As human beings, we spend most of our time in three basic postures: lying down, sitting, and standing. These postures represent different ways of being in the world. Lying down, which releases us from the major influences of gravity on our bodies, activates our parasympathetic nervous system, a sense of our vegetative reality. It is a posture that generally relaxes us and leads to unconsciousness and dreams. Standing, which maximizes the influence of gravity on our bodies, activates our sympathetic nervous system, a sense of the aims and aspirations related to our self-image. It is a posture that lends itself to alertness and action. Sitting, which is a kind of middle ground, activates both our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, but to a lesser degree than either lying down or standing. It is a posture that naturally lends itself to meditation and calm reflection.
Though most meditative techniques are taught in sitting postures, the recent influx into the West from China of chi kung (qigong) standing practices has opened the door to a powerful new (in the West) approach to self-study and self-transformation. Authentic chi kung standing practices (chi kung simply means energy work) are designed to help conserve, balance, and transform our inner energies, as well as to help open us to the energies of the earth, of nature, and of the heavens. Because these practices are able to help harmonize all of the various energies available to us, they are ideally suited to healing and self-transformation.
One of the most powerful influences of chi kung standing, however, one which is sometimes overlooked, is its ability to help us learn how to "let go" at both the physical and psychological levels. You may have heard about or seen tai chi or other masters who, while standing in a totally relaxed posture, cannot be moved from their position or lifted off the floor, no matter how small they are or how big the person attempting to push them or lift them. This has to do with learning how to release any unnecessary tension in our bodies and to allow our weight to settle downward through our bones, tendons, and ligaments into the earth. Such a person is supported by the earth not just physically but also energetically. One does not have to be a master to learn this, although one does need the help of a teacher to demonstrate the principles involved in such standing.
If one works with this practice both deeply enough and long enough, one begins to understand that letting go physically is not possible without letting go psychologically, and that letting go psychologically is not possible without letting go physically. One sees with absolute certainty that the old, stale ideas, attitudes, emotions, and impressions of our mind are equivalent to the unnecessary tensions and habits of our bodies, and that they are irrevocably linked. Body and mind must be worked on simultaneously if any real transformation is to take place. Before we can undertake such a transformation, however, we need to see that this linkage is indeed a reality in our lives. As an experiment, over the next several days observe as often as you can how you actually stand in the various conditions of your lives. Wait until you’ve had a chance to experiment in this way before continuing on with this article.
If you are honest in your observations, you will see that, in fact, you seldom "just stand," that you almost always do something else as well. You will catch yourself leaning against walls, crossing your hands over your belly or chest, putting your hands in your pockets, twisting your body in some way, shifting your weight back and forth, and so on. As you observe yourself in these various standing postures, see if you can sense your breathing and the various tensions in your body. See if you can also notice the kinds of thoughts and feelings you are having. Try this for a few days before reading further.
Once you’ve received clear impressions of the ways that you normally stand, try a new experiment. When you stand, whether you’re with people or alone, allow your weight to sink equally onto both feet and let your hands simply hang at your sides, palms facing behind you. Be sure that your weight is sinking to the middle of your feet, not to the balls of your feet or your heels. Have the sense that you are being supported by the earth, and that there is nothing that you need to do except to sense yourself standing in this way. Try carrying on a conversation with someone this way. As the conversation continues, can you continue to stand in such a way that your weight is evenly balanced and that you maintain a sense of openness and vulnerability? See if you can notice the precise moment when the openness vanishes, when you twist, turn, lean, shift, or use your hands to cover or protect some part of your body. If you try this experiment seriously over a number of days or weeks, you will receive many new, informative impressions of yourself.
Now you’re ready to take the experiment a bit further. By yourself, try all the same things standing with your feet parallel to each other, about shoulder width (or less) apart, with your knees just slightly bent. Relax your shoulders, shoulder blades, and chest. Gently adjust your coccyx (your tail bone) so that it is more or less pointed directly down toward the ground. When this happens, the arch in your lower back will naturally flatten out. See if you can sense your lower back and sacrum connecting directly to your legs. (Remember to let your arms hang naturally at your sides with your palms facing back.)
Once you are more or less comfortable in this posture, use your attention to slowly scan your entire body from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, noting where there is any unnecessary tension in your muscles. As you scan your body, do not attempt to change anything. Simply observe and sense. Once you reach the bottom of your feet, start again from the top of your head and see if you can gradually release any unnecessary tension in your muscles downward through your body into the earth. As you try this, you will begin to sense a new dimension of inner balance, a sense of being supported by and rooted to the earth. Start out by standing this way for at least five minutes a day. Once your legs and pelvis begin to feel comfortable in this posture you can move on to 10 or 15 minutes a day or more.
After undertaking this practice for a couple of weeks, begin to experiment with it in your ordinary life—talking to friends, waiting in line, and so on. The idea is not to take the same exact posture that you take when working alone, but rather to have the continuing sensation of releasing all your muscular tension downward through your body into the earth. See if you can "just stand," with your weight equally distributed through both feet and your arms at your sides, totally open to whatever impressions or perceptions the moment may bring. If you observe a thought or emotion making some part of your body tense, just return to the sensation of releasing this tension downward into the earth. As you continue to work in this way in whatever circumstances you may find yourself, you will begin to discover a deep sense of relaxation not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. You will find yourself spontaneously "letting go" of much that is unnecessary in your life. D
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