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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Zhan Zhuang Qigong: You can feel it!

By Andrzej Kalisz 

In China there are many various forms of exercises known by a common name of qigong. Common element characteristic for almost all qigong methods (also for taijiquan), which are used for cultivating health, is mixing together some mental focus (attention is naturally, without forcing it, focused on body – element of mind and body coordination), some kind of relaxation and some moderate physical effort. Even very simple methods, if they contain right mixture of these three elements, can bring positive results. Hence growing popularity of the quite simple zhan zhuang method, which is part of yiquan.

In yiquan and zhan zhuang method we don’t use classical concepts, which could not be easily understood and accepted by contemporary people. We don’t talk about certain points or channels (those which are used in acupuncture). There is no need to use the term qi. Thanks to this, these exercises are perfect for people who are uneducated in ways of traditional Chinese theories and concepts.

Zhan zhuang method is based on seeing a human being as a unity, where all elements are interrelated and interdependent. The basic assumption is that there is some kind of harmony, which should be guarded, because disturbing and destroying the natural harmony causes negative effects. When illness appears, you should think not only about treating the ill part, but you should try to heal the whole in a way which leads to regaining the harmony. Body has some ability of resistance against pathological factors, and of self-regulating which to some extent enables regaining the state of health. The yiquan exercises will help to strengthen and maintain this natural ability.

When yiquan and zhan zhuang will become more popular all over the world, there will be more possibility of scientific research, which will allow to learn more about these exercises, and use them even more efficiently. Here I will only point to some aspects, noticed by Chinese experts.

Cerebral cortex is controlling the whole nervous system, directing and coordinating functions of all organs. Excessive activation and in result exhaustion of parts of cerebral cortex will lead to disorder. Various functions of body will suffer, which often leads to pathological changes. And the illness or disorders of functioning of some organs are source of signals, which can cause even greater disorder of functioning of cerebral cortex. Meditation, taijiquan, qigong, zhan zhuang help to break this cycle. They let the cerebral cortex rest and regain efficient functioning.

While doing zhan zhuang or shi li exercises, your breath should be slow, deep, natural, flowing freely. There is no stress on controlling breathing. But observing other demands of exercises (e.g. keeping arms in certain position, together with relax and free breathing) will cause breathing naturally become more abdominal, without artificial limiting natural functions of the chest. When you do standing exercises, oxygen consumption increases, and breathing responds naturally to this demand – at beginning it becomes faster and slightly deeper, then slower but at the same time much deeper. This should not be artificially controlled.

Stress is put on relaxing whole body, which helps improving blood circulation. In case of standing postures, there is some moderate effort, which causes some increase of the rate of pulse. After finishing the exercise, the pulse rate is not dropping immediately. There is no sudden expansion of the right atrium, which happens when you suddenly stop typical intensive kinds of training. Deep breathing helps in improving blood transportation (blood circulation is result not only of the heart working, but breathing and body movements, especially legs movements) and creates massaging effect on internal organs. Rhythm of calm breathing is also a positive factor stimulating nervous system.

It is because health, well-being, seeking beauty, balance and harmony are important in human life, that such forms of exercise like yoga, tai chi and chi kung have became very popular all over the world. But until recently yiquan and zhan zhuang were not widely known. Now they are rapidly becoming popular. Some people say that zhan zhuang is a Chinese yoga. Wide use of positional exercises resembles use of asana in Indian yoga. Zhan zhuang is often classified as a method of  qigong (in broad meaning). It has been used as a supplemental means of therapy in hospitals in China since 1950s.  Tai chi of 21st Century – this is another term used in relation to zhan zhuang and yiquan. Presently many taijiquan instructors are including zhan zhuang method in their curriculum or are switching from taijiquan to yiquan.