Follow-Up Questions on Standing Qigong

I was thrilled to receive such a positive response to my last post on Standing Qigong. And it wasn’t just support, even though I confessed that now I have to climb back up the mountain on the way to 2-hour sessions again.

You guys asked really great questions about standing qigong.

Instead of answering them in the comments of the last post, I decided to turn the questions into a post of their own. So here we go!

Form vs. Content in Standing Qigong

There were lots of questions about what I see as a “form vs. content” distinction in standing practice. In Tai Chi, it’s much easier to separate choreography from internal content (although, there are certainly forms that lead you to internal content if you approach them correctly). In standing it’s not so clear.

You end up doing what Dara pointed us to:

TWO APPROACHES TO RELAXATION

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. “Don’t think, feel!…”

You can really get caught up in the “form” of scanning from the crown of the head (Baihui point) down to the feet. But as soon as you see it as a form, like Grasp Sparrow’s Tail, you are free to really feel how your are doing it, not just robotically repeat it.

Igor’s question, about adding pulsing into your standing practice, is exactly the opposite. Essentially he asks, “what’s the minimal amount of form I need to use to be able to train internal content?”

His exact question:

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?

He’s right about the 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.)

Some techniques are easier to do in certain modes of practice than others. For example, dissolving or sinking chi is easiest to learn for most people in standing. Opening and closing, or pulsing, might be easier to learn in motion, but Igor’s going to try it in standing. 😉

I recommend that you 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.

Once you recognize that there is a “form” to your standing qigong, though, you also realize that you don’t always have to “do the form.” You should. And there are benefits. But it’s also perfectly good to just feel and enjoy the shape you’ve created. There’s also way more going on in the posture than you will ever find if you always lead with mental instructions.

Imagine a teeny-tiny rider trying to direct a huge elephant….the rider is your Instructing-Brain sitting on top of your energy field, often thinking that it’s steering the elephant down the path. But how much more is really going on with the elephant! You are the elephant too….

Maybe we’re stretching the metaphor a little bit here, but understand that there is way more to the practice than reciting a checklist.

Kevin echoed some of these same concerns about getting caught in the trap of feeling like you must do a form or have a specific experience.

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. 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.

How discreet are the sections you are trying to sink? What are you putting your mind around when you try to dissolve?

Have you tried sinking the chi of your hand? Or dissolving your hand? I find focusing on just the hand gives you a clear sense of the technique.

I know these practices can be done for healing and health, but I kind of wish they weren’t always presented in a way that makes you feel like you are scanning your body to find all your flaws. “I know there’s something wrong with me, I just have to find it and then work on a practice where I release all attachment to it.”

Or maybe, we can zoom out to a macro level and learn to feel whole and integrated first so that the blockages will resolve as the entire energetic matrix is upgraded.

I will say that I find it easier to get a sense of wholeness and integration using arm postures than with the arms-by-the-sides wu chi. That one, while being neutral energetically, is also neutral energetically. 😉

What I mean is that it’s great for training the form of the “Downward Flow” but it’s also easy to shut down your insides as you hold it. Maintaining the energetic flow of the arms and spine in that posture requires some light energetic sensitivity. You have to feel the connection of the chi at the fingertips and crown of the head and be tuned in to how they can easily short out. At least with the arms in the air, the physical challenge is more obvious.

Regardless of the posture, I believe standing should make you feel more whole, not more broken or fragmented, which is what I thought about when Woodrow asked:

I’m also especially interested in how it affects your meditation practices.

Strictly from a personal point of view, standing for me is integration. Early on, when I first tried to learn sitting meditation, it was disconnection, disassociation, and distraction. Then I learned to stand and everything I wanted to get out of meditation came together for me, internal exploration, integration, and often, resolution.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with different kinds of standing, like San Ti, Wu Chi, and now some more structured postures. Each one has spilled over into my life, giving me nuanced and distinct orientations to the world, but at the end of the day, it’s always standing that brings me the sense of wholeness that I imagine other people get from their meditation practices.

The Standing Process and Building Up Time

Another set of questions focused on how the 2-hour process was done, both in terms of the posture I used and what it was like to add a minute each day.

Andrew captured the essence of why I abandoned a set agenda and checklist approach in the first place:

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 benefits might carry over into a more lasting time-frame. 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 accordingly. 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.

Finding the right practice and understanding how it fits with the rest of your daily needs is so important!

To Jeff and Erwan who asked about the specific posture:

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 (and switching sides from time to time) ? 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?

Standing Qigong For the two-hour process, I just used one posture, pictured here.

The weight was 50/50 and the arm posture was (supposed to be!) symmetrical.

In the future, I hope to go to single leg stances, BUT NOT because I want to make the legs stronger by only standing one on. For sure, longer standing built up my leg strength, but there’s something much more profound that can happen too.

One time, when I had about 40 minutes left, I felt like I couldn’t hold my arms up anymore. I decided to let them get as soft as possible, over 5 or 10 minutes. Essentially by softening them, they began to withdraw into my body, not so much physically, but in terms of outward effort and exertion.

And this is where a beautiful lesson was revealed to me. Instead of just going limp like wet noodles, all of the energy I was drawing out of the arms went inside. I began to energize the torso, and eventually, the central channel. The more I withdrew, the more I fed my central channel.

Eventually, there was a saturated kind of feeling, and by the end of that 40 minutes, the arms began to naturally grow back out to their full shape, bolstered by the integrity of the central channel.

I’m repeating this story here because I believe that the same yin/yang contrast I stumbled onto between the arms and the central channel is much more likely to happen in the body if you are in an asymmetrical stance. We’ve worked on this in Push Hands, repeatedly proving the superiority of single weighted stances for diffusing incoming force.

That is why I’m looking forward to single leg practice: to feed the yin and yang potential in the legs…and who knows where else!

As far as the structure of my practice, Dara asked:

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.

I’m lucky to be able to teach 10-12 hours a week, including Tai Chi, qigong (mostly Marriage of Heaven and Earth during this phase), and practice Push Hands on a regular basis, so I had a lot of moving built into my training week.

Typically, the standing sessions were done separately from teaching and other moving, and I didn’t really follow standing with moving immediately after (like a typical energy gates set, for example). Instead, especially when I hit the 1.5-hour range, it was great to take a walk or just move back into my day and feel the after-effects of the standing permeate normal activities. When I did Tai Chi later in the day, there was always strong carry-over too.

And when I could practice outside, I had some great experiences, like Linda describes here:

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!

The sense of rootedness and openness of the energy field are so different outdoors. When you go outside to practice, you have to adopt a different attitude. Soak in the world. Again, don’t go to your mental checklist, you’ll miss the best stuff!

Opening the root wasn’t restricted to outdoor practice, though. One day, even though I was on a hardwood floor, my root really opened up. And the sensation wasn’t what I expected.

I guess the idea I had always had is that I would be able to feel down to the center of the earth or something like that. But as you described, when the feet, and then the space below the feet opened up, I felt every bit of tension drain out of me.

The other thing that surprised me was that the ground around my feet, maybe in a 2-3 foot radius, softened, and I felt like I was standing in a sink hole. It felt like the floor had caved in and I was in the center of a big dip.

I captured this experience, and other ones that felt significant, in a daily practice log. Not only do I get to go back and look at these special stands, but the act of recording my practice actually seemed to validate certain components that were then easier to identify when they happened again.

I wrote about some of those in the first article, like the cycles of structure I began to see.

You should try the note-taking process too. It only takes 2-3 minutes once you finish and you don’t need a minute-by-minute transcript, just one or two highlights. Once you begin recording, I bet you’ll see bigger patterns in your practice too.

Going forward, I would recommend this basic practice structure to anyone who wants to discover the fruits of standing qigong:

  • First learn to settle in and feel your body in a basic posture, until 20 minutes is comfortable.
  • Then, follow the Energy Gates practice sequence, doing the Downward Flow form, for 20-45 minutes (by the time you go through all the Gates, 40-45 minutes should be pretty comfortable). This cycle should take a minimum of 6 months to complete, adding a new gate each week.
  • Beyond 45 minutes, I worry that going gate-by-gate will make you miss some of the bigger patterns and connections. You certainly can do longer scans, but I recommend free-form standing to explore and see what you notice. This assumes that your Energy Gates Form is strong.

Thank you again for all the great feedback and interesting follow-up questions. Please keep us posted, here in the comments or via email, about all you explore in standing qigong!

 

 

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Comments

  1. Erwan Kergall says:

    Hi Dan, Great post again! Extremely insightful.
    Why did you choose that specific arm posture for your 2-hour challenge ?
    It kind of looks like what you’re doing is Posture 6 (or is it posture 5) of Bruce’s I-Chuan series.

    And am I right when I read the final part of your post as an implicit recommendation to complete all the Energy Gates opening process before going on to try a 2-hour challenge like yours ?

    Cheers to everyone reading the blog,

    Erwan

  2. Hey Erwan,
    Thanks!
    That posture has always been the simplest to me, after arms-at-the-sides wu chi. I wanted to set a baseline for later work with asymmetrical and higher or lower arm positions.
    Interesting side note: if you train Pi Chuan as a standing practice, holding each phase for 9 breaths, you get high, middle, and low arm postures, insane amounts of twists and spirals, and lots of single leg work. That was my routine for a long time too: http://dankleiman.com/2011/07/14/how-xingyi-saved-my-butt/

    The Energy Gates sequence builds your “standing muscles” in the sense of strengthening your ability to move the mind through and deeper into the body. I recommend it as a core practice for getting this connection and learning dissolving….but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for longer periods of standing. It will give you some great tools, though, if you take on a longer challenge.

    Make sense?
    D

  3. Kevin Hartwell says:

    That’s so helpful-all of the input from others and your feedback for each question. Which leaves me with another question 😉

    So, with the dissolving i attempt to fairly large sections of my body until I perceive a change, the softening of ice to water. Key word here:attempt:)

    One things for sure, I’ve got the sinking phase pretty much down and I usually feel really sung by the time I reach my feet. It’s the scanning and dissolving that feels really obscure and inconsistent. Sometimes I feel like I feel a blockage and even a few times I live felt like I’ve dissolved one.
    So from here, I’m wondering whether focusing on macro or micro will be more helpful in my case. That is, do I A: practice dissolving large parts of my body ie:head, arms etc. or B: do I dive into the process of the practice of locating and dissolving the gates one by one ?
    Or….is there maybe a “C” or “D” that I may not be aware of ?

    Mega thanks !!!

    Kev

  4. Hey Kevin,
    Glad this thread is helpful!
    It sounds to me like going through the Gates specifically might be the best approach for you at this point. Instead of general sections, now you start focusing on discreet gates.
    Good luck!
    D

  5. Thanks Dan and all,
    Rest assured that I’m following these threads carefully.
    And I’m working through Don Ethan Miller’s offerings, too.
    Bob

  6. Erwan Kergall says:

    Hi Dan,
    Yes, your comments make perfect sense. The funny thing is that I’ve been struggling with Straight-line walking for a while, and it’s finally after I came back to some good old standing that I unlocked a few things.
    It’s been over 10 years now that I do standing on a rather regular basis, and I’ve stood up to an hour and a half (not counting the roughly half hour spent afterwardsn the rest of the energy gates set : cloud hands tec.) It’s startong to feel like an old friend that you go back to when you’ve got problems you can’t handle alone.

    See what I mean ?

    Erwan

  7. Kevin Hartwell says:

    During an energy gates set, after completing sinking, I feel very grounded sung. How can I keep this feeling during the rest of my set?

    Thanks

    Kev

  8. I know what you mean, Erwan. Very cool!
    Kevin, sometimes you get lots of sinking going in the practice, and then you can feel nice and light and bouncy after. As far as carry-over, have you tried reproducing the sinking wave, just briefly, at random times throughout the day? That’s one way…

  9. Erwan Kergall says:

    If I may give a iece of advice to Kevin, regarding Sinking :
    Once you’ve completely sinked your Chi once in Standing, it becomes easy to do it again and again, faster and faster.
    What has given me great results is then to do it once again while doing each of the other parts of he set. It’s more difficult of course, since youre moving. Also, I ‘ve found that it’s very easy to sink in cloud hands (especially if you really focus on the downward moving hand and the leg that receives the weight). Then it’s a little bit more difficult in the first swing, because it’s moving fast. Second and third swing get even trickier since their movements are much more complex, but always focusing on the weight as it goes into one leg or the other really helps.
    And the benefits you get from doing that are enormous. My cloud hands and swings feel incredibly more natural and connected once I’ve sunk my chi during the movements.

    I think you’ll find then that having sunk in stillness AND in movement makes the SUNG carry over much more into the rest of the day.

    Hope it helps,

    Erwan

  10. Erwan Kergall says:

    “sinked”, Oh my !
    And to think that my job is being an English teacher …

  11. Great article Dan.
    I do not have access to a teacher so I find it difficult to get what I should out of Bagua and Tai Chi training. But I find the Energy Gates sequence I can do by myself, standing for an hour each day and then moving on to the movements provides a lot of bang for your buck in comparison.
    Thanks
    Bruce

  12. Hey Bruce,
    When I moved away from my first teacher, Energy Gates was pretty much all I did for 3 years. I hear you!

    Erwan, great advice on sinking. We won’t hold you accountable for grammar here. 😉