Zhan Zhuang Meditation

"... the uncarved block..." 
Hunyuan Tai Chi master Zhang Xuexin is shown practicing the 
Zhan Zhuang "Standing Post" meditation pose called "All Becomes One," with hands folded lightly over the dantian, the main energy center located two fingers below the navel in the center of the body. During standing meditation, the body relaxes, the inner eye remains focused on the dantian, and the mind is allowed to expand until it encompasses the whole body and beyond. Thoughts and emotions are not suppressed, but merely watched, like clouds passing in the sky.

In the Caigentan, the "Vegetable Root Discourses," Hong Zicheng wrote: 


The stillness

in stillness

is not

the real stillness.


Only when

there is stillness

in movement 

can the spiritual rhythm appear

which pervades

heaven and earth.

Whether we practice Tai Chi for health, self-defense, self-transformation, as a performance art, or all of the above, the ultimate goal is to experience this "spiritual rhythm... which pervades heaven and earth" directly in our bodies. Once this rhythm appears, binding heaven and earth, emptiness and form, stillness and motion into a single whole, Tai Chi becomes effortless, Qigong becomes effective, and push-hands becomes relaxed and elegant. This direct personal experience of true integrity can then be applied to other areas of life, particularly those that require change or involve challenge or conflict.

The key to experiencing this universal spiritual rhythm is a form of meditation called Zhan Zhuang, or "standing post." Zhan Zhuang means to stand like a tree firmly rooted in the ground, aware of every breeze, every movement of sun and cloud, every internal thought and emotion, but completely relaxed, quiet in heart, mind, and body, at one with being: 

Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. 
Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. 
This is the ultimate.
 Chuang Tsu

It's the most basic and simple of all Tai Chi practices, but it's also the most advanced and profound. 

In Chinese, the word "song" means "relax." 


Relax, soft, circular and lively, 

Neither excess nor deficiency, 

The key lies in the center, 

Limitless wonder, none can express.

In a practical sense, what Zhan Zhuang does is transform the body and mind by gradually quieting the stress of life until a profound inner stillness is revealed, a stillness and peace which has always been there, but has been covered over. Out of this stillness movement arises naturally and comfortably, without being stiff or forced. Mind, body, energy, and spirit relax and become one. That's what allows Tai Chi to become Tai Chi.

This relationship between stillness and motion is a profound one in Chinese Taoist philosophy. Tai Chi of course is more than the martial art we practice: it's the universal principle of motion, of change and action, symbolized by the famous Tai Chi symbol — the taijitu —  with its interlocking black and white waves representing yin and yang. But the yin and yang of Tai Chi are based on an even deeper principle called Wu Chi, symbolized by a simple empty circle, and representing ultimate stillness. Wu Chi, or Wuji, underlies the entire universe, and gives rise to all motion and change everywhere, and every manifestation of yin and yang: this is why it's said "Wu Chi is the mother of Tai Chi." And this universal, ultimate stillness is exactly the same stillness we find individually, deep within, through Zhan Zhuang meditation.

The wuji symbol, or wujitu
also known as the enso in Japanese Zen paintings.  

The true meaning of the symbol is not in the circle itself, 

but in the space within. 

Or, as Rumi says: 

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don't go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don't go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill

where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don't go back to sleep.

* * *

So to truly practice Tai Chi, we must first embody Wuji by practicing Zhan Zhuang. In the old days, Zhan Zhuang was an important part of Tai Chi training and practice. Grandmaster Feng, the founder of our school of Tai Chi, practiced Zhan Zhuang two hours every morning for nine years while training with his teacher, Hu Yaozhen. Very few of us have that kind of time anymore, but we should at least be familiar with Zhan Zhuang if we intend to progress in Tai Chi. We should explore it a few minutes every day, and incorporate it into our Tai Chi practice. There are two ways to do this:  


First, we can practice Zhan Zhuang formally by setting aside dedicated time during the day or during Tai Chi practice for standing or sitting meditation. Formal practice is a great thing to do, and it's a necessary step in the quest to find and cultivate Wuji. But we can also practice Zhan Zhuang informally by incorporating it into everything we do, even if we're moving. In fact, this is the true inner secret of Tai Chi: even in motion, we maintain Wuji. Inner stillness is not something we practice one minute and then leave behind as soon as we start to practice a form, or engage in push-hands. For Tai Chi to be Tai Chi, inner stillness must be carried forward from formal Zhan Zhuang practice into every movement of every form. That's why the first movement of all Tai Chi forms is called 'Wuji Starting Posture' (wuji qishi): every form starts with Wuji, with a moment of Zhan Zhuang, just as every form ends with Wuji. Between beginning and end, we carry Wuji silently within, like an unbroken thread. In that sense, Tai Chi is indeed 'moving meditation'.


So this second way of "informal" practice is actually the goal: consider Ts'ai-ken T'an's poem again: "The stillness in stillness is not the real stillness. Only when there is stillness in movement can the spiritual rhythm appear which pervades heaven and earth." Real stillness is not the stillness we feel when we're unmoving, it's the stillness we hold inside as we move and act. That stillness in motion is what brings the spiritual rhythm of heaven and earth alive in our personal practice, and makes our Tai Chi effortless, our Qigong effective, and our push-hands elegant and strong.

Blessing in the Chaos

To all that is chaotic

in you,

let there come silence.

Let there be

a calming

of the clamoring,

a stilling

of the voices that

have laid their claim

on you,

that have made their

home in you,

that go with you

even to the

holy places

but will not

let you rest,

will not let you

hear your life

with wholeness

or feel the grace

that fashioned you.

Let what distracts you


Let what divides you


Let there come an end

to what diminishes

and demeans,

and let depart

all that keeps you

in its cage.

Let there be

an opening

into the quiet

that lies beneath

the chaos,

where you find

the peace

you did not think


and see what shimmers

within the storm.

Jan Richardson