What is Zhan Zhuang?
Zhan Zhuang, or Post Standing, is a health method originally created by early Daoists. It involves holding static postures for shorter and then longer periods as the body opens up.
This holding inserts friction into the person’s body, and it reveals where the body is not working efficiently. In order to be able to stand in these postures, the body must relax the rigid places in the system.
This relaxing is a profoundly creative act. Often in Zhan Zhuang people break out in a sweat or begin to shake as the body relaxes. Emotions also frequently come up as parts of the body, perhaps long unconscious, begin to come alive.
The body is like a kinked hose, and Zhan Zhuang is a practice in unkinking the stuck places in the body. When the hose unkinks, energy flows. I learned Zhan Zhuang in the monastery in Japan in my twenties from another monk. When I started to do Zhan Zhuang, my zazen really took off. It gave me a tool to consistently engage with internal alchemy. This process translated to all aspects of my practice in the monastery and to all aspects of life.
Tonic vs Phasic Muscles
Another way to look at what happens in Zhan Zhuang is to think about muscle types in the body. There are roughly two types of muscles in the body: Tonic muscles and Phasic muscles.
Phasic muscles are fast-twitch muscles we use to work. We need them to lift things and respond quickly. But they also tire quickly.
Tonic muscles are postural muscles. They are not for lifting heavy objects. If the body is balanced and aligned well, tonic muscles do not tire easily but can hang out in a relaxed manner all day doing their jobs.
The problem is that for most of us, our bodies are not organized well. We have had injuries or trauma, or modeled our movement after our parents whose bodies were not organized well. We are fighting gravity. And the jobs of the two types of muscle types get confused. The Phasic muscles end up trying to lift the body for posture, and the body quickly tires in this confusion.
Zhan Zhuang puts us into positions with our bodies which exhausts the Phasic muscles, whereby the tonic muscles must take over to hold the posture. Thus, the body finds efficiency and harmony. The jobs are slowly corrected over time. This translates to our everyday way of carrying ourselves.
There are a few types of people who I work with who find Zhan Zhuang helpful for their zazen meditation.
Zhan Zhuang Benefits
Benefits For Beginners
When practitioners first sit zazen, sometimes they touch something in their process and it lights them up, they feel like something real happens. It is very exciting as they see great possibilities with this practice. But then the next day or the next period they are again lost. It is like they have connected to something, and then they lose that connection and can’t find a way back. They just get lucky sometimes and stumble upon that connection.
Other times people seem to be able to open up, sometimes it is like a river of momentum starts to move through them. But then later they feel locked up, chaotic. Like they are accidentally walking against that flow. The door is shut. Their internal language is underdeveloped. It is not sophisticated enough to open up to this internal process moving through them.
For me, when I first began sitting, I felt a combination of the two aspects above. Sometimes this great connection. And then sometimes I felt things open to this great momentum but then the door would shut, and I would feel kind of outside of the action. I did not have the internal language to consistently engage with that process yet.
Through the Zhan Zhuang, the internal momentum became constant as the energy grew. And my ability to feel what was happening in zazen, feel my stuck places, developed as well. That felt sense allowed me the ability to open to the process continually, instead of being lost in zazen.
And some people don’t feel any connection or momentum at all when they first sit. So Zhan Zhuang is a way to get out of the head and bring spiritual ideas about practice into a felt sense experience in the body.
When we first do zazen, we don’t know what everyone is doing. We are trying so hard, and people seem to be soaring like birds in flight. As our internal momentum and internal process begin to develop, we don’t need to look around anymore, as we have discovered our own process, and that is a feast to feed at for many years.
Benefits For Long Time Practitioners
Often for longtime practitioners, after sitting for many years, their practice has lost some of the oomph! The momentum is lost, the spark and vitality. They had something really going at one point, and now they can’t find their way back to that vibrant practice. Their zazen is dull and stagnant.
The Zhan Zhuang practice helps to get the internal momentum going in the system, maybe even places which have been closed down for years, to open up to this internal momentum. And this momentum then also acts as a kind of pressure on these stuck places, knocking on the door with the fullness created through the body.
Also, many longtime practitioners never developed the energetic aspects of practice. Something has been missing in their practice. They are looking for that piece of the puzzle their lineage has lost along the way. Zhan Zhuang is a great addition to that internal toolbox.
Benefits For People Who Have Had Awakening Experiences
Some people who have had some kind of breakthrough or awakening, often spontaneous, in which a huge amount of energy moved through them, especially benefit from the practice of Zhan Zhuang.
When this huge energy activates, it often needs a long rewiring process for it to integrate. The body must be slowly opened up to be a container which can process and allow this energy through it.
Words such as Energy and Kundalini and Enlightenment are everywhere these days, but there are few teachers with the experience to help with this process or the practice tools to do the work. In Japan I went through so much of this, and came out the other side with unique insights and practice tools to help.
The practice of Zhan Zhuang helps the person going through that intense process to feel the unconscious stuck places in the system, and gives them the internal ability to be able to allow these stuck places to open. Often this is a difficult process, and there are few resources out there to help. It is like they have been hit by lightning and now need to integrate it. It is actually what most of the inquiries I get are about. It is what has made my blog so popular, teasing apart some of this mysterious process.
I can say that Zhan Zhuang can be a great venue to begin allowing this huge process through them, to find a healthy way to embody this whole beautiful unfolding.
After my time in the monastery, I have taught Zhan Zhuang for many years. I’ve found it to be very helpful practice to open up to our internal process in zazen and in daily life. It is bitter work at first, but the unmistakable results happen very quickly.
I hope you found this article helpful and please keep practicing. You can do it! Thanks!
Practice Zhan Zhuang With Corey
Join Ichigen Corey Internal Process Exploration Class at Innercraft, and practice Zhan Zhuang, Qigong, and Non-Directed Body Movement to work with the body and its inherent energies to deepen your practice.