My Experience in Learning Standing Meditation

Standing meditation was not taught a great deal when I started taiji in the late 1980s. I learned from a great local teacher, and as this was pre-internet times, supplemented my learning by routinely travelling to weekend workshops and reading many of the books available at the time. I don’t recall any of the (then well-known and commercially distributed) taiji books even mentioning standing. Of course I didn’t read every single book or attend every single national or regional workshop, and there are certainly others that I did not know that learned from the heart of taiji tradition in China and taught standing in the late 80’s/early 90’s, but for the most part it was not mentioned in taiji circles. I had actually began a nascent standing practice (even once being gently chided by a taiji brother for “doing nothing”), and in a regional workshop sometime around 1990 I once asked the instructor about the purpose of standing. He said it is just an exercise to strengthen the shoulders and not important. My intuition at the time told me that was incorrect.

Dr. Yang Yang, who had lived and studied closely with Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang in Beijing, arrived in the U.S. in 1993 and from the beginning emphasized standing meditation practice as an essential component of efficient training. Dr. Yang was featured on the cover of the February 1995 edition of T’ai Chi magazine. To exemplify just how little standing was recognized or taught in the U.S. at the time, Marvin Smallheiser, the editor and author of the interview with Dr. Yang, wrote of his surprise that Dr. Yang even practiced standing:

“Nor would you think, at the age of 34, that he would be patient enough in his approach to developing higher T’ai Chi Ch’uan skills that he would consider Wuji standing meditation one of the cornerstones of practice for developing real T’ai Chi internal energy.”

Think about that. The editor of T’ai Chi magazine found it surprising that Dr. Yang practiced standing. That tells you how little the purpose and benefits of standing were known back in the day. (Quite humorously, the article following Dr. Yang’s interview in that 1995 T’ai Chi magazine edition talks about what the internet is and how it can be used to search information on taiji.) 🙂

Of course standing was a central practice at the heart of the internal arts in China. Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang was a top student of Chen Fake, the 17th generation lineage holder of the Chen style, and Dr. Yang learned of its importance from him. Chen Fake had moved from the Chen Village to Beijing, and during the years of the cultural revolution the only person from the Chen Village that could travel to and visit Chen Fake and his son Chen Zhaokui in Beijing was Mr. Wu Xiubao (allowed because he was a communist official). I once accompanied Dr. Yang on a visit to Mr. Wu Xiubao at his home in Jiaozuo near the Chen village, and asked him if standing meditation was emphasized by Chen Fake and Chen Zhaokui. His answer was an emphatic yes —of course yes—and he then ticked off a list of names of several standing postures.

Today much excellent written and video instruction is available on how to do standing. Of course if you practice the standing in earnest you will eventually come to understand the benefits, but there is still not much published information as to WHY it is an essential component of efficient practice. (Here again I am purposely excluding the traditional explanation that “it will increase your qi/energy,” which is true but of little value from a mechanistic perspective.) 

From my experience of over 30 years of practice, three primary reasons for practicing standing are:

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