or suggestions can be chosen.
For example, if it is easy for you to relax while you are listening to some specific piece of music, you can think about hearing this music, trying to remember how you usually feel when you are listening to it. You don't need and you should not think about it all the time. Just use it as a tool, when there is need. When you achieve result, don't stick to the method.
If you felt relaxed and comfortable in some place or situation, just try to remember it. If you get this feeling or relax and comfort, you don't need to think about the place or situation all the time. Just focus on perceiving the state of relax and comfort.
Don't think about exercise as something you must do, but something which you find pleasant. Zhan zhuang is training while resting, resting while training. For example you can think that you are having a stroll in a park, being pleasantly relaxed, in good mood. You are watching beautiful views, enjoying the sound of birds singing and scent of flowers. During the stroll you are casually assuming some posture, because you feel like it, because you find the posture comfortable. While standing you are relaxed, feeling soft, elastic unity of whole body. Slight breeze is moving your hair, your clothes. You are feeling so relaxed and soft, that air is as if moving through pores in your skin.
You can imagine that you are taking shower. Water drops are falling on your body and slowly flowing down are massaging your body slightly. Imagine that your body becomes so much relaxed, that water is able to permeate through it, as if through a sponge, dissolving all tension inside.
Or imagine that your body is as if floating in water, and you don't need any effort to keep posture. Water is moving slightly, massaging your body and moving it. Breath is flowing freely and naturally. You can imagine that your body is like a sponge, water permeating through it, dissolving all tensions which appear.
These are only some examples of images or suggestions, which you can use. Remember that it is not about visualizing in literary meaning. Trying to visualize these situations for longer time could make you tired and more tense.
The most basic images should be seen more like some slight hints, helping to remember some states which you know, at least to some extent. You are evoking the already known states of relax by thinking about situation in which you felt the state (or thinking about similar situation).
Do you remember how wonderfully relaxed you felt admiring the waterfall in mountains, when you were on vacation? You can try to remember it or to imagine similar situation.
Don't try hard to visualize, but just casually use some image/hint which helps you to relax. If you have not experienced relax in such situation, simply don't stick to using this image if it is not working for you.
In case of more advance mind activity, the relation between image and actual state may not be very direct. It can be related not to you own experience, but to some images or phenomena about which you know or your have some idea about them. This way you are gradually discovering new states.
When you imagine standing under shower, with water drops flowing not only on surface of your body but also permeating through it as if through a sponge, you are linking the state of relax which you know with image of water permeating through a sponge, which helps you to extend this feeling deeper into inside of your body, to deeper layers of you muscles.
When you do relaxing exercises in standing postures, you can put both wrists on your hips or buttocks area on both sides of your body. It will be easy to relax your shoulders and arms in such position. Elbows are pointing outward. This posture is better than the one with arms hanging loosely, especially when you do it for longer time, because you can avoid too much pressure on sides of your ribs cage.
This is called resting posture. You can use it, when you feel too tired to continue more demanding exercises. After some time of rest you can move back to other exercises.
If keeping standing posture for longer time is difficult for you, you can use sitting variant. You can sit on edge of a chair or deeper, leaning against back of the chair, depending which is more comfortable for you. This is a simple modification of standing posture. Feet are still at shoulder width distance, toes pointing slightly outward. Torso naturally straight. You should feel relax and comfort. You can use any kind of images or mental hints which help you to achieve the state of relax.
If you are very tired, you can lie down on a bed or on the floor, or on a lawn, and do the exercise. Legs are naturally straightened, feet shoulder width apart. You will probably need to put something under your head, to keep the right position of your head in relation to whole body (like in standing posture). Put your arms on both sides of your body. If it will not feel comfortable, you can put something under your arms. In this position it will be possible to relax your body more than in any other posture. Thanks to experiencing the feeling of such complete relax, it will be easier for you to get rid of excessive tension in other exercises.
In this exercise you can use image that your body is not lying on a bed or other surface, but is as if floating in the air or in water (only face is above water, so you can breathe).
The general term qigong embraces many various methods. Through long history of China these exercises has been being created and developed in various circles. So we can says about systems of Taoists, Buddhists, Confucians, shamans, medical circles or martial artists. All those methods have common points, but also specific characteristics, typical for some branches. The ultimate goal of practice can be different. Sometimes it is seeking harmony with nature or spiritual development, sometimes cultivating health and well being or medical therapy. In some cases it is aimed at developing supernatural abilities. In other it should help to develop attributes and abilities needed in combat.
Among many traditional Chinese systems, which today are called qigong, some stressed movement, so they were called donggong (moving exercises), other concentrated on meditative practices in fixed positions, so they were called jinggong (static exercises). With time, the tendency of using both donggong andjinggong in one system started prevailing.
The early moving exercises were called daoyin. This name has meaning of leading or directing. One interpretation is that these exercises were based on leading body movement by mind. Another that it was about using body movements to lead qi in specific ways.
In old texts there also appears a term tuna - this is another of traditional forms of practice, now classified as a form of qigong. Tuna means breathing exercises. Sometimes it is said that qigong means breathing exercises, but this is of course too big simplification.
Yunqi (moving qi) was about using intention to direct the flow of qi to specific parts of body in order to achieve expected results.
There were also minggong and xinggong. Minggong ("life exercises ") were more about body, its proper functioning from the point of view of traditional concepts. Xinggong ("nature exercises" or "character exercises") were more about mind. Meditative practices of chan (zen) Buddhism were close to Taoist xinggong.
Exercises were also divided into groups of waidangong (external elixir exercises) and neidangong (internal elixir exercises). Originally waidan and neidan were terms related to alchemy of immortality. Seeking for external elixir was just seeking for elixir of immortality, a substance which would give external life. And neidan exercises were to create the elixir inside body. Gradually tradition of external elixir as a miraculous substance which would give immortality vanished, because many experiments ended with the alchemist's death (but these experiments helped to develop Chinese pharmacology). Gradually the alchemistic terminology of neidangong was transferred to Taoist practices of spiritual development. And the term waidangong is now sometimes used in relation to these qigong exercises which don't belong to Taoist neidangong.
Later systems usually mixed together various forms of practice. Static and moving exercises, xinggong and minggong, neidan and waidan, daoyin, tuna and yunqi were used inside one system. In daoyin moving exercises, controlled breathing was used, qi was directed by intention, and mind had to be clear like in meditative exercises.
Presently qigong exercises are practiced mainly with goal of cultivating and improving health. They can be used not only to prevent health problems, to keep well being and cultivate vital energy, but also as means of therapy used against many illnesses. Both traditional methods and new methods based on traditional ones are used. In therapy exercises created in medical circles, based on theories of traditional Chinese medicine are most often used (yijia qigong - medical qigong). But methods developed in other circles (e.g. by martial artists) also demonstrate very good effects in therapy and as health cultivating practices suitable for most people.
There are some systems, which are not designed to treat specific problem, but to positively affect whole body. Such systems are the right choice for most people who want to improve health condition and stay healthy until old. The main idea of these systems is to regain and keep natural harmony of organism which is basis of its ability of resisting illnesses. Zhan zhuang is one of such methods.
Apart from such methods for everybody, there are some special exercises to use for patients with specific illnesses. Such exercises should be chosen and supervised by an experienced doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. The choice of exercises depends on situation of specific patient - his body condition, kind of illness (according to theory of Chinese medicine) and stage of therapy. This is called qigong therapy (qigong liaofa).
Although the term qigong literary means qi exercises, many methods which are not based on the qi concepts are presently classified as qigong. These methods can be accepted by people who are not convinced by traditional Chinese theories. Zhan zhuang belongs to such systems.
Instead of the concept of qi, so called three adjustments (san tiao) is what constitutes qigong in this broader meaning. Three adjustments are: adjusting body (tiao shen), adjusting breath (tiao xi) and adjusting mind (tiao xin - literary: adjusting heart).
Tiao shen is related to body position and movements. From this point of view, exercises can be divided into: static, moving and mixing static and moving methods. Stress is usually put on relaxation - getting rid of unnecessary tension.
Tiao xi encompasses various breathing methods. But it should be pointed out that in some methods (e.g. zhan zhuang) there is no stress on controlling breath, but rather on free, natural breathing.
Tiao xin is about mind activity. Stabilizing spirit (ding shen), eliminating disturbing thoughts (paichu zanian), entering tranquility (ru jing), are the basic points. Various imaginations, mental suggestions, focusing on external objects or points inside body, shifting point of focus (e.g. along acupuncture channels) and many other forms of mind activity can be used, depending on specific qigong method.
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In previous chapter we talked about some examples of mind activity, which can be used in zhan zhuang practice to help you to achieve or to deepen the state of relax. You probably noticed that these methods not only help you to relax but at the same time to get rid of too many disturbing thoughts.
But sometimes you can use some specific kinds of mind activity, main goal of which is to help you to calm down, to get rid of disturbing thought, to focus.
If it is difficult for you to concentrate, because there are too many disturbing and distracting thoughts, related for example to some problems in work, at home, you can try to get some mental distance to those thoughts. For example, you can imagine that you are on vacation somewhere far away, like a beautiful lagoon at south Pacific - there are palms around, beautiful beaches, azure sea - you really enjoy being there, forgetting about everyday problems and distracting thoughts.
Don't concentrate on visualizing, but on the state of tranquility and focus, which you want to achieve, and which you should know already, at least to some extent. You probably remember about when you went on vacation, and after a few days you had forgotten about everyday problems, your mind totally occupied with what you were doing at the moment.
Sometimes, when it is difficult to get rid of too much distracting thoughts, you can use a method which is called "attracting thoughts". Imagine that you are like a fire, and thoughts "circling around your head" are like dry leaves falling down from a tree and circling around the fire. If some leaf comes to close to the fire, it will burn to ashes. If you will notice some strong, disturbing thought, think about it as a leaf which is burning in fire.
Or you could imagine that you are in water, like in previous chapter. Imagine that water is permeating through your body as if through a sponge and is dissolving not only tension in your body but also any strong, disturbing thoughts. Just think about this for a moment, when you notice that some thought is becoming too strong and moves your attention away from the exercise.
Don't try to fight hard with the disturbing thoughts. Usually it would only make you more tense, and even more distracting thoughts would appear. Try rather to be indifferent or a bit indulgent toward those thoughts. This way the thoughts will gradually diminish and will not disturb your practice. If you are able to keep focus on the exercise, on what is important in it, even if sometimes there appear some thoughts about something different, don't worry about it too much. But if some thought has became so strong, that you forgot about the exercise, when you finally notice that it happened, just focus again on the exercise and the disturbing thought will become weaker and will disappear eventually.
Original meaning of the word meditation was close to thinking, pondering, considering. But now when we say meditation, usually it is some methods of mental practices which come from Far East. In most cases there is some focusing and tranquilizing mind. And often the common points of various kinds of meditation are limited to this.
These methods actually were developed in various circles, they are related to various philosophies and religions or sects inside those religions. There are different principles, different methods and different goals. Just using the word meditation doesn't explain everything.
Sometimes there are people who come to learn yiquan or zhan zhuang, they start working with tranquilizing and focusing mind, and learn other forms of mental practices of yiquan, and then they ask questions like: „ Why don't we practice meditation? Even karate trainings start and finish with meditation. Why in yiquan we don't do meditation?"
Many readers will not believe that there could be people asking such absurd questions. Unfortunately there are really many people of this kind. This is really funny, that if you don't use the word meditation, when you don't actually tell people: "And now you start meditating", they will not be able to notice that tranquility andfocus are stressed all the time, that mind is engaged in all exercises. They are only occupied with use of some words which are presently in vogue.
Stand in natural position, with feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing slightly outward. Torso in straight, vertical position, knees slightly bent. Relax, try to keep pleasant, a bit joyful mood. This mood can be expressed by a slight smile. Mouth is slightly open, but you should breath rather through nose. Upper and lower teeth are almost touching each other, but they should not be clenched. You can imagine that you are keeping some very thin piece of gum between your teeth, not using too much force. Tip of your tongue is behind your teeth, slightly curved toward palate.
Raise your arms, your palms at navel or lower abdomen level, insides of palms directed upward. Remember not to raise your shoulders. Elbows pointing outward, arms as if embracing some big ball, palms as if supporting it from below.
Keeping this position needs some more effort than if your arms are hanging loosely or are supported like in resting posture. But we still are talking about relax. Not about being completely loose and slack, but about relaxation as eliminating tension and effort which is not necessary in a given situation.
Usually, when people hear about relax, they think about being completely loose. But you should realize that this is not the meaning of relax which is used in zhan zhuang method, or in taijiquan (tai chi). It doesn't mean being completely loose. In most cases this is kind of mental feeling of relax together with elimination of tension which is excessive in a given situation, which is not necessary or even could be harmful from point of view of doing some action.
To help with achieving the right state of relax, comfort and slight elastic force at the same time, you can use some images, mental suggestions, hints.
Imagine that you are so tall, that you are reaching ceiling with your head. You are touching the ceiling lightly with top of your head, not pressing too hard. While keeping this feeling, think that there is some elastic stick just below your buttocks, and you are as if lightly sitting on it. This pressure should be light, so the stick doesn't break. Because you are keeping the slight intention of touching ceiling with your head and as if trying to sit down at the same time, your body is naturally straight, and at the same time you feel stable. There should not be too much tension in it. Breathing should flow freely, naturally.
Your wrists and elbows are as if resting lightly on some props or maybe on balls floating on surface of water. Of course you will not be able to relax your arms to the extent which would be possible if those props or balls were really there, but this kind of imagination should be helpful in eliminating too much tension.
Imagine that you are embracing a big balloon inside your arms. You are keeping it lightly. Your arms should not be completely loose. Think that you can feel the elastic surface of the balloon (you probably had chance to keep a balloon or a big ball in your arms, so it should be easy to remember this kind of feeling, and evoke it in your body). If you press a bit too hard, the balloon will break, but if you relax too much, you will lose the feeling of slight elastic force.
Imagine that you are keeping two very small balloons under your armpits. Don't let them fly away, but also don't press too much, because they could break. So here there should be the same kind of light, comfortable, elastic force.
Imagine that you are keeping a balloon between your knees in exactly the same way.
Thanks to such images, suggestions, hints, it will be easier to achieve the state of relax, which is not about being completely loose in all parts of your body. Don't concentrate too much on one part. You can start from some parts, but you should try to develop this state and feeling in your whole body, as if your body was inside a big block of gum - you will feel elastic tension from each direction, and gradually you start feeling your body as something elastic, as if it was one with this block of gum.
This state is related to some slight activation of all muscles (but the deeper layers of muscles, closer to bones are more engaged - hence the saying of "iron wrapped in cotton" in internal arts). This way you are avoiding too much tension, but at the same time the "structure" is not based only on skeleton, you are avoiding too much tension on the working surfaces of joints. You can feel some "relax of joints". This is completely different from normal standing.
You can also try a sitting variant. Sit on edge of a chair, or deeper (you can lean against back of the chair). This posture is just a simple modification of standing version. Feet are still shoulder width apart, slightly pointing outward. Torso naturally straight. You should feel the same kind of comfortable relaxed force in your body. You can use the same images, as when practicing standing posture.
If your feel tiredness or pain in your shoulders, you can put your wrists on your thighs, and let your arms and shoulders relax more.
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