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ZHAN ZHUANG WISDOM - THE BREATH OF LIFE

by Mark Cohen
with Charles Andres

ZHAN ZHUANG BREATHING METHODS


It is often said in Zhan Zhuang that one’s breathing should be ‘natural.’
But what does this really mean? In one sense ‘natural’ breathing is
however we happen to be breathing in each moment. Although there is
truth in this, this type of natural breath often has embedded within it,
various deficiencies due to injury, lifestyle or a lifetime of various
habitual behaviors.

That brings us to the second interpretation, wherein the ‘natural’


breath means to return to ‘embryonic’ breathing - sometimes called
‘Back to Childhood’ or ‘Spherical’ breathing - enjoyed by every human
being from the time they are born, through their early formative years.
This type of breathing oxygenates every cell in the body, the efficacy
of which is evidenced by the infant and young child’s healthy rapid
growth.

In the old way of learning, breath was not taught to the novice until
they were much further along in their training, usually about one to
three years. The reason for this is that it was thought that as the
beginner began to work out the ‘kinks’ in their body through daily
practice, the breath would naturally adjust itself to the trainee’s
current needs and state of consciousness. This was true for both Zhan
Zhuang and Taijiquan. With Taiji, as the movements and postures
opened up and were embedded with the various internal Nei Gong
components, the breath would naturally regulate itself and become
correct.

While this is true, it was also known that, that way of training could be
a long road with many twists and turns, often leaving the dedicated
practitioner bewildered and at a loss as to how to progress further.

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This mindset was thought to be a good way to test and weed out all
but the most committed and persevering individuals.

ORIGINAL BREATH
Before a baby is born and is still within its mother’s Bao, the baby
breathes through its umbilicus without using it’s lungs. This is actually
its ‘Original Breath,’ which sustains and nourishes it for the nine
months prior to birth. This is breathing from your Centerpoint. (An old
Daoist tradition says that this incoming transmission occurs more from
the left side of the navel than from the right.)

Our goal in Internal training regarding the breath is to eventually


return to a similar state during our practices. This only becomes
possible through deeper and deeper relaxation,
when one begins to “Enter Into the Void” which can be likened to the
state of Samadhi from the East Indian traditions. But before all that
can happen, we will have to pass through a fair number of preliminary
stages.

One such stage just prior to entering into the ‘Original breath’ is when
we find ourselves inhaling and exhaling simultaneously. From there,
the sense of breath can disappear altogether, and yet our brain and
internal organs are still being nourished. In other words we don’t pass
out or faint. On the contrary, our mind and higher senses seem to have
an increased sense of clarity and focus.

This however, is generally only possible after we have mastered the


Spherical Breath which contains and creates three-dimensionality, In
other words, a horizontal, vertical and depth aspect, each of which is
first learned separately and then joined in various combinations until a
balanced sphericality is achieved.

By the way, when simultaneous inhalation and exhalation is done


sharply and suddenly it can generate a powerful self-defense to absorb
blows. This method harnesses the body’s Wei Qi - Defensive energy,

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ZHAN ZHUANG WISDOM - THE BREATH OF LIFE
by Mark Cohen
with Charles Andres
(includes the immune system) and the Ying or Nutritive Qi and even
the Organ Qi and focuses them at the point of interception or contact.
This method harnesses all the body’s defensive energy in a single
instant.

THE VERTICAL ASPECT - CROSSING BREATH


The first of the three dimensional aspects of the triad of Sphericality
(Height, Width and Depth) that we shall explore is the vertical or height
aspect. The ‘Crossing Breath’ develops this. The idea is simple.
Breathe into your upper back and lower abdomen. The breath from the
upper back descends to the sacral region while the breath starting at
the Low Dan Tien or navel area simultaneously ascends to the Clavicle.
Half-way down and up the twin aspects ‘cross,’ hence the name.’

In addition to refining the vertical motions of down and up individually,


the Crossing Breath begins to train the muscles to move in opposite
directions or contrary motion; an essential characteristic of Spherical
Breathing.’ The idea of opposite motion is also especially useful in the
area of the midriff, and specifically between the External and Internal
Obliques who’s job it is to move in opposite directions during proper
Taiji, Qigong and of course Zhan Zhuang practices.

INSERT 1 - CROSSING BREATH GRAPHIC

THE HORIZONTAL ASPECT - HALF-MOON BREATHING


The second aspect we shall explore is the horizontal aspect which is
encompassed in Half-Moon breathing. This method derives its name
from the shape the abdomen takes while inhaling. What we do is
simple. First we establish three points, all of which will expand
simultaneously. The first point is the navel or low Dan Tien region. The
second and third points are found on the left and right sides of the

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body, in the midriff area at Jingmen Point, GB-25 just below the the
free end of the 12th rib. As we inhale we shift our feeling-awareness
between the navel and the two Jingmen points on either side. The idea
is to ensure that all three locations have physical movement. The navel
area expands forward while the left and right points expand outward in
a lateral manner. Together, the expanding arc formed by the three
expanding points now resembles a half moon. Along with the three
points mentioned, two other points, specifically the Left and Right Dan
Tiens are then added. These locations lie roughly halfway between the
navel and Jingmen point on either side. Together the three basic points
and these other two further reinforce and amplify the “roundness” of
the half moon.

INSERT 2 - HALF-MOON BREATH GRAPHIC

THE DEPTH ASPECT - FULL MOON/SPHERICAL BREATHING


The Full Moon breathing method adds three additional points on the
back to the five Half-Moon points already mentioned. These are
Mingmen, GV-4 and two points roughly equidistant between Mingmen
and the two Jingmen points. These are located in the vicinity of Zhishi
point BL-52, on either side. In combination, these eight points create a
complete circle, and when the inhale is generated from the body’s
centerpoint, they form the basis of Spherical Breathing. That is, an
equal expansion in all eight directions from the tiny sphere of our
centerpoint to an energetic sphere that eventually encompasses the
entire torso and later the whole body, including the extremities. As this
technique becomes comfortable, the practitioner finds that the
vertical elements also come into play, that is, from our centerpoint
downward through Huiyin point, CV-1 in the perineal region and also
upward to Baihui point GV-20.

INSERT 3 - FULL-MOON BREATH GRAPHIC

When we exercise the Half-Moon method, often we can see and feel a
lot of movement in the tissue, even on the sides. But when we add the

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ZHAN ZHUANG WISDOM - THE BREATH OF LIFE
by Mark Cohen
with Charles Andres
points on the back something unusual happens. All of a sudden the
amount of abdominal movement we had earlier appears to become
greatly reduced. This results from the stretching or expanding of the
tissue of the back which takes away from the elasticity in front. But as
we become more comfortable with the equilateral expansion in all
directions, this feeling will change. With enough experience, one
begins to feel a sense of unified, equal expansion without resistance.
At that point we are ready to add one final element which will lead us
into what some have called Longevity Breathing.

But before we do, a brief recap is in order. The navel - which expands
forward, and the Mingmen - which expands backward, together create
the archetype for the depth [front to back] dimension. The two
Jingmen points, each expanding laterally generate the archetype for
the horizontal aspect or width. And finally Huiyin and Baihui points,
activated from our centerpoint induce the vertical dimension or height
aspect. With enough daily practice all three dimensions will find their
correct dynamic tension, at which time the breath seems to expand
and condense without a sense of impediment from the muscles or
other tissues.

INSERTS 4 & 4a - SPHERICAL BREATH GRAPHICS

LONGEVITY BREATHING
Once this has occurred we have begun to become in touch with the
energetic aspects of the training. And these will come into play even
more as we explore Longevity Breathing and enter into states where
the breath takes unusual forms and sometimes seems to disappear
altogether.

With Longevity Breathing, whose name derives from the compression


and release of the internal organs facilitated by the descending of the
diaphragm, we enter into the final stage of conscious breathing, the

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portal, through which it is possible to pass and return to the state of
Original Breath, or breathing like an infant, the true ‘natural breath.’

To perform the Longevity method correctly, it is important to first


define a few important parameters. Try this; inhale and then exhale
normally. On the exhale note the place where the abdomen is most
fully withdrawn. (Moved back toward the spine.) Now gently hold the
abdominal muscles in, to that same moderate degree. This is done
using only the minimal amount of force necessary and applied mostly
to the following four points or corners. The first two points lay on the
line of the navel where the Rectus Abdominis muscles meet the
External Obliques. In other words the Left and Right Dan Tiens. The
second set of points each lie on a line directly below the Left and Right
Dan Tiens respectively, where each line intersects its respective
inguinal crease.

There’s an easy way to locate the four points. Try this; place both
thumbs on the navel. Next, slide the thumbs laterally until they reach
the two points where the Rectus Abdominis [washboard muscles] meet
the Obliques. There’s generally a slight vertical indentation in this
region. These points are usually easiest to feel while standing. Now,
while holding the thumbs in position, extend your middle fingers
directly below until they reach the Inguinal Crease. And there you have
it. (See Diagram)

INSERT 5 - LONGEVITY BREATH GRAPHIC

Now having located the four masterpoints and while keeping them
slightly withdrawn, [held in] breathe in very gently, slenderly and
slowly behind the abdominal muscles such that the breath reaches the
Perennial region and begins to fill the low back and Sacrum first and
then an instant later, the sides and front. Once the breath has filled out
the ‘circle’ in all directions at the level of the Perineum/Sacrum/Low
Back, as you continue to inhale, the breath will seem to rise, like filling

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ZHAN ZHUANG WISDOM - THE BREATH OF LIFE
by Mark Cohen
with Charles Andres
a large energetic cylinder which physically becomes the entire torso
[abdomen and chest] and then later, the neck and head as well.

The organ massage spoken of earlier starts to occur as we drop our


breath to the bottom of the torso. As we feel the breath reaching the
floor of the urogenital diaphragm (Perennial Region) we soon realize
that our (Hiatal) Diaphragm located at the at the level of the lowest rib
has descended toward the pelvic floor in the process. And if done right,
this will also include the chest and particularly the Sternum. This
descending motion creates a slight compression within each of the
internal organs which is in turn, released and becomes expansion as
we begin inhaling.

Please note that this method is in direct contrast to the forceful


withdrawal and tightening of the abdomen used in ‘Packing Breathing’
which people train in order to develop the Iron Body and Golden Bell
Cover protection mechanisms.

Lastly, as one continues to practice the Longevity method they will


find their breath elongating further and further, until the difference
between inhale and exhale seems, if only temporarily, to vanish. This
leads for some to the idea of breathing or needing to breathe itself
temporarily disappearing. And with that we come full circle and arrive
once again at the Natural Breath, only now with and entirely new
understanding.

This form of Natural Breath has been found to also have a number of
other health rejuvenating benefits, not the least of which, is the
increased oxygenation of the blood and increased tissue oxygen
saturation.

Increased blood oxygenation leads to improved circulation which


nurtures the entire organism, including the brain. The increased

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oxygenation is especially valuable to the brain where it helps stave off
the untimely cessation of brain cells which would ordinarily lead to
problems like Alzheimer's, dementia and the like, as we grow older.

Increased tissue oxygen saturation helps such things as the muscles


to function longer and more optimally during prolonged exertion. This
can be very useful in maintaining one’s vitality into old age. As well as
our daily Zhan Zhuang and Taijiquan training.

It has been my experience that Standing Meditation and Taiji are a


perfect compliment of Yin and Yang. With Zhan Zhuang (Yin) we are
outwardly still while things move inside, whereas with Taijiquan (Yang)
we have just the opposite. We move outwardly while inwardly we
maintain a still point. “The mind stays with the Dan Tien.”

INCREASING THE BENEFITS OF OUR PRACTICE


As our breathing begins to return to a more natural state, we begin to
notice the breath overflowing the torso and spilling out into the upper
and lower extremities. This begins the spontaneous state of opening
and closing the joints and cavities (Kai/He) where the breath also
activates the articulation of the shoulder blades, shoulders, elbows,
wrists and hands in the upper extremities, and the Kua, sacrum, hips,
knees, ankles and feet in the lower extremities.

In terms of the joints, this opening and closing, stemming from the
breath, begins to amplify and build up the all-important Synovial fluid
necessary for natural spring power in the joints. In terms of the whole
organism, this type of opening and closing notably increases the
oxygenation of the blood as well as a form of tissue oxygen saturation
- necessary for proper muscle, organ and brain function, especially
during periods of exertion.

So, in terms of improving the health benefits of our Taiji or Qigong


practice, it behooves us to take what we’ve first experienced in the
stillness of Zhan Zhuang postural meditation and find a way to apply it

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ZHAN ZHUANG WISDOM - THE BREATH OF LIFE
by Mark Cohen
with Charles Andres
to all our forms. It is my understanding that this was one of Zhan
Zhuang’s original purposes and also the intention of the creators of the
various internal systems. In other words, Zhan Zhuang’s Nei Gong
insights and body wisdom were always meant to be instilled within all
of our moving exercises.

One of the best ways to begin this type of training is to consciously


take control of the opening and closing (Kai/He) process, first within
the Zhan Zhuang postures, and then after we start to get a handle on
the technique, within each posture and transition of our Taiji or Qigong
forms. This is best learned separately for the upper body and lower
body, and then put together and effected simultaneously.

UPPER BODY - OPENING SEQUENCE


Assume the basic Wuji posture, feet parallel and with the weight
equally distributed. Raise the arms into the Holding the Ball
(Embracing the Tree) posture, forming an oval with the chest,
shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, wrists and hands. Fingertips point
towards each other with palms facing the chest. Let the elbows gently
sink in response to gravity. It is interesting to note that in some Daoist
systems these articulations (openings) are said to resemble and form a
Bagua. Upper body sequence utilizes two primary directions for
opening, the first is downward which is most important and the second
is a horizontal or lateral stretching. There is of course also a third
aspect of depth which we will be aware of but deemphasize until we
combine the upper body with the lower.

So now, in the Holding the Ball posture, begin abdominal breathing.


After establishing a rhythm, at the beginning of your inhalation, let the
shoulder blades, upper back and shoulder joints sink and expand. Let
that sense of lateral expansion extend into the upper arms (Biceps and
Triceps) causing the elbow joint to articulate (open) both vertically and
horizontally. This naturally impels the lengthening and widening in the
muscles of the forearm and by extension the wrists, which should feel

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a nearly equal vertical and horizontal stretching. This is especially
important for the hands and fingers. When all this is done correctly we
feel a gentle stretching from the spine through the Trapezius and
Rhomboids, Scapulae, Teres, Deltoids, Biceps and Triceps, elbow,
forearm, wrist, palm and fingers, throughout the length of our
inhalation. It is important to create this feeling all the way out to the
fingertips. The reason for this is two-fold. On the health side, it’s
important that the Qi reach the tips of the extremities in order to
maximize the optimal circulatory benefit. On the martial side, we are
training the Qi to pass out of the fingers - and into the opponent.

INSERT 6 - UPPER BODY OPEN

UPPER BODY - CLOSING SEQUENCE


Now we will reverse the process, not only with the breath, but also
with the direction of our stretching, which now starts from the
fingertips and returns all the way back into the spine or Central
Channel as the case may be.

So, having previously expanded the tissues, muscles and joints to their
natural capacity during our inhalation, we now work backwards in
reverse order during our exhale. As we begin our exhalation, the
fingers telescope back into the knuckles, forming a ‘tile-hand.’ Like a
Chinese roof tile. The palm and back of hand stretch inwardly
(condense) into the wrist which also contracts into the Radius and
Ulna bones - stimulating the lubricating Synovial fluid. This inward
stretching now percolates back up the forearm and into the elbow.
When the elbow joint closes, it automatically triggers a slight
contraction of the Biceps and Triceps. This joins the whole lower
extremity to the Deltoids and the shoulder. From there, the condensing
(closing) wraps around the upper back with the Teres muscles
stretching into the shoulder blades followed by the Trapezius and

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ZHAN ZHUANG WISDOM - THE BREATH OF LIFE
by Mark Cohen
with Charles Andres
Rhomboids completing the closing back into the spine as our exhale
finishes.
The amount of movement for each segment should be relatively small,
although initially its okay to make the individual movements slightly
exaggerated to confirm that they’re happening. This idea of one
segment after the other, linear type movement is sometimes called
‘Snaking’ and is the preliminary stage. In actual fact, each of the
segmented movements previously discussed have a different motion
range and it is our job after first linking them in the linear manner, to
work with the range of motion differentials until all the joints, muscles
and sinews begin and end at the same time. Like the Classics say,
“...One part moves, all parts move.” When this becomes comfortable
and instilled in the subconscious, the joints will seem to have a
sensation of spherical opening, that is, opening in all directions.

INSERT 7- UPPER BODY CLOSED

LOWER BODY PREPARATORY SEQUENCE


Once we can execute the upper body sequence with a sense of
continuity, its time to tackle the lower extremities motions. Assume
the Wuji posture and initiate abdominal breathing. After falling into a
rhythm, exhale, and as the abdomen condenses, let your body weight,
from the level of the diaphragm, sink down a little into the feet. This
type of sinking is a preparatory stage of the closing process and
should include the Psoas muscles, waist, midriff, hips and Kua. All the
tissue below the diaphragm; while the upper torso, neck and head
remain relatively stationary. This creates a gentle stretching or
opening in the area between the lowest ribs and the hip bones. It also
activates the contrary motion of the Obliques. The External Obliques
sink downward with the rest, while the Internal Obliques slightly lift or
stretch upward in order to maintain the position of the upper torso.
This counter-motion of the Obliques during the opening cycle is an
essential factor in the proper vertical expansion of the torso.

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Now, as we sink down in the manner discussed above, we must also be


aware that when our release of weight reaches the bottoms of the feet,
it triggers an equal and opposite reaction; a muscular contraction that
rises rapidly back up into the Kua, shortening the muscles of the
calves and shins which impels the angle at the back of the knees to
also decrease or close slightly. We’re not bending our knees per se,
rather it is a result of the shortening of the muscles in the hips and
Kua which condense upward and inward toward the navel/centerpoint.
Once we can be aware of this and feel relaxed with these changes, its
time to address the lower body closing technique in the same manner
as we did the upper.

LOWER BODY CLOSING SEQUENCE


Begin in Wuji posture with the body mildly stretched upward, lifted
vertically. The joints of the lower extremities become just barely
articulated. This expanding or opening first is important, especially at
the beginning of training, because it gives us ‘somewhere to go’ with
our closing process.

Now, inhale and then upon the initiation of your exhale, surrender to
gravity and let the entire body sink into the feet. This condenses the
Plantar muscle which helps close the foot. The closing of the foot pulls
on the ankle causing it to also contract. This shift in joint articulation
naturally wants to influence the calf muscles and shins to also
condense, followed by the knee joint, Quadriceps and hamstrings
which also shorten as they close into the hips, Kua and buttocks,
which in turn will also gently contract up and in toward the body’s
Centerpoint.

INSERT 8 - LOWER BODY CLOSED

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ZHAN ZHUANG WISDOM - THE BREATH OF LIFE
by Mark Cohen
with Charles Andres
LOWER BODY OPENING SEQUENCE
Now that we have successfully condensed or closed the lower
extremities from the feet all the way up and in toward the body’s
Centerpoint throughout our exhale, let’s reverse the process. Inhale
and let the breath expand from your Centerpoint into your Kua. This
stretching and expanding wants to have a three-dimensional feeling. In
other words, a height, width and depth aspect. As the muscles of our
Kua open they will naturally prompt a similar residual opening
(stretching and lengthening) to occur in the hamstrings and Quads, the
knee, lower leg, ankles and feet.

The result of this is that all the joints of the lower extremities will have
opened and all the tissue will have lengthened. One important
reminder. While opening, and also closing is in process, the angle at
the back of the knees will change, becoming less as we close and
more as we open. While this is occurring in either direction, we must
be sure that our Patella (kneecap) remains stable. That is, it does not
move forward or backward in space. Once these principals are grasped
it will take many repetitions before there’s a smooth sense of flow. The
Chinese would say about 1000 times to instill it in our subconscious
muscle memory. Once again, this is the linear method which, as with
the upper extremities, must now be transformed from ‘Snaking’ into
everything starting and stopping together.

INSERT 9 - LOWER BODY OPEN

INHALATION
Before we combine the upper and lower body, a word about inhalation.
During our inhalation we have the option of doing it in several ways.
Through our nose, through our mouth or through both. Each method
can have specific advantages. Breathing only through the mouth is
effective if your nose is stuffed up, Sinusitis or the like. However,
breathing in this way bypasses the body’s natural warming process -

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the nasal passages and membranes. Breathing through the nose and
mouth simultaneously has the effect of bringing the greatest volume of
air/Kong Qi into the lungs. This method is used in certain forms of
Qigong and Nei Gong practices and works well with them.

But by far the most effective and commonly used method is breathing
through the nose and from a scientific point of view, here’s why. The
idea of inhaling through the nose has been found to have measurable
effects. When we breathe solely through our nose, Nitric oxide, a
natural vasodilator, is produced in the nasal sinuses. The nitric oxide is
then taken into the lungs and distributed throughout the body by the
cardiovascular system, thereby opening blood vessels and lowering
blood pressure. In addition, nasal
breathing also has the added effect of activating the parasympathetic
nervous system which, in layman’s terms, is responsible for rebuilding
and restoring the body, and normalizing stress hormones. And all these
benefits become amplified when we apply our abdominal breathing.

EMPIRICAL VALIDATION
In this regard there have also been studies on the effects of Zhan
Zhuang and Taijiquan on blood oxygenation. In his book “Zhan Zhuang,
the Search for Wu”, the late Master Yu Yong Nian listed the specific
benefits with Zhan Zhuang. These included, after 1 hour of standing: i)
creation of approximately 1.5M additional erythrocytes (red blood
cells) per cm3 of blood; ii) up to 3,650 additional hemoleukocytes
(white blood cells) per cm3 of blood, iii) up to 3.2 gram of additional
hemoglobin per cm3 of blood,, and iv) increased oxygenation resulting
from the increased number of red blood cells.

In “Metarobics: A New Evolution in Health and Fitness,” Pete Gryffin, a


Yang style Taijiquan and Qi Gong instructor, used pulse oximeters to
measure blood oxygen saturation for Taijiquan practitioners. Gryffin
noted that slow, relaxed exercises such as Taijiquan increased blood
oxygen saturation while moderate exercise, such as walking, resulted
in no significant change. Exercises like running resulted in a marked

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ZHAN ZHUANG WISDOM - THE BREATH OF LIFE
by Mark Cohen
with Charles Andres
decrease. Blood oxygen saturation typically increased one to three
points, which is about a third of the normal 95-98% blood oxygen
saturation range. Gryffin coined the term Metarobics to describe the
unique oxygenation effects of Taijiquan and similar disciplines. The
East and West have different methods, but now there is clear evidence
that the creators of the Chinese internal health and martial systems
were spot on in their assumptions.

COMBINING THE UPPER AND LOWER BODY


Okay, so now that the lower body and upper body openings and
closings have been separately learned, it’s time to combine the two
and hardwire in the combination. In this instance, the word Hardwire
refers to connecting all the separate parts to each other as well as to
a central location - Low Dan Tien or Centerpoint.

Be aware that this linkage will be more complex than it might appear.
Besides the vertical aspect emphasized in the lower body and the
horizontal aspect emphasized in the upper body, we now must apply
the aspect of depth, which fills out the three dimensional trinity and
contains within it the all-important potential of sphericality.

WHOLE-BODY CLOSING
First, assume a Wuji posture. Next, open the body vertically using the
lower body method. Now, with the body slightly lengthened or ‘taller,’
raise your arms and form the ‘Holding the Ball’ posture. When that is in
place, apply the upper body method to open the arms and upper back.

Now, with both the upper and lower body open, its time to begin the
whole-body closing process. Return your feeling awareness to your
Centerpoint, level with the navel, halfway between left and right,
halfway between front and back. Next, inhale and expand from that
location in order to make space for closing. Now, as you start your

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exhale, with your feeling-awareness in your hands, feet and the top of
your head, allow all tissue above your center, to relax and surrender to
the descending Heaven energy or gravity, and condense downward and
in toward your Centerpoint. At the same time as this occurs, gently pull
up from the bottoms and insides of your feet. This initiates the lower
body closing - contracting and shortening all the tissues up into the
Kua and Centerpoint. Remember to allow the knee joints to mildly
compress - slightly bend.

Interestingly enough, the reason we use the insides of the feet in


addition to the bottoms is because they activate what the Daoists call
the ‘Thrusting Channel’ which is similar to the Penetrating Vessel,
Chong Mai in Acupuncture. The name ‘Thrusting Channel’ comes from
Daoist alchemy and refers to when the Qi thrusts upward from the
tailbone and Perineum and surges through the spine/Central Channel.
This is akin to the Kundalini opening in Yogic traditions. The specific
masterpoint on the foot is Gongsun, Sp-4.

Activation of this meridian tends to draw the tissues and sinews up


and in. So our axiom for the closing process becomes - ‘Up And In’ for
the lower body. That is, up from our feet and into our Centerpoint. And
for the upper body we think, “Down and In.’ Down from the top of our
head and shoulders into our Centerpoint, and inward from our
fingertips toward our spine.

So, when the closing process is successfully completed, what we have


is this: Everything from the top of the head to our Centerpoint is
condensed down and in through relaxation and gravity, and everything
from the bottoms of our feet up to our center is lightly contracted or
pulled up and in. Where these two opposing forces meet and compress
is ideally the dead center of our body, our Centerpoint. It is from here
that we shall initiate our three dimensional opening.

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by Mark Cohen
with Charles Andres
WHOLE-BODY OPENING
In order to do this, we must first reverse the direction of tissue
movement during the inhalation/opening procedure. The axioms
become - ‘Down and Out’ for the lower body, meaning, down and out
from our Centerpoint to our feet and for the upper body, ‘Up and Out,’
from our Centerpoint up to the top of the head, shoulders and out to
the arms and hands.

But there is one more dimension that we’ll need to add in order to
fulfill our three-dimensional goal - and that is depth. What we’ve done
so far has clearly defined the vertical and horizontal aspects, so now
we’ll revisit the arms with an eye to the dimension of depth, that is, the
distance the upper extremities move back and in toward the spine
during our exhalation (closing) and how much the upper extremities
move out and away from the spine during our inhalation. (opening)
Simultaneously adding the arms in this manner, while performing the
vertical and horizontal opening and closing will bring out the
beginnings of spherical opening and closing as well as spherical
breathing.

So now with all parts of the body fully condensed into our Centerpoint,
its time for our opening. Begin your inhalation from your Centerpoint
and feel the breath expand in multiple directions; down and out into
the feet, up and out into the head and upper torso and from a midpoint
halfway between the chest and back, the elbows move out away from
the spine while the spine itself moves backwards, completing the
depth aspect of the sphere. With consistent practice, eventually the
whole spine automatically expands backwards directly from our
Centerpoint while the chest and abdomen expand down and outward.
The resultant feeling is like a big, whole-body sphere (the body is
open) condensing into a tiny sphere in our Centerpoint which is
closing, and then the little sphere expands out in all directions into the
large sphere which is our completed opening.

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ZHAN ZHUANG WISDOM - THE BREATH OF LIFE

PULSING POSTURES - OPENING AND CLOSING IN TAIJI


Once this method of opening and closing is instilled within the
subconscious muscle memory, it is a relatively easy task to transfer
this wisdom to our Taiji or Qigong movements. A good way is a
technique called ‘Pulsing the Postures.’ The idea is fairly simple.
Assume the endpoint of a Taiji posture, let’s say Double Hand Peng for
example. The endpoint is the most fully opened part of any posture.
This is our state of having opened.

Now become aware of your upper and lower extremities and also your
torso. Exhale and condense the posture from all your extremities into
your center. Be sure this closing, contracting and condensing follows
the lines of the bones, and ‘shrinks’ the posture without altering its
outer frame or structure. From there, in order to open, simply apply
spherical breathing. Inhale from your Centerpoint and expand in all
directions, filling out the posture. Once again, follow the posture’s
frame without altering it. When done right, to an observer, the posture
seemingly appears to ‘grow.’ When this Zhan Zhuang body wisdom
becomes a natural part of your entire form, your internal practice will
have reached a whole new level.

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