How do you prepare for Zhan Zhuang practice? What's your intent or attitude or focus prior to standing? What's your intent or attitude or focus while standing? Over the years, I've approached my practice with different intents. However, I did not recognize a difference between a prior-to-session intent and a during-session intent. I had only one intent and a few of these have been:
* The intention to stand for 10 minutes, then 20, then 30, then 45, then 60. I focused on time-in-stance, believing that the longer I stood, the better my zhan zhuang.
* The intention to pay attention to or focus on anything else besides the incessant, rambling audio in my head; the "monkey-mind". I focused on listening to "meditation" music, and/or standing outside "in nature" listening to birds, crickets, frogs.
* The intention to re-produce a particular, mechanically derived feeling, for example sink the chi, or recalling a kinesthetic memory, or that feeling from the last class.
And of course, there are intentions that are permutations and variations on each as well as others.
Recently, I started playing with a different intent which for many years I regarded as a silly woo-woo (spiritual or mystical) mind game because I wanted a defined, intellectual, mechanical method that I could imitate, duplicate, replicate. I see now that I disregarded this method because I could not yet feel how it worked. I guess I wasn't ready for it.
This intent method says: Put a question "out there". Ask a question and let it go. Don't try to think of an answer (because thinking is not the same as feeling) and don't try to find or create an imagined feeling. Simply wait and notice what shows up.
So over the last couple weeks, after starting a practice session, I would ask the question, "How can I feel more connected?" I would then stand... and wait... and wait... noticing... waiting.... but nothing would show up. I didn't feel anything like an answer. So I asked my Wujifa school brothers during a recent class; How do I get this method to work for me?
I like Dan's response which went something like this: "It's like baking chocolate chip cookies. You get different results depending on whether you put the chocolate chips in before or after baking."
So, if your pre-session intent or attitude or focus is "I gotta stand for 30 minutes" and then during-session you ask, "How can I feel more connected?" well, that's like putting the chips in after baking the cookie. You've already set the intent or focus on watching the clock.
On the other hand, if your pre-session intent or attitude or focus is, "Hmm... How can I feel more connected?" well, one answer might be, "I can practice stance." This sets the intent "I practice stance to feel more connected." This is like putting the chips in before baking the cookies.
So this is what I'm playing with in my Zhan Zhuang practice now.
Then too questions might arise: How do I ask a question? What kind of question should I "put out there"? That's a good question. I don't know. From class I've learned that if you build a lot of explanation and background to the question, the explanation and background may limit the possible range of answers.
For example, if you say, "I read "X" and I saw "Y" so I'm thinking connection should feel like "this concept-imagined feeling", so my question is: How do I feel connection between my hips and shoulders?" Well, this intellectualizing may limit what you can notice. However, if somehow you can bypass the back-story and simply ask, "How does the connection between my hips and shoulders feel?" or "What do I notice-feel between my hips and shoulders?" well, this may create an opportunity for a wider range of answer.
What I've tried to share here is that preparing for Zhan Zhuang practice can involve much more than waking up the brain early in the morning or relaxing in the evening or preceding practice with some activity like stretching or walking or whatever. If you can become aware of your intent or focus or attitude, then like baking chocolate chip cookies, you may discover if you're putting the chips in before, or after baking. (Oh, and by the way, I love a good chocolate chip cookie!)