Update: After you read this post, check out my answers to some great questions that were asked in the comments, here.
Last spring, I set out to enter "the 2-Hour Gate" in standing qigong. And I got there. In fact, it was easier to get there than I thought it would be.
Before you think I'm bragging about my practice, though, there's something else I have to confess. As soon as I missed a couple weeks of practice, going through the gate became impossible for me. That's right, holding a standing posture for two hours went from feeling completely inevitable to pretty much impossible.
In this post, I want to share with you some of the things I learned from building up to longer standing sessions and what I think I have to do now.
How Standing Qigong Builds Chi
My teacher, Bruce Frantzis, who inspired me to pursue standing qigong in the first place, gives a great explanation of the big-picture reasons to stand here:
For me, standing qigong has always been a way to connect to an internal sense of integration and wholeness.
When someone finishes a good standing session, you can see the physical signs of more balanced energy: their face is softer, their eyes seem fuller and more relaxed, and there is a bounce to their movements that wasn't there before.
As I spent longer and longer in my standing posture, the sense of integration echoed at deeper and deeper levels. I started to see patterns like:
- The sense of structure of the posture -- what held it together at any moment -- shifted through a repeatable pattern: first the yang side of the body, then the yin, then the side channels, and so on.
- The interplay of yin and yang in the posture shifted over time: between the upper and lower body, between the eyes and the body, between the arms and the spine.
- The sense of root and sinking would gradually open up, but it couldn't be forced.
I also started to enjoy standing in different natural settings because the distinct qualities of each place began to have a clearer feel to me.
In the spring, we held regular BTC practice sessions in the park at 7am, surrounded by big trees. The more open the space was, the easier it was to fill up the posture.
One of my favorite sessions was out on a big rock at the ocean. I could feel my root spreading and growing down into the rock in a zig-zag flow like water. Later that day, the searching root that could penetrate rock revealed new playfulness and connection in my Push Hands practice.
Feel, Don't Do
I think it was somewhere around the 1.5 hour mark where my sensitivity changed and some of these "environmental" connections became more obvious. Do you need to cross this threshold to notice them too? Maybe....
No matter how long you stand for, though, here is the most important guideline: Above all, "feel, don't do."
You can read a lot about what to do in standing qigong, about how your should align your body, what arm posture to use, and how to direct the mind. I can't argue with a lot of that. In fact, I've spent nearly 15 years work on "the form" of standing qigong.
But, I will tell you that the periods where I have abandoned the form, and just focused on feeling, have been the most productive for me.
When I realized, years ago, that I was obsessing over visualizing "the energy gates," I gave up outer dissolving altogether for three years. Instead, I stood, and felt, and watched the quality of my body shift from brittle and stiff to soft and saturated. Later, I realized this was the sinking chi phase.
Here again, building up to two hours, I took the "feel, don't do" approach. That was what enabled me to discover the patterns above. If you had told me about them first (and maybe I've set up a roadblock for you by sharing them here -- sorry!), I probably would have gone looking for specifics. When you do that, your mind gets in the way of your energy and you don't find the same level of integration or connection.
So Now What?
So now, after a break and feeling like I can't hit the two hour mark, what do I do?
The only thing I can do is go back and follow the same rules that got me to two hours in the first place:
- Find my natural threshold, where standing feels comfortable.
- Add one minute each day to this baseline.
- Never fight internal resistance just to reach a time on the clock -- this only builds more internal resistance.
Already I can tell you that, even though the numbers aren't as impressive as I was doing three months ago, the quality of the posture, even at 20 minutes, is completely different than when I first started this project. I know this second round of building up is going to reveal all kinds of new secrets. I trust the process. And I know the payoff is going to be huge.
For now, one minute a day is the way to go....
Edit: Follow-up questions to this post answered in detail here.