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Exercise to Calm the Body and Mind

posted 13 Dec 2019, 11:12 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 16 Jan 2020, 02:46 ]

When you stand, you are like a tree 

You are growing from within;

Your feet, like roots, draw power from the earth 

Your body, like the trunk, is perfectly aligned 

You are unmoving, strong 

Your head open to the heavens like the crown of the tree 

You rest calmly, the universe within your mind 

(Master Lam Kam Chuen)

Zhan Zhuang, is an ancient exercise developed in China. It is pronounced “Jan Jong”, and is best translated as “Standing like a Tree”. It is practised in a well-balanced standing posture, holding the arms in front of the body in a rounded position, which increases the flow of energy and builds up internal strength. It can also be done in sitting or lying positions. The standing posture greatly develops the strength of the legs and is the most fundamental exercise in Taiji. It builds up and releases an extraordinary flow of natural energy that is dormant within us. For most people, training in Zhan Zhuang is a complete surprise in the beginning. There are no recognisable external movements, although it is a highly energetic exercise system. In contrast to many other methods, it develops our internal energy in a very efficient way, instead of consuming it. The system is based on a unique fusion of relaxation and exertion which stimulates, cleanses and massages the whole body. When the legs are strong, then the upper body can relax and sink down into them, making the top more flexible. This seemingly simple exercise also improves postural alignment and balance, and develops acute body awareness, deeper breathing and a tranquil mind.

With regards to the importance of proper posture in Taiji, an old Chinese medical text states, ‘When posture is not proper, energy is not smooth; when energy is not smooth, mind is not stable’. Even the smallest point of posture can make a big difference in how smoothly the energy circulates through the body during practice, and this in turn determines how energy influences the mind. Conversely, if the mind is not stably balanced prior to practice, energy will not flow smoothly through the system, and this in turn will throw posture off balance. For most people, it’s much easier to start by balancing the body rather than the mind, therefore, establishing proper posture in the body is the first step. In Taiji and Qigong, posture is the foundation upon which a strong, stable practice is built.

For many of us, bad postures have simply become bad habits. Zhan Zhuang creates a state of being which helps to “unlearn” all these bad habits and to return to a natural, comfortable and healthy posture. In time, we become able to apply the structural principles in all the chores of our daily lives. Through the practise of Zhan Zhuang we are able to take advantage of our whole potential-physically, mentally and spiritually-without becoming exhausted. This is achieved in a completely natural way without the need for fighting ourselves. Enjoy the process and let your practise be your rest.

This photo of grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang, calmly waiting for the kettle to boil, was captured by a lady whose house he was staying at in Seattle. It really sums up what I say to everyone in my classes, - ‘practicing for 5 minutes here and there really pays off’.

Click image to Enlarge

As the classes draw to a close for 2019 I would like to thank you all for your fantastic support and enthusiasm throughout the year. It has been wonderful to see so many friendships being made through the learning and sharing of Taiji. Special thanks to Sally, Kerry and Garry for stepping up to help the groups of new people take the first steps on the journey-from the feedback received they appreciate it as much as I do! My thanks to Kerry for also keeping the website up and running.

Wishing you all a Happy Winter Solstice and peaceful New Year