I went through a stage three years ago where I was deeply interested in Qigong training. I found much of what I read interesting and motivating and though my interest didn't last for more than a year, or go very deep into these ancient Chinese art forms, there was one thing I took away from what I had learned, and still practice today.
Zhan Zhuang is often translated as “standing like a tree.”
Trees offer an excellent analogy for meditation, for they grow very still for many years, and yet their lives are extended by this stillness, while humans are very active and die much sooner. The “logic” behind the analogy is that if we are more like trees, a little stiller, a little more centered, we may live longer than we would have if we went about as wild men and women.
A key principle of Qigong is that qi is lost by excessive movement. So to sit still, to slow and deepen the breath, and to conserve sexual energy (for men) is to keep more of our natural qi and to reinvigorate both body and mind.
So to practice Zhan Zhuang is to stand like a tree, a bit rigid in that the body does not move, but in a state of relaxation so that the muscles do not tense up and the arms, legs, and core can maintain the pose for more than a few minutes.
I have not personally encountered a more powerful meditation. Ten minutes of standing in Zhan Zhuang is as good, if not better, for clearing my mind, relaxing my body, and instilling in me confidence, than sitting for an hour in Zazen (seated meditation).
Zhan Zhuang is a very challenging exercise. It is not passive like sitting meditation. It is active like Yoga, but Zhan Zhuang requires a greater mental fortitude. To stand seemingly against the body which wants to quit, ignoring shaking limbs and the bored mind.
Because of this, I have always found a greater focus and concentration while practicing Zhan Zhuang than I have had practicing Zazen or Yoga. The pain is a catalyst for the spiritual and mystical mind. I have flirted with great clarity and deep insights after only twenty or thirty minutes of standing, and yet the practice takes an incredible will-power to maintain day after day.
It seems that with it I can approach the door of the mysterious, only to be turned away by my own distractions. I never give up, even if I don't practice for weeks at a time. I always return, spurred on by my initial interest in Qigong to discover something more than myself.
So I continue toward mastery of one of the most difficult meditations.
There are some very interesting and informative resources across the internet concerning Zhan Zhuang. Just Googling it reveals a growing interest in this meditation. Martial artists seem especially fond of it because of the promise of strength.
Master Lam Kam Chuen has a series on Youtube called “Stand Still, Be Fit.” He details Zhan Zhuang over the course of a ten videos, each around 11 minutes long. His book “The Way of Energy” is an excellent compliment to the video series.
Stand Still, Be Fit
Below are three informative articles detailing different points of view of Zhan Zhuang.
Try it. Incorporate Zhan Zhuang into your current practice. Use it to discover God, strength, or inner peace. See what happens; even if it's just to see if you can!