A big part of my Tai Chi practice is standing still. Zhan Zhuang can be translated as standing like a tree and is an important aspect of the internal arts.
But why do we do it? You may ask. My legs ache and it's really hard.
Good. It's not supposed to be easy.
Standing practice is difficult in the beginning because you are exercising parts of your anatomy that are weak. Little by little you will become stronger, physically and mentally.
When I stand for a long time these days there is still some discomfort but I'm not so bothered by it. I am comfortable with discomfort.
In the beginning, it was a different story. I had only been practicing Tai Chi for a couple of months when I unwittingly attended a seminar with Master Chen Yingjun. We were standing for an hour which I found shockingly hard but I did it anyway.
I didn't enjoy it back then but I somehow knew it was important (perhaps because my teacher Mark told me it was!) and so I practiced standing regularly. I didn't do it every day at first and I didn't stand for very long but gradually it grew. These days I do 30 minutes, 40 minutes or sometimes an hour every morning but I probably started with just 5 minutes.
There are specific reasons why standing is a vital part of Tai Chi training. Tai Chi forms are complicated, there's a lot going on and you can easily lose sight of the most important principles. When you stand you learn how to sink into your legs. It's important to have strong legs for Tai Chi and for good health in general.
Until about 50 years ago the Tai Chi curriculum didn't include standing or silk reeling. They were added to teach students the basics and to increase the chances of success. Chen Xiaowang describes these exercises as being like a map without which you may struggle to reach your destination.
But standing is a lot more than a beginner's practice.
Standing Qigong is Taoist in origin. The term Zhan Zhuang was coined by Wang Xiangzhai the founder of Yiquan. Wang Xiangzhai based his entire system on standing as a way of achieving power and structure. Yiquan practitioners do more standing than anyone else. It is their main practice with those that are really dedicated standing for 3 or 4 hours a day.
It seems probable that Tai Chi took the standing from Yiquan changing it in the process to become more subtle.
What started as a method for health became a training tool for martial artists and in the modern world is mainly practiced for health again. If you are interested in learning Tai Chi as a martial art, I would suggest that you practice standing. If you practice every day you will eventually feel an internal connection starting to grow. Your arms become more connected to your torso which becomes more connected to your legs. Without this connection, Tai Chi cannot be a martial art. As you become better connected you become more balanced and rooted.
For everyone else, I would suggest that you practice......standing! It will improve your circulation, strengthen your immune system, increase bone density, improve sleep and make you calmer, stronger and healthier.