A recent entry in the suggestion box reads,
“What is the best book or DVD for learning zhan zhuang?”
My zhan zhuang background
My formal introduction to zhan zhuang (standing meditation) was provided by “Michael”, a master of Taoist self-cultivation methods. With his expert guidance, and my previous years of training in the martial arts of karate, aikido, wing chun, xingyi and BJJ, I was confident in the direction of my practice.
Within Michael’s xiu dao system, zhan zhuang prepares the body and mind for the demands of seated meditation and neigong practice. At the first level of training, students are to hold the standing postures from one to three hours daily. I followed his instructions, to the extent that my schedule and willpower allowed—all in addition to my ongoing martial arts study.
During the occasional period of intensive training, I practiced upwards of 40 hours per week, with standing meditation as a major component. And in my free time, I read much of the English-language material written on the subject.
Having met Michael and other genuine masters of their arts, I held no illusions regarding my own level of mastery. I did, however, believe that I knew how to train properly.
Ten seconds, six inches
Some years later, a wing chun friend introduced me to “Stan”, a third-generation master of Wang Xiangzhai’s Yiquan. I asked Stan for a critique of my posture—the posture I had refined over hundreds, if not thousands of hours of dedicated effort.
He observed for three seconds or so, before giving his reply. “Your zhan zhuang is upright, but incorrect. It is ‘wing chun’ straight, not ‘yiquan’ straight.” With a few minor physical adjustments, Stan fundamentally altered my experience and my understanding of zhan zhuang. Thanks to his input, my standard is higher, and both the health and martial benefits of my practice are greater.
Before I met Stan, my standing meditation already exhibited all the salutary qualities you would read about in a book, or hear in a DVD lecture. It was “relaxed”, “aligned”, “expansive”, et cetera. At the most basic level, such gross physical and energetic descriptions are helpful, but at a higher level they are worthless; the description is not a prescription. The issue is not whether, but how precisely to relax—and it will not be settled by words, by references to a shared experience that you do not already possess.
How do you learn zhan zhuang from a book? In my experience: you don’t…at least not well. If such books inspire you to take the next step, and locate a good teacher, then they have served their purpose.