In honor of the Festival of the Trees, today's technique introduces the meditation and wellness practice of Standing Like a Tree Qigong. (Qi means energy, and gong means practice or work.)
My love for spending time in the forest is partly an emotional recognition of the physical healing nature of plants since I use herbal medicine exclusively; I feel comfortable and comforted spending time among these elders of the herbal kingdom.
(Photo courtesy of Jade Blackwater)
I love to sit with my back against a tree in seated meditation; it's very grounding and centering. Even better is to practice Standing Like a Tree qigong among the trees. That is just an amazing experience…like becoming One with the forest. (Not to mention cultivating exceptional good health and wellness at the same time.)
Li Nianzu L.Ac., founder of the Song Ho Health Center, calls this qigong "Pine Tree Meditating." Even though the Chinese calligraphy characters are slightly different, Pine Tree is a fitting image for this practice because as you stand, your fingers are splayed out like the needles of a pine tree, and the pine tree is a Chinese symbol of longevity which this mind-body-energy practice certainly promotes. On his website, Martial Artist and Teacher Michael Garofalo of Valley Spirit T'ai Chi Ch'uan lists the name as "Enter the Heart of the Trees." Doesn't that sound like it would be an amazing experience?
"Standing like a tree" qigong, zhan zhuang qi gong in Chinese, is one of the few Asian wellness and energy practices in which continuous movement is not integral to the form as it is in the popular "Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan" or Baduanjin qigong (which I previously wrote about). In the zhan zhuang form, you do literally "stand like a tree;" your arms assume positions resembling the branches of a tree while your feet and legs remain motionless. Some instructors include the visualization of roots reaching out from the soles of your feet and spreading into the soil.
Like all qigong, the intent of this form is to maintain the free-flow of your internal energy (qi or chi) since stagnant or blocked energy is at the root of most illnesses. Zhan zhuang delivers the added benefit of actually increasing your internal energy and making you stronger as you stand while holding your arms in each of the five basic positions. It is recommended that you begin with five minutes and build up to standing for about thirty minutes each day. At the height of my practice, I was standing for forty-five minutes every day; I've toned it down a bit since then.
(Photo courtesy of free Adobe Acrobat book available on the YiQuan website.)
This is the second of the five basic postures. As you can see, it looks as if the practitioner is hugging a tree, and indeed the position is called cheng bao zhuang, "support by embracing tree," and is reported to bestow remarkable recuperative powers. (I assure you, it can.)
I had a marvelous experience standing like a tree during one of the world-wide meditations in which I participated. At the appointed hour, I stood in the cheng bao zhuang position with my eyes closed. In a dream or a vision, I'm not sure which, I saw a tree in the distance….an enormous tree with millions of widely-reaching branches. The tree was bare of leaves, but there were hundreds of colorful birds scattered among the branches. To add to that avian population, the sky was filled with chirping birds flying toward the tree from every direction. It was noisy, but pleasantly so, not raucous. As I approached the tree, I saw that all the birds had human faces portraying every race and color on the Earth, and we all were coming together on the branches of the tree. When I ended the meditation, I wondered if that had been the World Tree, and if the birds represented all the people meditating together!
"Standing Like a Tree" can be very challenging at first because as you stand, most of your muscles are naturally contracted. About 100 days of dedicated practice using the powerful intention of your mind to relax your muscles while mastering the five basic postures brings the rewards of complete physical relaxation and vibrant health (or improvement in most chronic conditions), as well as improved mental concentration, control, and stamina. There are also four advanced postures, and a very advanced practitioner may develop the ability, as is shown in the book, to create an energy circuit enabling her to experience the circulation of qi between herself and a tree. Perhaps that is why Mr. Garofalo calls this practice "Enter the Heart of the Trees."
You too can practice "Standing Like A Tree" by following the instructions of Master Lam Kam Chuen in his book The Way of Energy, ISBN 0671736450, which you can see in the sidebar on the left.