Standing with Purpose

Standing Practice, also know as Standing the Stake, Jam Jong, Zhuan Zhuang, etc. is utilized by many martial arts and healing modalities to develop connectivity and increase energy flow.

The so-called hugging the tree posture is probably what most people think of when it comes to Standing, it may also be the posture that is most often practiced.  Ideally Standing is exercise, energy work and self-defense training combined into one.

Unfortunately Standing can also be frustrating, painful and boring as hell.

When I first learned Standing from my teacher, Master Cheuk Fung, I certainly experienced all three.  My first class was probably the worst.  After a few minutes my shoulders started to hurt, then my legs were shaking and I began sweating like a pig.  It seemed to go on forever and nobody else in the class seemed to mind.

Eventually I came to realize that every time a new student started we would have an extended session of Jam Jong.  I think Sifu used it as a way to feel out the newbie, see if they could hack it.  More than once they never returned for another class!

Overtime I came to realize that Standing is not so much a practice as a platform to practice.  In any given session how we stand is a function of our purpose, what we are trying trying to achieve.  Once we achieve something we can move on to the next challenge and then the one after that.

Its a process.  Our practice needs to evolve.  Its not about how long we can do it, how much we can endure.  Its not about waiting for something to happen but actively seeking out change.  Change manifests as new feelings, new sensations and new insights.

Here are some tools that have helped me along the way.  Perhaps they can help you too.

Get Moldy

Take your preferred posture.

Feelize that the air that surrounds you solidifies in place.  Every square inch of your skin is covered, trapping you inside the mold.  While you can’t move you can create pressure inside of it by expanding and leveraging off of the entire surface area.

Scan around you body and make sure every inch is participating, even your earlobes join in.  Move your awareness by purposely feeling each body part and how it relates the feeling of pressure.

Work to separate the feeling of pressure from excess tension in the body.  The pressure should be smooth, even over the entire surface area.  Breath deep and release excess tension without letting go of the feeling of pressure.

Take note of how you feel.

This exercise helps to connect our frame by stretching it to the ‘six surfaces’.  It further helps us discover how various parts of our body can mutually support one another, how we can create leverage internally.

Push Stuff Around

Take your preferred posture.

Feelize that a heavy and/or immovable object is in contact with you.  It could be an object to hold up or down, a giant bucket of water on your head, a tree in front of you or a wall behind you.  Be creative and make sure your body acts as if the object is actually there.

Lift, push, pull, squeeze, twist, tear or sink the object or weight as appropriate for your feelization.  Scan around your body and make sure part is participating, adding to and supporting the work being feelized.

Breath deep and relax excess tension while retaining the structural support you are feelizing.  Strengthen your resolve and your intent to move the unmovable or bear the unbearable.

Take another deep breath and release all the tension without changing the posture in any way.

Take note of how your feel.

This exercise helps us to use intent to change our structure and gives us more control over muscular tension.

Be a Puppet

Take your preferred posture.

Feelize that wires are holding you up from your head, shoulders, elbows, wrists and knees.  Surrender to the support, let your weight sink and the allow increased tension in the wires support your frame.  Suspend your self from above.

Feel yourself stretch.  Let the weight pull you body down while the wires pull yourr body up.  Feel your spine lengthen and straighten, release tension in the arms until it feels like they are effortlessly floating in the air.

Now feelize that the wires are being manipulated from above, allow your frame to change as the marionette tilts his controller in various directions.

Take note of how you feel.

This exercise helps us stretch between ‘heaven and earth’, opens up the spine and allows us to surrender our body weight to gravity.

Be a Tree

Take your preferred posture.

Feelize that you are a young sapling planted in rich soil in a warm sunny spot.  As your branches hungrily reach for the sun so must your roots wriggle into the earth.  Feel the relationship between branch and root, each mutually supporting one another in a dynamic linkage.

Now feelize that it is a blustery day.  The wind eddies and swirls through your branches pulling and testing your roots to hold fast against the varying pressure of the wind.  Trust your roots to hold you as you are pulled to and fro.  Accept the wind and enjoy the gentle swaying.

Take note of how you feel.

This exercise also helps us stretch between ‘heaven and earth’ but in a different way.  The pull of gravity becomes what we use to extend our branches up and out.

Be a Whale

Take you preferred posture.

Feelize that you are a whale swimming straight up through a gentle current flowing down.  Your feet are your tail being gently driven back and forth by the coordinated undulations of your entire body.  Feel yourself slip through the water, using its pressure as leverage for your propulsion.

Now take the tree hugging posture, Yi Chuan posture 1.  Feelize that your arms are the mouth of your whale.  You a feeding, driving that huge mouth through the water column.  Notice how opening and closing your mouth coordinates with the swishing of your tail helping to pull more water and food inside.

Take note of how you feel.

This exercise helps us build a relationship with the space around us, finding leverage to to swim through it where all movement is generated from the core.

Play Ball

Take the ready stance, Yi Chuan position 0, but with your arms slightly in front of your hips.

Feelize a ball between your hands and squeeze it gently.  Motivating from the hips, rotate  the ball though a big circle like the big hand revolving around a clock face.  Feel your arms stretch as they point to each number on the dial.  Slowly increase the speed of your rotation until it becomes somewhat vigorous.

Now begin tightening the circle by spreading your elbows so that you maintain the stretchy feeling in the arms while making sue that you continue to motivate from your hips just like the clock mechanism turns the clock hand.  Gradually tighten the circle more and more noticing how your speed increases the tighter the circle goes, like a figure skater pulling in to an ever tightening spin.

Once the circle is about the size of a softball reverse the process.  Gradually increase the size of the circle until its as big or bigger than when you started.

Reverse the process again until you are back to softball size.  Repeat this several times until you return to softball size once again.  Gradually decrease your circle speed while releasing any tension that built up until you are moving at a slow and comfortable speed.

Stop motivating, release the intent to circle and let go.  Notice how the orbit continues.  Witness how the circle becomes smaller and slower until its almost imperceptible.  Notice how even when tiny it involves your whole body.

This exercise helps us to discover how stability is born of constant movement, how our balance is not still but a constant correction to center.

Parting Thoughts

These exercises are but a small sample of the tools we can use to develop and evolve our standing practice.  They also clearly demonstrate Yi Chuan’s method of using intent to discover develop skill.

Each feelization taps our subconscious mind’s ability to adapt our structure to our purpose.  We can then consciously observe and feel these changes.  With diligent practice we can recreate these changes simply by recalling that feeling state.

My hope is that these exercises will help practitioners that feel stuck, frustrated, lost, disenfranchised or disappointed with their  standing practice a different way to approach it.

In my lineage we call it ‘dead standing’ when the practice lacks the qualities that bring benefit and insights.  As my Teacher says, you have to ‘Get your motor running’ to get something from standing practice.

About steveehrenreich

I am a long time practitioner of martial arts and Yi Chuan student of Master Cheuk Fung.
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