Friday, September 11, 2009

How To Exercise Without Moving

By John McDonnell

Did you know there are exercise classes where people simply stand and do nothing for ten, twenty, or even thirty minutes? And then leave feeling refreshed, as if they just had a vigorous workout?

It may seem strange, but it’s true. There really are classes with people standing motionless, and they do feel refreshed afterwards, and they are in better health.

This form of exercise is called Zhan Zhuang. It’s a Chinese form of fitness that grew out of martial arts and Taoism. In its basic form, Zhan Zhuang involves simply standing for a period of time, usually with arms held as if they are wrapped around a pole, which is where the name Zhan Zhuang comes from (“pole” or “post” standing).

The way it’s done is to bend your knees slightly, relax your shoulders, hollow your chest, and pretend you’re holding a large inflated ball. You breathe through your stomach, and simply try to relax the tension out of various parts of your body. Most people can’t hold the posture for more than a minute in the beginning, because their muscles tense up and may even start to tremble. Gradually, however, your body can handle longer sessions, as your muscles learn to relax.

This type of “standing meditation” has been used for hundreds of years in Chinese martial arts practice, and it offers many benefits. Martial artists say it helps them to gain awareness of their body’s “qi”, or energy, and to control it. They also say it helps to strengthen their body and give it stamina, as well as increase mental clarity, patience, and balance.

There are scientific explanations for what happens when you do Zhan Zhuang, involving the strengthening of the deeper, postural muscles in your body, and there are books and Web sites you can explore to learn more about this. What most people like about Zhan Zhuang is that it is exercise that doesn’t hurt, makes them feel stronger, and gets rid of their stress effectively.
And those are pretty good results for any exercise program.