Thursday, October 29, 2009

Zhan Zhuang Alignment

When practicing Standing, or Zhan Zhuang, getting good alignment is one of the common difficulties for beginners. The method for Zhan Zhuang alignment in Wujifa is called “One Two Three Four, One Two Three Four”. The two sets of One Two Three Four are different and complementary sets of alignment points.

The first set of alignment points are: (these links open new windows)
2. The knees are over the feet.
3. The hip/inguinal crease/kua are lined up over the feet and knees.
4. The shoulders are lined up over the kua, or inguinal crease.

Looking at the foot first, draw a line from the center of the heel to the second or third toe. If we do this on each foot, these would be two parallel lines. This is what we mean by the feet are parallel. In this model, we extend these lines using visualization which will let us calibrate the accuracy of how parallel these lines truly are. Using these longer lines, small mis-calibrations will be easier to notice. It’s important to mention that the feet are only about a foot to a foot and a half apart. Many people stand with their feet much wider when standing. We will not address that method in this post.

Next, apply the same process to the knees. From the center of the knee cap to the center of the area on the back of the knee, we create two lines again and extend these visualized lines as we did with the feet. If the knees are turned out, the backs of the lines will intersect behind your body. If the knees are turned in, the fronts of the lines will intersect in front of your body. The aim is for the two lines to be parallel and over the two parallel lines of the feet.

The same method is applied to the hips from the center of the inguinal crease and center of each glute. If we tuck and tighten the glutes to pop the inguinal crease out in the front, the lines will intersect behind your body. If we tuck and crunch in the front with relaxed glutes, the lines will intersect in front of your body. (These are just two of many common misalignments.) Rolling the femurs out, relaxing the glutes, and relaxing the belly and lower back simultaneously corrects many common mistakes and will allow these visualized lines of the hips to be parallel, which will allow the parallel lines to stack up, over the knees and over the feet. If the lower back is arched, the lines in front of your body will be tilted down. If the lower back is tucked, then the visualized lines in front of your body will tilt up. What we seek is to have the visualized lines parallel and level with the ground and with each other.

For the shoulders, somewhere between the acupuncture points L1 and L2 and the outside of the shoulder is the point on the front (depending on the person) and the back point is relatively on the same area in the back. If people hunch forward, which is a common mistake, the extended visualized lines will intersect in the front. If the chest is puffed up with the shoulders pulled back using tension in the rhomboid and other upper back muscles, the lines will intersect behind you. Keeping the spine straight and allowing the rib heads to turn or relax naturally will allow the chest to relax and keep the shoulder lines parallel and over the hip, knee, and feet. This is the first set of alignment vectors.

The second One Two Three Four of basic standing Zhan Zhuang alignment consists of the following four points:

1. Inguinal crease "in"

2. Tailbone and lower back relaxed and sinking "downward"

3. With the spine straight and the rib heads relaxed, the sternum drops "downward" without hunching the back or shoulders.

4. The head relaxes "back and upward", maintaining a natural relaxed curve through the cervical vertebrae.

In the Wujifa system, we address the second model of One Two Three Four as puzzles. These puzzles are figured out over time through training.

The first puzzle that we normally address is the inguinal crease "in" and lower back/tailbone "down". This is different than tucking. As we’ve mentioned in other posts like "Basic Tips for Zhan Zhuang and the pelvis", and in the first model explained in this post, the femur heads roll out, creating a feeling of widening in the lower back, the glutes relax, and the lower back relaxes. This allows the inguinal creases to go in, the lower back to lengthen, and the tailbone to sink.

The next puzzle is the combination of points two and three. When the lower back sinks correctly, many people tend to hunch forward or lean backward. Keeping the spine straight and vertical and then allowing the rib heads to rotate is the key to understanding the relationship between points two and three, and is the aim of “Three” in this set and model.

In point number four (the head back and up), in connection with number three, many people pull the head forward, or back in a military “Attention” posture both which make the neck rigid. We correct this common problem by guiding them to straighten and elongate their spine by relaxing. Next we have them look up to the ceiling, and then bring their chin down by allowing the head to pivot on the top of the axis bone at the pinnacle of the spine. This results in the ears lining up over the shoulders in a natural way. Using this method allows a person to understand what is meant by the head back and up in a relaxed natural way.

An important point to remember is not to force this alignment. Some people have hunched for many years or stood with their feet turned out for many years, or have carried a lot of back tension for a long time, thereby shortening muscles in those respective areas. The mistake is to force this alignment instead of relaxing into it. So we bring the alignment as close as we can, challenging ourselves slightly so the muscles can relax and open in the problem areas. As we practice over time, we continue to adjust the parallel lines to where they will stack naturally and create better connections throughout the fascial systems of the body.

As one understands this more, one also understands how the method is not the truth, and how the connection of the fascial system of the body is what is being sought. Ultimately, these methods of alignment can be bent or broken slightly to the level of fascial connection manifested through this kinesthetic process.


  1. First off, let me say how great it is that you are putting all this information up on the internet for all to benefit! Many thanks are due!

    12341234 is such a great method that allows one to explore alignment with a visual method letting one actively search for the correct feeling.

    One thing I do find when practicing this method is what you referred to in your post as forcing the alignment...especially in the shoulder region for me...But I ask, is it possible to force the alignment and then seek relaxation from that point? Or do we lose the connection from the get go?

  2. Aho


    That is a "METHOD" that can be a played with... Like medicine... You use the method when this helps with the oppertunity to NOTICE more.

    As long as one does not get HOOKED on the drug or method NOTICING the oppertunities with connections.

    And thanks for you wonderful comments... It's my pleasure to share these with you as well.

  3. Yo Rick,

    Great post. You are delivering a method, that simply invites one to connect and move "naturally"

    Wujifa to me, is a way of taking the eternal, making it conceptual, and inviting it naturally to show up - both in one's practice and in one's life.

    Some candid videos of you talking would be entertaining, enlightening and educational.

    Sort of like what we have up on the wayofthescout dot com site.

    Hint, hint,

    Hugs my friend,

    Mr Twenty Twenty

  4. wow... even after all these years, I just got something new from 1234 and how my ankle changes the line of my knee... so simple, and yet so deep.

  5. When I search the internet for images of "Zhan Zhuang", I see a wide variety of stance postures.

    I see the method you describe as being a pragmatic, kinesthetic standard. (I'm thinking of standards of weights and measures.)

    The ease with which the body naturally aligns (or doesn't align) to this standard immediately points out where there is muscular holding or fascial adhesions -sticky points- in the body. Unintentional unparallel vectors indicate a muscular or fascial holding pattern.

    If I practice zhan zhuang without a standard, I can fool myself into believing that I have kinesthetic awareness, balance and song (relax). Imagining chi flow through chronically tight muscles and adhesions is not the same as feeling chi flow through a relaxed and balanced structure.

    This is an excellent illustration of the Structure aspect that you wrote about in your previous "Wujifa Triangles" article.

    Mike from

  6. Great article, this easy tips will help a lot.

  7. hi, thanks for posting all this. very helpful.
    - mrinal, a taichi student from india

  8. Great post with lots of good pointers and content. I think you're really doing the blogosphere a great service by sharing! I have also created a post on my own site expressing my gratitude as well as sharing some of my own experiences: Wujifa Zhan Zhuang Alignment | Wujimon taiji blog

  9. I like the pictures, i was unable to load any characters into that 3d program. Looks pretty good. This is a canon post for me, a must read for anyone interested in zhang zhuang.

  10. This post rocks
    huge insights here
    and helpful reminders
    I will be rereading this post often

  11. This method is incredible because I could improve my back's shape I'm so glad with this because my posture is now perfect.

  12. Great article! I just did Zhan Zhuang with my mom after reading it and she said her knees felt great afterwards. Looking forward to keep working on the puzzles of the 12341234!