Zhan Zhuang Adjustments

I remember the first time I was shown the zhan zhuang posture in class. The teacher basically told us to try and relax and he would come around and adjust our postures so our back was straight. That is, the line from the tail bone to the top of the head was perpendicular to the ground.

Then a couple of years later, I began Chen training and we were told to get into the zhan zhuang posture. No sweat, I thought. I was pretty confident in my abilities as I was able to do zhan zhuang for roughly 40 mins so I must be in correct posture. Well, after the teacher saw he, he cocked his head back a bit, curled his lip and then proceeded to adjust me.

One of the first adjustments he did was poke his fingers into the area where my legs joined with my torso. This is an adjustment often seen in Chen taiji workshops and it basically causes one to “sink into the kua” while also slightly elongating the tailbone portion.

The next adjustment he did was take his palm and push it against my chest, while at the same time keeping his hand on the back of my tail bone so I would not lose the previous adjustment. At first this felt kind of strange because it felt as if my chest was collapsed and I was almost hunched over.

While he was pushing my chest and keeping my tailbone extended, I noticed upon finishing I was in a slightly forward posture. That is, the line from my tailbone to the top of my head WAS NOT perpendicular to the ground. For example, perpendicular means a 90 degree angle from the ground. Instead, I was more around an 80-85 degree angle. It felt REALLY REALLY weird.

So, in the end, it feels he made the following adjustments: (1) Sink into Kua, causing a slight backward adjustment of the hips, (2) Relax the Chest, causing a slight forward adjustment of the torso, and (3) Maintain straightness in the line from the tailbone to the top of the head.

After class, I approached the instructor and mentioned I thought we were supposed to have a straight back in zhan zhuang posture. He then asked me, “Was your back not straight?  Straight does not necessarily mean 90 degree angle perpendicular to the ground.”

WHOA!! This basically changed everything I knew or thought I knew about taiji. But is this type of adjustment wrong, as noted by Martial Development: Do You Make this Zhan Zhuang Mistake?  Maybe I’m not quite understanding the “wrongness”.  After looking at some Yang Style Posture Pics put up by ZenMindSword, I can see this type of adjustment on the forms of Fu Shengyuan and Dong Hulin. 

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About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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10 Responses to Zhan Zhuang Adjustments

  1. chenquestion says:

    Hi WM, I was quite interested to see this topic! I’m suffering a little lower back pain for the first time in quite a while – guess I overdid something(s) – so posture and alignment is a problem for me right now. But I don’t see any problem with what you describe here.

    Sounds to me like you had more or less mastered “basic” ZZ. Forty minutes, that’s marathon training unless you’re going for out for advanced Shaolin. So your Chen teacher simply saw a need to challenge you with refinements. A little tailbone tuck. Depress (or relax) the chest. Thus guard against any swayback, and employ a little “C” back or “extend back”, enhancing practical form.

    I read the Martial Development post. I think he is just warning not to compensate for any aspect of overall posture by moving any SINGLE part of one’s body. Look at the “Fuhuzhang” pic he posted (great-looking posture, I love it!). No perpendicular there, that’s for sure. Even the more standard ZZ pic that precedes it, has an aspect of leaning back to balance the full, raised “balloon” arms. I’m sure he posted these two pics for a reason, not to show mistakes, but to show balanced, effective postures.

    If I raise my arms for Holding the Ball I simply sink and root a little more. There’s no worry of “toppling over” as MD referred to it. But then, my arms aren’t very heavy! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    The ZZ results you’ve written about in the past, sound like you’re doing quite well. To me, 90 degrees is a nice theoretical benchmark but somehow doesn’t feel like a natural thing to “hold on to tightly” in TJQ. I don’t even worry too much about perpendicular shin bone in form postures, it’s nice to be close to there but I have to go with what my body tells me is right for that moment… or perhaps that I need to experiment a little to find out what’s not right/not working. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. You are giving me too much credit. I added those pictures of Yao because they are cool, not necessarily because they illustrate my point. ๐Ÿ™‚

    The point I hoped to make is that a relaxed, effortless feeling does not prove your posture is optimal or correct.

  3. wujimon says:

    @CQ:
    My first taiji teacher noted to get benefits from zhan zhuang, do 40 mins a day. After he said this, I worked very hard through A LOT OF GRUELING PAIN to hit the 40 min mark. After I could hit the time, I worked on trying to relax and sink into the stance to make the time a bit more enjoyable. Now, I don’t do 40 mins, but it’s roughly around 15 mins. I may bump up to around 25 mins in the future, but time is a precious commodity.

    As for the toppling, the first time I received detailed corrections to sink into my kua, I felt like I was going to fall backwards! It may sound easy, but try sinking into one’s kua with the knee facing toes and the knee not going beyond one’s instep.

  4. wujimon says:

    @MD:
    I agree with your point and had that demonstrated on me by my chen teacher. I was able to do 40 mins pretty easily prior to chen but after corrections, it became really difficult but then I hit this weird point where all pain and soreness just went away. It felt like I was floating in my stance and could hold it forever. I’ve only gotten this feeling of strong, floating rootedness like 4 times. I remember the first time I felt it during chen repulse monkey I was shocked! I felt like a mountain!

  5. zenmindsword says:

    and yet because of the generally accepted methods of doing things the ability to truly walk like a cat through the form is absolutely positively missing! slay buddha when you see him on the road!!!

  6. chenquestion says:

    Hi WM, Hope I didn’t come across as flippant about ZZ work. I like to think I’ve accomplished something in this area, but – I have not had the corrections. You’ve had corrections by CXW himself no less and I’ve read in several blogs that he takes the student all the way out of comfort zone into “almost collapse” – but then if you hang in there you reach a new level of Qi experience.

    I never went beyond 20 mins. of Holding the Ball, with a full-length mirror and my body sensations as my only feedback. It wasn’t particularly easy, and I don’t believe I could do more than that without considerably higher stance. But once again, no one was adjusting my posture – or even watching me! Thanks again for your posts about solo practice, which are always informative.

  7. wujimon says:

    @ZMS:
    I believe zhan zhuang assists in the development and understanding of one’s own central equilibrium. Yiquan then has shili exercises that address movement. I feel these would better address the notion of “walk like a cat” than commonly seen yiquan standing meditation postures.

    @CQ: Regarding corrections by CXW, yes, I’ve seen instances where students receiving corrections have collapsed due to muscle fatigue, but this is not my cup of tea. I don’t believe in pushing the body that hard and will stop before reaching that point, but I will venture a bit ‘into the burn’ b/c I’m nutty like that ๐Ÿ™‚

    If it takes a higher stance to do 20 mins, then I think it’s telling you something. Try holding a higher stance, perhaps with a 20 degree bend instead of 45-90 degree bend in the knees. I actually feel it’s harder at a higher stance. It may sound funny, but give it a try. In a higher stance, we address more of the mental work as we don’t have the physical pain work distracting our minds ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Bev says:

    In relation to the mistake described by Martial Development in the transition from wuji zhuang stance into cheng bao zhuang (โ€™Embracing the Ballโ€™ Stance), can the apparent discrepancy be caused because you are assuming that Martial Development is implying that these two stances should be done at 90 degrees. Perhaps Martial development is saying that they should both done at 85 degrees (but with a straight back). The point they are emphasising could be that we need to avoid changing that straight back, 85 degree position and instead take the strain on our legs.

  9. Pingback: Wujifa Zhan Zhuang Alignment | wujimon taiji blog

  10. wujimon says:

    Hi Bev. My understanding of zhan zhuang has changed quite a bit over the past 2 yrs (as of the above posting). For some more current information, check out Wujifa Zhan Zhuang Alignment. You're right in that zhan zhuang doesn't necessarily have to be done with the back at a 90 degree angle from the ground. However, there is much more to zhan zhuang than just a straight back ๐Ÿ˜‰ Read the post linked above for more ๐Ÿ˜‰

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