You and Standing Practice

Standing practice is very personal, obviously. It is the purest expression of the Taoist principle that, “Everyone finds his own way.” Even compared to prayer there is nothing more intimate than standing. I have spent long hours standing and wondering why I was doing it. I have also spent time, inevitably short seconds, feeling that every instant of standing was validated and even rewarded. I guess the one thing we can all agree on—a generalization from Buddhist practice—is that when you are standing at least you are not getting into trouble, though I suspect this might not include Italian-American types who seem to be able to find trouble anywhere.

To really discuss this subject we must first decide how many courses we will consume, or at least attempt. On one end of the table spread we have authentic, bona fide meditation: that gentile cruise into the infinite aboard a very slow boat. Next to that we have standing practice that is meditative, immobile and focused, a sort of secular meditation. The range adjacent to that includes movement from the tiniest twitching to something resembling normal actions. Finally there is standing punctuated, literally, by hard fast movements such as occurs in Gold Bell Iron Body work, which is a standing practice but so vigorous a one that you might not recognize it as such.

I feel confident that if we talk about the middle road—neither meditation nor conditioning—we will strike the note that most people will find comfortable and possibly informative.

Standing practice comes in two basic colors: universal and particular. Most people are exposed to the universal first. It is that type of standing which, among martial arts instructors and qigong teachers, we say, “can’t hurt anyone.” Some of these are well known such as WuJiShi, standing with the arms looking like you are hugging a tree. These basic standing forms are pretty much for everyone. Once in a great while they do not work. For instance, if you have very low blood pressure WuJiShi should probably be replaced by something less immobile, a little more Yang movement, keeping you alert and attendant.

The other side of the coin is festooned with very specific, sometimes downright kinky, definitely different forms. As you might guess there is a potential problem here, just waiting for someone to call. The danger of being taught a wildly inappropriate form of Qigong is much increased. The danger of ending up with one of those fairly common Qigong quack teachers is very real. Why do these forms of standing even exist? Because they are generally the product of someone’s long term and very individual practice. Often they relate to specific diseases or psychological steps. In other words, they are supported by long term experience and very detailed customization by the practitioner and/or the teacher. In most cases, unless you are incredibly lucky, they are to be avoided with as much savvy strategy as you might use to evade the act of declaring your major in college until you are ready to do so.

Do not get the impression that the “universal” bin has slim pickings. On the contrary, there are many practices with a whole regimen. Yi Quan is particularly endowed; being a late addition to martial arts, it culled from many sources and developed its own spectrum of possibilities.

Yang style Tai Ji Quan also has a good variety of standing training. There are also some outstanding Wu Dang regimens, some with a single posture (that can be varied to suit) and others with a small cycle of postures such as the Five Elements series. The famous Five Animals of Doctor Hua Tuo, which predated the Shaolin Five Animals by centuries, is interesting because in at least one incarnation it starts as a standing exercise and morphs into a series of movements as the practitioner does deeper and deeper.

So there is a big buffet from which we can choose whatever strikes our fancy. But should we? Indigestion can be a very cruel teacher. It might be a moment to introduce a little reflection here. I suggest a self-interview that will take only a moment and might save you years of stifled tears.

1.  How are you on immobility? Some standing methods demand you remain fixed for periods of time. Believe it or not, some people find this as comforting as a warm bath. Others would rather be flayed and sautéed. One can of course develop a palate for this and just about anything  (except mother-in-law jokes) but do you want to actually enlist yourself in such an uphill campaign? If you don’t have a choice in the matter you can at least benefit from recognizing your initial limitations and non-acting accordingly.

2.   What is your intention? You may want to overcome depression, strengthen your body, develop your martial skills, resolve childhood trauma and stop smoking, but it’s a little much to tackle before the ball is snapped. Too little introspection or preparation can confuse the issue and cloud your intent.

3.  What do you believe? It’s not enough to believe in “some kind of energy.” In fact you don’t have to believe in ANY kind of energy. It might even be more beneficial to have no expectations. Fewer upfront ‘beliefs’ might bring greater effects from the standing itself.

SOME BASICS ANSWERS

A simple standing practice can lay down enough basics for future rewards. Standing is about relaxing, keeping to the structure, controlling breath and focusing your mind. Since we all have physical bodies we must start with posture. And this is good advice. Put all your intention into the actual structure of the standing. There will be a wealth of information there for you. The other thing to do is keep your intent fresh and strong.

For a martial artist, the standing should have some of the following points:

1.     It should have a mental focus, whether watching trees in the distance (Yi Quan) or bringing qi to some spot on the body (Golden Bell).

2.     The stance and structure should be solid. Some standing practices are too shallow to secure real benefits. Make sure you are seeking a strong shape and do your best to create that.

3.     There should be some mobility. Standing can create Yang energy. For an underfed monk sitting eight hours a day, Yang energy can invigorate even the passive. For martial artists living full lives out in the world, the standing practice should allow them to adjust if the rise of Yang energy brings discomfort.

4.     Do not stand because  you have heard it is a great idea. Standing should be almost scientific, at least experimental. Periodically check on your own progress, but also keep track of what you have learned. Even keep a notebook. There is an amazingly small amount of information about the experience of standing. I strongly advise you to be in control, noting changes, following down leads, altering and modifying your practice to encourage more and more feelings, whether definable or not. Standing quiets the noise but also turns up the volume on the kind of information we spend our lives ignoring. Standing practice will make changes in you regardless of your philosophy. In fact, too much interpretation, too many visualizations, too much baggage from other belief systems can erect an unscalable wall between you and the fruits of your experience.

 

Resources:
Yi Quan Stake Standing and Testing Force DVD 10122
Very detailed instruction not only for standing, but also for testing the force built.

Taijiquan Fundamentals: Standing and Qigong DVD 25032
A demonstration of nine core postures for Tai Chi practice, though they are general enough to be adapted to other arts. The second half of the DVD has 21 “dynamic” Qigong exercises meant to enhance skill.

 Wen Sheng Kung Fu Qigong VCD 742
Wen Shang is an old style. This Chinese only presentation shows postures with massage-like inducements from the hands. An interesting document, at the very least, if for no other reason than many of these exercises are quite similar to Yi Quan.

Taoist Hua Shan Qigong Part #1 DVD 25051
36 circles form part one of this “Qi washing” series. Not so much standing as slight movements. Some WuDang practitioners emphasize continual movement, even if microscopic, over actual immobility.

Wu Dang Night Traveler Five Elements VCD 645
No real “standing” but the entire Qigong practice can be done from the horse stance with a continual wave like motion. Though in Chinese only this set is fairly self explanatory and also somewhat intense.

Da Cheng Quan Stand Piling DVD 11306
Most of this DVD is devoted to simple two-hand standing but then goes into details and applications, some of them quite vigorous such as when the teacher’s disciple attacks him. The Yi Quan perspective that emphasizes fighting application of standing skill.

Wu Wei Qigong DVD 25036
These five classic  postures focus on moving the energy to specific parts of the body. Besides preparatory exercises, George Xu shows us Heaven-Earth Qi gathering, and meditation positions. Authentic, yet not so advanced as to pose real difficulties.

LiuHe Ba Fa Standing Forms VCD1328 or DVD 11328
Though independent, the LHBF standing looks a little like a cross between Taiji and Yi Quan standing. There are historical reasons that LHBF might be influenced in this manner. Stances first, then slowly added movement. Single, soft repeated actions which could be interpreted statically or dynamically.

WuDang Pure Yang Health Practice VCD 465
Not a lot of stationary work but a series of exercises with a strong emphasis on Tan Tian work. Small motions and internal circles. An older type of Qigong with mostly dynamic movements and static energy. Chinese only.

Bagua Standing Practice DVD10131
Vigorous with both static and dynamic forms. This DVD also has a form comprised of stationary postures. There is a flavor of Bagua with its twisting. Standing seen essentially from a martial angle. Three levels, the top one rather advanced.

Yi Quan Piling for Life DVD 10926
Another Yi Quan teacher, this one with a lifetime of experience. The main emphasis here is the basic upright standing but with very interesting and natural warm ups and variations such as seated positions and loose movements to create spontaneous energy.

One Response to “You and Standing Practice”

  1. patrick says:

    Excellent article. I remember in ROTC the SGT. would make unruly cadets stand holding the M1 rifle out with both arms at arm’s length for a period of time. Hmmmm. Better than push ups? Come late to martial arts class? Go to the corner and stand “Ma Bu” and face the wall. So, I guess people have a “love/hate” relationship with it.
    Wife come home early? Stand very still, be very, very quiet….
    So there are survival uses =D

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