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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Zhang Zhuang as Self-Treatment

Traditional Chinese Therapeutic Exercises - Standing Pole
By Wang Xuanjie, J.P.C. Moffett

The Chinese medical community has previously conducted investigations into the therapeutic value of pile stance exercises. The cycle of illness is explained as follows: When the cerebral cortex becomes over excited or exhausted, the body's functioning suffers as a result to the point of illness. Likewise, illness, as a malfunctioning of the organs, sends out harmful stimuli to the cerebral cortex, placing an even further burden upon it. The aim of standing pole exercises is to break the illness cycle by providing the cerebral cortex with beneficial stimuli, thus causing it to relax.

Relaxation is achieved through the manner in which the standing pole exercises are practiced. One must assume the required body posture and then hold it for a period of time. The cerebral cortex eventually finds a soothing and pleasing object of focus in order for the body to maintain the physical posture. When the object of focus is not overly stimulating, the very relaxed sensation felt by the cerebral cortex leads to muscle relaxation, improved blood circulation and deeper respiration. The initial aches and numbness associated with a beginner's practice will gradually disperse and will be replaced by a warm, slightly numbing but very comfortable feeling. This feeling is a most beneficial stimulus to the cerebral cortex and the longer it lasts the cerebral cortex achieves even deeper relaxation, concentration and an inhibitory "quiet" state.

Electroencephalogram investigations have demonstrated this (quiet) state to be quite different from sleep or hypnosis. It is characterized by the appearance of beta wave in the front portions of both hemispheres, which increases in amplitude and expands towards the back of the hemispheres as practice progresses and the inhibitory state deepens. The alpha wave, however, undergoes little change, though sometimes exhibiting a slight increase in amplitude, cycle extension and a trend towards a gradual slowing of rhythm.

Mental activities such as worry, anger and even thought as well as unnecessary and excessive tensing of the body's muscles cause fatigue and body aches. Tension can especially be felt in the chest and shoulders and seen in the face. The steady practice of standing pole exercises extends outside practice to daily life so that excess tension and thus fatigue are permanently reduced or eventually eliminated.

It has been observed that during the standing pole exercises the pulse rate increases steadily and then eventually levels off. Immediately after practice the pulse rate does not drop suddenly. This makes it suitable for practice by those with heart trouble or the very frail. Breathing is allowed to respond naturally to the gradually rising needs of the metabolism. Breathing is not artificially slowed for that would deprive the body of oxygen. As with other strenuous types of exercise when oxygen intake cannot keep up with its consumption, as evidenced by labored breathing, there occurs a harmful build up waste products in the body such as lactic acid.

With steady practice, chest muscles eventually relax, allowing for very deep and perfectly natural breathing. There is an accompanying increase in lung capacity and with it a beneficial increase in the permeability of the pulmonary alveolus wall and expansion of the lung's capillaries. Further, greater chest expansion during inhalation increases pressure in the thorax, helping to draw blood out from the veins into the heart. Exhalation releases the pressure, helping the heart to push out blood. Lastly, there is a beneficial massaging effect of deep breathing on the internal organs as with each inhalation the diaphragm sinks and the mediastinum expands and with each exhalation the diaphragm rises and the mediastinum contracts.

Relaxation of the abdomen allows the abdominal organs to settle, while the movement of abdominal respiration coupled with pressure changes in the thorax creates a massaging motion on them. Investigations have shown that such a massaging action on the liver causes an increase in choleresis, aiding digestion, prevents stasis of the bile system and expands the blood capillaries in the liver. Such massage also helps to prevent stasis in the stomach and intestinal system, working against the development of ulcers, gastroenterits, constipation and other abdominal disorders.

In summary, the standing pole exercises are a viable and effective method of self-treatment. As a non-strenuous but thorough mental and physical exercise they can be practiced by even the very frail, combating illness and strengthening the body without the side effects of other forms of treatment.