Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Zhan Zhuang Connections 101

Internal strength is the Ph.D. of the martial arts. In American colleges, the introductory course for any major is the "101" (one-oh-one) course. Similarly, Zhan Zhuang Connections 101, is a good introductory course on developing internal strength.

When Chen Xiao-wang says, "When one part moves, all parts move." I believe he is describing how connectedness feels to him. At a recent Wujifa class, I complained that I still don't feel that kind of connectedness. My elder school brother was quick to point out that at a mechanical level, I already am connected. His ensuing teaching is the inspiration for this article.

To begin, here is a light-hearted, secular rendition of the old spiritual "Dem Bones".

And who knew that Herman Munster (from the 1960's The Munsters TV show) was teaching Zhan Zhuang Connections 101! Now, back to the topic...

Stand double-weighted. Shift into your left side and lift your right knee. What happened to your right foot? Did it rise off the ground? It did? Oh. So your foot and knee are connected. How about that? Can you feel that connection?

And then we proceeded to go into detail addressing the feet. I've been playing with this and have added my embellishments as parentheticals noting what I've done that has helped me notice and feel.

Can you feel your toes? All your toes? Individually? (You may need to wiggle your toes to notice you can feel them, or you may have the intention to wiggle your toes and feel internal movement without your toes externally moving.)

Can you feel the balls of your feet; how your weight is distributed on each joint? (You may need to roll your foot from side-to-side to notice you can feel them, or you may have the intention to roll your foot and feel internal movement without externally moving.)

Can you feel the connection between your toes and the balls of your feet? (You may need to move to notice you can feel the connection or you may have the intention to move and feel internal movement without externally moving.)

Can you feel the arch of your feet? (You may need to make it rise and shorten and drop and lengthen to notice you can feel it or you may have the intention to move and feel internal movement without externally moving.)

Can you feel the connection between the arch, the balls of your feet and your toes as you raise and lower your arch?

Can you feel your heel; the weight in your heel?

Etc. Etc. Etc. Use this method the rest of the way up the legs. Or since the feet and legs are similar to hands and arms, apply this method starting in the fingers and work your way up the arms.

Tips: Don't force a feeling. Simply feel and notice. If you notice numbness, that is, an area where you can't feel, that's OK. Really, it's OK. This is a great insight! Questions to ask yourself are, "Is this the most numb area? Is there an area that is less numb? Is there an area that you can feel really well? Now you've noticed three different feelings in different areas of your body. Excellent progress!

A problem I encounter with this method is that my concentration wanes when I get to the ankle (and elbow when beginning in the fingers) and my mind wanders off, which I notice, and then I resume where I left off. I'm probably "over-thinking" each part as is my habit.

Remember, this is Ph.D. level stuff and developing a mechanical feeling of connectedness is a fine place to start. And if you ever feel disheartened about not "getting it", remember that you are trying to achieve what only a handful of people through all human history have ever achieved!

Why do some continue making progress and others get stuck? If you think that there is an "it" to get, then you may give up because you either haven't yet gotten "it" or you think you will never get "it". But if you set a goal to maintain a time and space in daily life for discovering and learning in Zhan Zhuang, then you have a better chance of "getting it". Recalibrate your goal from "getting it" to "learning and discovering".


  1. I am wondering if tapping (with your fingers) an area that you are not able to feel will be helpful in gaining connectedness?

    This method is used in breathwork by Carola Speads.

  2. Chris,
    I'm not familiar with her work though I now see she has a couple books.

    My understanding of numbness (excluding neurological damage) from a Reich/Lowen/Bio-energetic therapy perspective is that numbness is one way I experience my armoring against feeling.

    How does Carola use tapping to allow feeling to flow? I assume there is more to her method that I don't understand...

  3. One of the exercises is to tap with your fingers (formed as a claw) on specific areas on your chest, side of torso and back while breathing. Tap a few times and feel whether the breathing has changed. You will probably feel that the tapped areas are now "breathing" as well.

    I don't know whether this is the same numbness as you understand it but this method worked the few times I tried it. It should be done over a number of days or months until you feel that there is nothing more to gain from it.

    Basically I think it stimulates the flow of blood and increased awareness thus building new pathways for the brain.

  4. Thanks! I'll certainly play with this. I'm curious how this might work for building connectedness...

    Hey, do you have any links to share? Does Carola have a site? Do you have a blog?

    Appreciate your explanation and insights!

  5. Carola has passed away.

    I don't have a blog. I'm quite busy with practise, work and family.

    I visit for inspiration. Regarding Zhan Zhuang, I think your blog is very good for getting deep into this practise.