Last night I did a zhan zhuang sequence that I used to practice roughly 5 yrs ago (wow… can’t believe it has been that long). This basically consists of 5 postures: (1) wuji, (2) hug the belly, (3) embrace balloon, (4) pushing uphill, and (5) standing in stream.
The first 3 postures were fine and done with very little difficulty as these are part of my ‘core’ set. However the ‘pushing uphill’ posture gave me quite a bit of difficulty. The posture basically consists of raising the hands to about eye level and turning the palms outward. I use the imagery of ‘pushing uphill’ because in my mind it resembles someone trying to push a boulder uphill. When I went into this posture, I instantly felt the tension arise within my shoulders, upper back and arms.
I couldn’t help but think about the Fong Ha seminar where he had mentioned taking a posture to work on cultivation, or something along those lines. One of the posture I had seen some of his long time students do was to raise the arms directly out in front of the shoulder with the palms facing each other. This was done with little to no curvature in the arms and is quite difficult to do for an extended period of time, yet some were able to hold the posture.
Anyhoo, back to cultivation. What does this really mean, “to cultivate”? One definition I ran across is “to foster the growth of … to improve by labor, care or study”. So I take this to mean that holding the posture, we can work on cultivation of our mind. But then I thought about how this sounds kind of close to “eating bitter” type of training because holding a posture that is quite painful is not very cultivating in my humble opinion. I was not comfortable and I did not feel good, yet I persisted in hopes to cultivate something. At this point, it’s safe to assume my understanding of cultivation is off and will require some time for the idea to sink in.
In fact, the tension did not really ease until I lowered my stance! At first I used to think this was kind of weird that I could lessen the tension in my upper body by lowering my stance. However, it does work (see Stand Like Sitting on a Chair for more)! I had asked Fong about this over dinner and he just nodded and said my body knows what to do and is adjusting itself by trying to redistribute the tension. I take this to mean my own body was tweaking itself to find the point of central equilibrium. I have spoken to other buddies about this and they seem to agree that sometimes lowering one’s stance in zhan zhuang can result in less tension in the upper body assuming that the kua is relaxed and the alignment is correct.
Speaking of alignment, I noticed I had to readjust my lower back pretty frequently during the 4th posture. I am assuming this is due to the height and elevation of my hands. To adjust my lower back, I basically pulled the tailbone down, thereby rounding out my lower back. Some people like to tuck, but that method does not work for me, the notion of elongating at both ends (head/tailbone) work best for me.
Additionally, I had to readjust my stance, somehow I must have shifted my feet to create a stance wider than shoulder width apart. I have been working on trying to keep the centerline of my foot aligned with outer edge of my shoulders. Previously, I had kept the inner edge of my foot aligned with my shoulders and I have had some correction about that, most recently being a little hand gesture from Fong indicating my feet are too wide 😉
After maybe a couple of minutes in the 4th posture, I lowered my hands to about waist level with my palms facing down and roughly 2 inches beyond my shoulder lines. This was a much needed posture as my back and shoulder tension was getting to me. With this posture, I imagine that I am standing in a fast moving stream and I am trying to keep myself upright and steady.
Overall, a good session. I felt good, happy and refreshed after the standing even after going through that bit of tension wreaking nuttiness. Character building.. 😉