Zhan Zhuang Made Easy

Standing Like a Tree

Standing Like a Tree is a very simple exercise. What you do is nothing more than maintaining a statical stance. It’s, however, so effective in building inner strength and vitality that martial arts practitioners have used it as a foundation for training over the centuries. 

The exercise is known initially as zhan zhuang, a Chinese word we may translate as “standing pole.” Zhan means to stand, and zhuang means a pole. 

As the name implies, what you do the exercise is to stand statically like a pole. But I like the name “standing like a tree” more. Instead of standing like a pole, I believe it helps better if you can stand like a tree. 

Why? Because a pole is lifeless, and a tree is full of vitality. Although a tree doesn’t move, its energy enables it to grow and stay robust.  

Of course, the tree is only an analogy. When you stand like a tree, you must, like a tree, be able to  absorb nutrients and water from somewhere to nourish the body. How do you do that to your body? 

Standing Like a Tree Qigong

It’s pretty straightforward. Align your body, stay soft and relaxed, and remain focused. 

To align your body, begin by getting the posture right. When the posture is correct, half the job is done. You’re ready to get your body to do the work. By staying relaxed, you will begin reaping the benefits of doing the exercise almost immediately.

The main objective of doing zhan zhuang is to allow the life force, known as qi, in your body to move smoothly. The qi energy to us is like water and nutrient to a tree. When you position the body correctly, it becomes as if an irrigation system in you, and the qi energy can flow naturally without your intervention.

To achieve a good stance, do the following:

  • Step 1: Stand upright, with the two feet parallel apart at shoulders; width, toes pointing forward.
  • Step 2: Align the two shoulders vertically with the two feet.
  • Step 3: Align the crown, the highest point of the head, to the bottom or perineum. Relax the spine. Your head is as if suspended from a string. Allow the chest to curve in slightly, rather than having a chest-up like a soldier.  
  • Step 4: Bend the two knees ever so slightly as if sitting on a high stool.
  • Step 5: Relax the two arms on both sides. But don’t grip it, leaving a gap in the armpits that each is enough to hold a ping-pong ball.
  • Step 6: Breathe softly, and enjoy the tranquility.

Step 3 to 5 are closely related, so let me explain how you can link them together. 

At the top of the head, there’s an acupuncture point known as bai hui (百会). It is, as the name implants, “the convergence of the hundred channels”. Let it align vertically with huiyin, an acupuncture point between the anus and genital. It is also known as the perineum.  

For many people, the two points don’t come to a natural alignment when they stand for. You often have to make some subtle adjustments for the alignment to happen. One of the ways to do it is to bring the bottom in as if sitting on a high chair.  

Stand in the manner mentioned above turns your body into an efficient irrigation system of the qi energy.

Zhan Zhuang – Nourish your Body with Qi

First, the foot is likened to be a spring, and the shoulder a well.

zhan zhuang yong quan

There is an acupuncture point known as a “bubbling spring”, or yongquan, on the sole, located approximately at the junction of the anterior and middle third of the sole (excluding toe). It is where the “water” is from. It is more or less like a door that allows energy to access your body. Don’t manipulate it, nevertheless. Just relax your foot, and the flow happens naturally. 

As mentioned earlier, the foot is vertically aligned to the shoulder when you’re doing Standing Like a Tree.  There’s another acupuncture point on each of the shoulders known as jianjing, as shown in the diagram.

Jian means shoulder, and jing means “water well.” As the name implies, when aligned with the bubbling spring acupuncture point below, it is poised to draw “water,” or energy, from the earth. The actual route that the energy travels is complex. However, as qigong practitioners, all we need to know is only its relationship with the energy source. As far as the traveling of the qi energy is concerned, jianjing is a transportation hub. It draws the life force from the earth, brings it to our head, and nourishes our entire body with it. As you can see, it’s like an irrigation system.  

In addition, when you align your crown with your bottom, they are connected to the kidneys. The kidneys are the part of our body that manages “water.” It is in control of the bladder, and it is also where the prenatal qi energy we inherited from birth is stored. Known as yuan qi, which we may translate as primordial qi energy, it is the very source of our life and must be properly preserved.  

Although we split what we do into steps, they integrate. When you bring in the bottom to align with the crown, naturally, your shoulders and feet are aligned. The irrigation system in your body is regulated to allow a smooth qi energy flow. 

Begin by standing for at least ten minutes, and build up gradually to 20 minutes or more. It is not uncommon for petitioners to stand for an hour.  

Your body will become warmer, and you’d feel that the qi energy is moving. Some of you may feel nothing. It’s pretty all right if this is the case. It takes time for the body to adjust itself. Do it consistently every day, and you’ll feel the effect more and more. 

About the Author

Tekson Teo has practiced qigong for more than four decades and is a disciple of an ancient tai chi lineage. His passion for Tao’s philosophy, for which he has written three books, allows him to dive deep into the qigong and tai chi practices. Being a management consultant for a substantial time, he is familiar with the modern world’s challenges, making his teaching practical and relevant. Tekson graduated from the University of London with BSc (Econ) Hon and Imperial College London with MBA and DIC.

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