From Inevitable to Impossible in Standing Qigong….and Back Again?

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.

Finding Patterns

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:

  1. Find my natural threshold, where standing feels comfortable.
  2. Add one minute each day to this baseline.
  3. 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.

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  1. Dan,
    Would you advocate the ‘Feel don’t do’ approach at all times or ‘Do Form’ has its own phase whenever we try to introduce something new? Or maybe once the alignments have set up the “feel don’t do’ would be preferable regardless?
    I’m wondering because just last week I started to explore how I could introduce pulsing in my standing practice; and at least in the beginning phase this requires accurate going through the steps/forms.
    And in general, Isn’t it something like trying to distinct between form and formless (spontaneous) qigong?

  2. Hey Igor,

    Great question! And you’re right, you need to “work” each neigong component that you want to manifest in your practice. I don’t think you can amorphously feel your way into them and I don’t trust anyone who says you can because when you look at THEIR practice journey, that’s not how they go anywhere. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    So yes, stick with working the technique into your system, but also, give a healthy amount of time to simply feeling and seeing if you’ve activated the opening and closing. It’s kind of like turning a flywheel, you have to crank it, but there’s also a moment where it spins on its own. You need to be listening for those moments.

    As far as spontaneous qigong, I don’t know. From what I’ve seen, that’s a different kind of not-doing. With opening and closing, for example, when you “just feel,” you are feeling INSIDE the container of the posture. The spontaneous qigong I’ve seen seems to lack even that kind of shape…

  3. Andrew Van Gilder says:

    Thank you for documenting your journey. It is interesting how the time factor can change the body so much. I have begun to drop so many of the doing parts of standing so some benifets might carry over into a more lasting timeframe. Trying to get the my body to open has been a struggle and I have been tirelessly weaving adjunct practices to assist this process. I think that it’s important to listen to my natural rhythms and plan acordingly. 10 minutes of santi in the morning for instance helps the process without putting a damper on the getting things done mentality I need for work.

  4. Thanks, Andy. Yes, finding the right practice and understanding how it fits with the rest of your daily needs is so important!

  5. Erwan Kergall says:

    Hey Dan,
    I find your report extremely interesting. are you doing standing that’s equally weighted on both feet, or are you standing on only one foot (andswitching sides from time to time) ?

  6. Hi Dan,
    I’m a beginner and had an experience I wanted to share from standing Qigong on a windy July day on the beach facing the ocean. It was a windy day. As I stood and sank into the sand I felt tightness in my shoulder. It was maybe 10 minutes into standing. I thought, “maybe my feet has something to do with the tightness”. I also noticed more weight was forward. As I noticed that, my weight shifted and the tightness dissolved. It was so cool! I felt like I could have stood for so much longer. I also wanted to bring a bucket of sand back home and do sandy Qigong. I have since stood barefoot in my backyard and felt the energy from the ground “wake” me up! Thank you. p.s. I love your podcasts!

  7. Joe Pitipong Lin says:

    This is a beautiful piece Dan. I have not read through the whole article but I am sure that I will have questions to follow. It is a great idea and a contribution to the community of learners. Thank you.

  8. Kevin Hartwell says:

    Hi Dan, thanks for sharing !
    When you talk about obsessing over visualizing the energy gates, it sounds like how I’ve been feeling about trying to feel blockages. I’ve been working on the sinking phase for more than 2 years and am only now experiencing a more sung like feeling during sinking. More recently, with my attempts at dissolving I’m finding …..well….nothing! It seems like 98% of the time I can’t seem to feel what Bruce describes as the conditions of a blockage.
    I typically stand for about 20-25 min before moving on to the rest of the energy gates set (although I haven’t been timing my standing recently). Do you think it might be helpful to begin increasing my standing via the “minute a day” routine? Do you think this could increase my chances of feeling blockages? ……..and one more ๐Ÿ™‚
    What are the chances that there are simply no blockages to dissolve on a given day? Is this a possibility?
    Your shared insight and perspective is valuable and always appreciated.

  9. Great post Dan!
    This description matches your Feel: Don’t Do advice:
    The first approach involves using the mind to square everything away, so to speak. That is, going through the body step-by-step from Baihui point and above the head, down through the bottoms of the feet, correcting alignments, opening the various points and locations by relaxing and adjusting as necessary….
    The second approach is deceptively simple. โ€œDonโ€™t think, feel!…โ€”

    When you did the long standing what was the balance like with moving work:
    – did you also practise form (and/or nei gung) and for how long?
    I am not looking for a time table or formula but I am interested in your experience and practice.

  10. Great post, Dan! Looking forward to more standing this fall!

  11. Dan, that was an excellent piece very, very helpful and inspiring. Helps greatly in the direction I need to go in improving my practice, so that it can benefit my life. Thanks much.
    I’m also especially interested in how it affects your meditation practices.

  12. Dan,
    Thanks for the posts about your standing practice; they are very encouraging. A question: Was your two-hour goal accomplished exclusively with Wuji standing, or did you mix the postures up?

  13. Hey everyone,

    Thanks for the positive feedback and the great follow-up questions. Instead of replying to each one here, I created a whole new post to really dive into the questions: