Why Your Slow-Motion Movement Practice is Not Slow Enough
by Dan Kleiman
Imagine being on a hike, when you are just about to cross the tree line and you get a glimpse of the trail leading just a little higher. Before you arrive at the summit of a mountain, you catch glimpses of what lies waiting at the top. As you come closer to the top, a panorama spreads out before you. You breathe in the crisp air at the summit and see other distant peaks out on the horizon.
When you do your taiji form, you also catch glimpses of deeper layers of stillness inside your movements. But here’s the problem, without a standing qigong practice, your taiji form will never give you complete access to the summit. Just like that feeling of being there at the summit, breathing in different air, and gazing out onto the unfolding landscape of still, distant peaks all around you; standing qigong lets you soak in layers and layers of stillness that slow-motion movement can never quite reach.
If you really want to explore the deeper layers of your mind and how it connects to your body, you have to stand.
How Standing Qigong Takes You Deeper
By eliminating voluntary, conscious movement and holding a single posture, the only thing left to do is observe the movements of your mind, your energy, and experience pre-conscious, postural shifts in the body. As you settle into longer periods of standing, you uncover deeper layers. Standing takes you deeper because it shifts your sense of internal space and time. You build up a different set of internal reference points, ones that you would otherwise miss if all you did was moving form practice.
In New Hampshire, there used to be the Old Man in the Mountain, an outcropping of rock that looked like a face when viewed from the side. In 2003, the face fell off. Imagine being there when the outcropping sheered away from the side of the mountain. One minute it was there and the next minute it wasn’t. This is just like doing a moving practice. One minute you are here, the next minute you’re there.
In standing practice, though, it’s different. Imagine, instead, that you were up on the mountain with the Old Man. Imagine being able to have seen every little micro degree of loosening that went on in those rocks before they sheered apart and fell off. Imagine sensing small shifts in your footing in the moments before an entire cliff face slipped free. This is the kind of awareness that only standing qigong will develop.
When you hold a posture, you will be like the Old Man and the mountain simultaneously, holding tension in your shoulder, for example, and struggling to let it go. You feel every little micro degree of it starting to loosen and relax, and then it slides away from your neck and opens up and it’s released. If you were moving all the time, you would stretch it and pull on it, and it would not quite let go and you don’t know where the right switch is. But when you stand, you start to feel into that space and you start to explore it and release it in a way that completely lets it go.
Standing practice tunes you in to deeper and deeper layers of release and also the underlying speed of relaxation. What does it feel like to watch something shift and change its quality in your body over a half an hour? That’s an incredible way to train the mind and it’s an incredible way to fuse the mind and the body in an engaged, yet passive way.
Taking on a standing practice can seem like a grueling task. In fact, I often hear students explain that the reason they came to taiji in the first place was because “I couldn’t sit still long enough to meditate”. We have a desire to slow down and connect with our deeper inner senses, but we have so many external pulls and distractions, that it can be hard to figure out how to do this.
How to Integrate Standing into Your Regular Taiji Practice
The key to integrating standing in your taiji practice is to look for internal stability and avoid internal resistance.
Once everything clicks in a stability point, you want to maintain this state for as long as possible. When you lose it or you shrink out of it or you start to collapse a little bit, the moment is over. Your standing practice then becomes a process of returning to these stability points, becoming more and more familiar with how to get there. What are the right physical alignments? How do you hold your awareness? Think of these early indicators as sign posts on the road to greater internal stability.
How to Get Started with a Standing Practice
The standing practice that I’ve learned from Taoist Master Bruce Frantzis always begins with a downward body scan. This method works well because you learn to connect your mind to your physical body at whatever internal speed feels comfortable for you. You start by feeling the crown of your head and work downward until you reach your feet. Naturally, as this process becomes more familiar, you find more and more space to explore inside the body. If you follow this approach, you never have to worry about the clock, but you will stand for longer and longer as you refine your internal awareness.
To help you begin this process, I’ve created three different guided practice mp3s that will take you through the intial stages of this practice. Each one takes you through different things to feel: 5 minutes of “settling in”, 10 minutes of “softening the body”, and 20 minutes of “sinking chi”. You can download each one here:
I recommend that you flow from the end of each standing session into your moving practice, so that you can begin to play with the deeper connections you will develop in standing practice. Use the standing practice as a warm-up for moving practices.
If you do not do a taiji form, but you want to develop a complete practice set around standing qigong, I recommend Bruce Frantzis’s book, Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, which details not only standing practice, but also what movements you should do to complete the energetic patterns you develop in standing work. To read about how to use this book as a guide to your practice follow this link:[Dan Kleiman is the Program Director at Brookline Tai Chi in Brookline, MA, near Boston. Brookline Tai Chi is one of the largest health-oriented Tai Chi schools in the country and has been a center for teaching the Chinese movement arts of Wu Style Tai Chi, Qigong, Ba Gua and Taoist Breathing since 1992. http://www.brooklinetaichi.org. Dan teaches weekly classes and workshops on Tai Chi and Qigong for adults seeking a calmer mind and more vibrant health. For more advice on developing a movement practice focused on relaxation and pain relief, visit www.DanKleiman.com/get-moving]