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The following was written as a response to

13 questions about Standing Meditation (“ZhanZhuang”)

posted by Ed Ramirez on the yahoo [Bagua] list, in 2001.
These are GREAT questions!   (below, in bold)
Here's three quick points:
A. Learn what is out there. After you have a solid foundation in your (Style), study
with different teachers, & practice with as many different training-partners as
possible. Without feedback from different ppl, your Art will never grow. OTOH, if
you start studying different styles before you have developed sufficient skill in your
own style, you’ll be in danger of never penetrating beneath the surface form(s).
B. The spirit of 'open questioning' is best, also called "Contemplation". This means,
no 'answer' is  completely sufficient; it is only a 'good approximation' for that place
& time. What was the 'answer' today might be totally inadequate tomorrow.
However, it's a good first step. It’s good to Contemplate on your own Practice, to
‘ground’ your learning. When you branch-out to other styles, it’s even more-
important to contemplate, allowing the different approaches to ‘cross-pollinate’.
C. Never take anyone else's experiences as 'better' or 'more-correct' than your own.
Especially with an "internal" art, most of the best stuff is subjective. What feels
'effortless' to me might be 'brusque/abrupt/heavy' to you. Typically, the 'magic'-like
stuff only occurs between 2 ppl of vastly different skill-levels... Many a 'master'
who can root when standing-up straight in demos, gets down in a more deep stance
when being pushed by an adept/skilled practioner ;-D
  1. How would you describe the very moment when you were able to
sink?  How did it feel particularly
  in the legs? and in the DanTian? and in the arms?  Was there warmth,
exploding energy, coolness, or
Everyone is different. Ralston described a "tremendous release, an unlocking &
profound dropping in his pelvis". Joe Crandall said he didn't feel much of anything;
it was a 'gradual' thing, over time. I experienced a 'letting-go', which seemed
arbitrary... but when I emphasized it, I was much more rooted. Easy test: get in a
stance, & have someone push on you. You can even train that deliberately,
practicing your alignment on pushes from different angles into your body [from
Sigman]. {specific feeling-awarenesses: flesh drips/sags down bones, armpit area
sinks/compresses, upper-body solidifies into 1 piece, etc.}
  2. When you were able to sink for the first time, were you able to reproduce
the experience again?  Did
  it automatically become a permanent experience?  Or was it like a come-and-
go experience in the initial
  stages before becoming permanent?
Of course it comes-&-goes. Even zen adepts get "one profound experience" & then
lots of little ones ;-D
Plus, even if you have that exact same experience again, it won't be profound
anymore, b/c it's no-longer new. Regardless, there is no-such-thing as getting-it-
right "once-and-for-all". So, keep training it, experiencing feedback, & pretty-soon
what was 'profound' is now 'normal', & your criteria will have raised. This is good
training. But know this: if you can do it once, you will be able to do it again...have
  3. When one imagines being under waterfalls or viewing beautiful scenery
while practicing ZhanZhuang,
  isn't this the same as daydreaming?  How does this kind of visualization
help?  Or doesn't it?
Meditation has multiple components. The physical component is aimed at relaxing
the body. The mentalcomponent is aimed at calming the mind.
The spiritual component is aimed at harmonizing your [internal] energy. Many, if
not most people, practice only 1 of these, and ignore the others.
When you know why you are doing something, this will accentuate your focus,
allowing you to steer-clear of confusion and/or second-guessing's like "am I only
daydreaming?". Visualizing beautiful things, esp. nature, can:
* help harmonize your body with nature ("I am rooted like a tree") [physical]
* help harmonize your mind w/ nature ("My mind is calm/quiet like a mountain")
* help harmonize your energy w/ nature's energy patterns ("My energy flows down
like a waterfall")
{next: you can also physically go-out into nature, and 'breathe' nature in, allowing
your body to kinestheticallyfeel how rooted a tree is... outreach it, extend into it, feel
yourself become one with it. Share in its experience, blend with its energy. Since it's
nature, the energy is good, and will heal you. Blending your energy with it will
naturally harmonize your energy, plus teach you a different, more
whole/balanced/calm way to be [ie, running your energy that way].
{visualization can be of the eyes/6th(chakra), or also of feeling/2nd(chakra).
{remember, whatever comes-up is part of the practice. sometimes psychological
releases are necessary before a profound physical change can happen. don't discard
anything; it's all necessary. cherish what comes-up – this is all-about discovering
about you. By putting-aside Martial considerations for a while & turning within,
you'll be able to develop an internal alignment which will (eventually) translate into
significantly increased power... if that's your focus.
  4. If I am more relaxed by thinking about what is happening at home instead
of thinking about
  waterfalls, would this produce the same effect?
Sure. If your focus is on your body, it matters less if your mind wanders. If your
focus is on your mind, then it matters less if your postures change a lot. If your
focus is on your spirit/energy, then you don't have to stand at all, b/c mind & body is
less important. Of course, when you focus on all three, then it is good to stand
correctly, think correctly, & pattern your energy correctly. But when you're first
starting-out, it's probably a bad idea to expect yourself to get all 3 correct at the
same time ;-D
True stories: When asked about the right point of contemplation, esp. mantra, the
following spiritual ppl said [paraphrase].
Krishnamurti: "It doesn't matter what you chant. If 'Peace' helps you, use that. I use
Seung Sahn: "It only matters (a) if you believe in the practice, and (b) you don't
stop practicing. The practice can be completely 'wrong', and it will still work".
Since ZhanZhang is on the border between 'physical' art and spiritual ['pure'
meditation], what they have to say is highly appropriate to our practice.
  5. Does one need to have a blank mind in order to sink?  I did notice that it's
hard to keep the mind
  particularly blank all the time.
Ralston taught that the 5 principles (relax, center, ground, calm, whole) are
interconnected. [Principles of Effortless Power, North Atlantic Press]. You cannot
do one 'properly' w/o the others {"calm" = 'blank-mind'}. However, you will not be
able to do all of them simultaneously if you cannot do any one of them well. Thus,
choose one Principle, for instance "relaxation", & practice that intensely, ignoring
the others for a while. After you build-up enough conscious time spent practicing, it
will feel natural to start working on another of the principles. When that's
comfortable, try two at once. Don't rush, don't 'expect' yourself to achieve in xxx
amount of time, don't worry about 'making mistakes'. Ralston calls this "radical
experimentation". Karen Pryor calls this "going back to Kindergarten". I call it: "an
incredibly-effective method of learning".
I say "conscious-practice" b/c it's worse than useless to just go-out & "go-thru-the-
motions". It's better to watch TV. Because, @least when you're watching TV you're
not telling-yourself that you are "practicing". I've met more ppl who tell me "I
practice my taiji form twice every day"... & I look at it, & wonder why they bother. I
practice mine twice a year, if I remember. However, I practice my principles non-
stop: in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, walking on the street, picking my nose. So
when I finally do do my form, the core part of it is taken-care of, & I just have to
remember which posture comes next ;-D
  6. Are there deeper levels of sinking or is there just one level?  if there are
multiple levels, what are the
  special sensations in the body that signal the transition from one level to
I suspect this emphasis on delineation comes from spiritual training, specifically
Buddhist/Hinduist w/ their "1,000's of levels of absorption". Perhaps also, from the
tendency in martial-arts to race after "belts" [did you know that the Japanese give
'belts' for lots of things? Like flower-arrangement? ;-D]
I repeat: everyone's experience is different. Expecting yourself to mimic someone
else's experience is a good recipe for frustration. You might just have the same
experience... but not at the same time, or in the same progression, etc. For instance,
my teacher tried & tried to learn a specific skill from Teacher A, & was
unsuccessful. He put it aside. Later he met Teacher B, & they taught him a different
technique, which immediately worked. So he taught me the technique from Teacher
B... which didn't work for me at all. But when I ran-into Teacher A, his technique
worked great for me ;-D
Regardless, if you keep practicing, it gets better. You make breakthru's, it works lots
better... then other days, nothing seems to work. However, if you find a point-of-
reference, for instance for rooting you have someone push on you, you'll find that
you're improving over time... even-though it didn't feel like that.
I highly suspect anyone who talks more about the 'colors/sounds/heat/etc.' being
necessary for good rooting {or martial ability in general}. Yes I have experienced
those, & have my suspicions that they are ungrounded, inchoate releases of
kundalini [I have also done a lot of (sitting) meditation training]. No need to dabble
with those; if you want to root well, sink well, then practice that. As [multiple] zen
masters say: "if you see spirits, beautiful colors, wonderful sounds: ignore them.
They'll go away. Keep practicing".
{Later on, you can compile lists of experiences which advanced practitioners
describe. These are good accomplishments, & give you a hint of what you can
expect in your future, and/or what is possible. It's useful at some point to compare
your own experience with theirs.. & notice if you have had any similar experiences
of your own. Some will be highly similar, some will be similar in emotional/etc
content but different in physical experience, & some will be completely different.
Will you be 'wrong'? Of course not.
{Nothing that you experience could be 'wrong'... seek a different interpretation,
and/or context for that experience. Cf my standing practice below:
what I [assumed] was 'bad sinking' practice turned-out to be good 'centering'
practice ;-D
Perhaps the 'advanced practitioners' need to add your new 'experience' to their list ;-
  7. How many months (more-or-less) of standing (assuming only 40 minutes
daily) should one undertake
  before he could sink?
Egad. Cf "conscious practice" above. The time you spend consciously practicing
is never wasted... however, you might be practicing something you weren't intending
;-D  Case in point: I used to 'force' myself to stand 15min daily. I would emphasize
sinking. I would get frustrated. But when I contemplated it afterwards, I noticed that
I was getting more 'centered', even-though it didn't feel like I was sinking. So I
stopped 'expecting' any particular result, & accepted what came-up. From there,
sinking arose naturally.
However, each person comes-in w/ a different set of baggage. If you're 30 yrs old,
and have walked wrong for 30 yrs, don't expect to change that overnight. You have
a secret, however: you spent 30 yrs walking wrongunconsciously... now that you're
practicing consciously, you'll notice feedback & respond to it... drastically
shortening the time required to change.
The true secret is really wanting to change. Most ppl do not. You teach them, you
give them 'secrets', & they say "cool!" and never practice them. Whatever. You
actually need extremely little in the way of mental 'information' to be an excellent
practitioner. "Explanations" belong to the realm of teaching. If you're just learning,
worry about the 'explanations' later, & just practice. If you're worried that you're
'wasting-your-time', then devise tests to give you reference-points [cf. 'getting-
pushed' as a test-for-rooting, above]. Experiment. Suspect anyone/anytime that says
"I absolutely know this". Bull-crap. I can have a profound experience w/ rooting
today, & if I expect that same thing tomorrow, I'll just be disappointed. However, if
I don't 'expect' that profound feeling, but know that it will happen
['eventually'/'someday'], it happens more and more ;-D  But getting 'profound'
feelings on-demand? Ha! Even Buddha had issues w/ that one, let-alone Christ ["It's
hard to be a prophet in your own town"].
Keep practicing. When you stop, your attainment begins to fragment. This is a
"Life-Practice". However, when you get better at it, you'll begin to notice
ZhanZhuang principles in your everyday life... so you'll begin to practice them, even
when you're not in the 'formal posture'. When this happens, your attainment will
grow & grow & grow.
  8. At the moment when one is able to start sinking, does this mean that he can
already control the
  ground energy (peng jin) and discharge it (fa jin)?
Nope. 3 different things. Lotsa ppl discharge w/o properly grounding.... & complain
of head-rushes afterwards. ;-D  Plus, you'll never discharge as powerfully if you're
not grounded... but that doesn't mean you're not discharging.
{Learning to sink is learning how to drop your energy into the ground. Nothing
more. You can sink w/o having a clean peng structure [eg "wuji" posture]. & trying
to issue power from that posture just won't work either ;-D However, peng jin & the
myriad forms of fa-jin are greatly empowered if you do sink. The core of Ralston's
"effortless power", for example, is using the speed-of-gravity to create motion
and/or strikes. Thus, the act of sinking drives the punch, for example. But just b/c
you can sink doesn't mean you can punch... you gotta practice hitting something first
  9. At the moment when one is able to start sinking, does this mean that he can
send his opponent's
  power to the ground?
Nope. You just practiced your own sinking. You need to practice receiving energy
(from someone else),  whether it's via his fist, or just 'thru-the-air'. In order to
'receive', you do need to sink well yourself. So sinking is a good first step, a
mandatory one, but is not sufficient in itself for mastery of "receiving-energy".
  10. I've seen two opposite kinds of standing: (1) relaxed WuChi standing with
a blank mind... and (2) relaxed embracing the tree posture with intention of
pressing outward. Which kind of standing develops the ability to sink faster?
Great question!! Which works better for you? The former is more 'pure-yin', & de-
emphasizes the body more. The second has more force, pressure, & intent in the
body... which makes it tougher to 'relax'. It's necessary to relax in order to
sink("sung"). Chicken & the egg. For the beginner, I would practice one until it gets
boring, & then practice the other.
Eventually both are required for complete practice. At some point, the person
standing in wuji becomes a sodden lump, their limbs becoming 'dead' b/c the
energy-flow is demphasized. At that point, move to a posture ["taiji"], wherein the
limbs are extended. As you reach-out, your energy flows in that direction, & your
posture becomes more 'alive'. You CANNOT sink well if your energy is not
flowing, and/or your posture is not 'alive'.
{so you need to relax in order to sink, but cannot really sink w/ extending, which
is not relaxed... paradox. ;-D}
  11. When one does reverse breathing or abdominal breathing while practicing,
does this help to
  develop the ability to sink?
Abdominal breathing is 'natural', & works well with wuji standing. Reverse
breathing has an element of 'forcing' in it, which is counter-useful to pure
'relaxing'/'sinking' practice. However, reverse breathing also kicks-up/activates more
chi in your body, which can help if you're trying to be more 'alive' in your posture.
Choose which you are going to emphasize [today], and discover which breathing-
technique 'feels-right'. For the beginner, simpler is better. Reverse breathing is good
[preliminary] training for striking, and iron-shirt... neither of which are beginning
techniques, & both of which require a solid attainment in sinking.
  12. I've asked some people if they are able to deliver fa jin in a seated position
and they said yes.  Does
  this mean that one can develop the ability to sink just by sitting down?
Yes. At its core, 'sinking' is sinking-the-body's-energy. When you stand, you can
emphasize the body actually lowering. But you [also] can sink w/o moving the body
much at all. Relax all your muscles, and slump into the ground. Experiment w/ how
few muscles you need to hold yourself upright. Ralston calls this 'stacking dinner-
plates', each bone lightly stacked up from the ground. Slump, and feel yourself
dangling from your crown-point: Chen Man-Ching's "be suspended from a string".
During this process, you'll find that a few physical linkages are highly important:
* Push the ming-men out, allowing the upper-body to drop into the pelvis
* Curve the sacrum under, 'pointing' the force/weight into the knees
* Drop the knees into the heels... not the center or ball of the foot
* Extend your heels 3 feet or more into the ground.
For each of these, the secret is this: "be no more forceful than an eyeblink"
{for 'chair-sinking', curve/point the sacrum thru the legs of the chair; you're not
rooting [as much] thru your own legs anymore}
  13. When we say "sinking", what sinks?
Everything. You body, your mind, your spirit. Someone who's very good, can start
sinking, and the whole room feels it. It's pretty awesome ;-D
Ralston describes it platonically: "I am that which sinks".
Dave A. Anselmi
12yr practioner,
Joe Crandall/Peter Ralston/W.C.Chen/Cheng Man-Ching short-form Taiji
'standard' 5-Element Hsing-I
Fu Chen Sung BaGua Zhang
Copyright: Dave A. Anselmi, 2001

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