From the outside, standing qigong can look calm, peaceful and meditative.
On the inside, if you don't ask yourself these 3 essential questions, standing can be grueling. Your muscles ache, you tremble and sweat, and in burning discomfort you strain to see how much longer you must endure.
Over the years, I have learned many different standing qigong techniques from my teacher Bruce Frantzis, but when I practice what he's taught about mindset and attitude in standing qigong, I've had some of my biggest breakthroughs.
In summer 2011, at the Wu Style Short Form Instructor training, he emphasized the role of standing qigong in developing internal connections in Tai Chi practice. We did work on the particular energetic techniques of different Tai Chi postures, but the bigger lessons of "what to watch for" and "what you want to experience" have been even more valuable.
I wrote about the challenges and payoffs of an intensive environment like this for Into Mountains, Over Streams when I returned. Specifically, I described the way standing helps you find internal stability in your form:
Tai Chi has many methods for tuning you in to the inner form. My personal favorite was holding standing postures. It can be grueling work on a physical level. Even when you adjust to the physical discomfort, standing still for extended periods of time forces you to confront your own internal environment. Nothing is moving on the outside, so your attention focuses on the inside.
Holding postures to open specific energy lines in the body is very much a science. We began that study by exploring nine of the postures from the short form, holding each one for twenty to thirty minutes. Throughout this process, I could feel everything from the surfaces of my body, down through the layers of twisted tissue. I became acutely aware of how my bones and joints were aligned. Eventually I got access to the specific flow pattern each posture is designed to highlight.
I often describe the sensation of "getting" a posture as feeling your internal gears clicking. The posture gels in a way that you would never experience if you always just go through the form. Until you spend time in each posture, you miss a whole hidden side of internal connectedness. When we asked Master Frantzis how to systematically train these postures after the training was over, he recommended working on each posture for 2 months and then changing to the next one in the series. It's amazing to feel your insides shift and change over one twenty minute standing session, but coming back to a posture each day for two months gives you a completely different level of insight.
Before the training, I had always thought about posture holding as a timed goal, like, "Okay, I'm going to hold this one for twenty, this one for thirty, this one longer, longer." One of the key points that Master Frantzis made was that you should focus on the feeling of stability in each posture, not on the clock. Once you hit it for that place in the posture, everything opens up and becomes connected in a way that gives the posture a unique flavor. That's the key moment.
Once everything clicks, a practitioner wants to maintain the moment for as long as they can. When you lose it; you shrink out of it; you start to collapse a little bit; something gets off. This is game we play with each posture. How do you connect to it and reliably re-create that feeling again and again? That's the goal of the first stage of posture holding. After you reach this stage, you start to work of experiencing the same connections as you move into and out of this posture in your form. Eventually you can string the whole form together this way.
Other people joke that the fastest way clear a room full of people who want to learn Tai Chi is to just make them close their eyes and hold a posture. It's definitely a matter of personal preference! To me, posture holding is a way to feel more connected and more integrated and really develop a feel for letting things come together without forcing them.
Adopting the Right Mindset for Standing Qigong
At first, searching for internal stability this way can be frustrating. Even once you've gotten a sense for it, you can't always reproduce it reliably. However, if you ask yourself these three questions as you practice, you odds of getting there again and again will get much better.
As you stand, ask yourself:
- Is gravity going through me? (Not getting stuck somewhere)
- Are my nerves relaxing and releasing?
- Is there warmth?
You can ask yourself this question about any part of your body or everywhere at once. If you wash over yourself with this questions again and again as you stand, you will adopt the right alignment of your body, mind, and energy and increase your chances of finding internal stability.