Sunday, June 19, 2011

Five Common Bad Zhan Zhuang Structural Habits

There are many different structural habits a practitioner can build into their Zhan Zhuang practice. A practitioner can often practice alone for years without noticing or worse yet never take the time to validate that they are practicing Zhan Zhuang skill sets correctly. Here are five common bad habits often overlooked by practitioners in their Zhan Zhuang training.

1. Collapsing / Hunching over - The structural problem of hunching is so very common and this habit can take a long time to correct so it’s at the top of the list. I have seen people really make amazing changes in their body over time to the point that they don’t even look like the same person. I’ve heard people say they can breathe better when they lose their hunch. I will say they look much younger and alive after they spent the time to correct this. So, what causes this problem? This problem is often caused by a daily life of working over a keyboard, planting rice, or by keeping your eyes down and not looking into the eyes of the king depending where you live and life style. Being aware and adjusting your posture really helps with bringing about long term change. Like any habit that took years to develop, it may also take a long time to change. Make it one of the things you check often.

2. Ankle alignment - Ankle alignment is so overlooked and is a root cause to many other problems. When people overlook ankle alignment in Zhan Zhuang and Wujifa practices, they end up making a number of other structural adjustments to their posture and that‘s why it’s second on the list of bad habits. There are many causes of poor ankle alignment such as wearing poor fitting shoes over many years to inactivity so that the resulting connective tissues in the foot and ankle become more and more distorted. Many times knee pain is caused by poor ankle alignment and trying to correct it with the hip creates a torque in the knee area as people try to re-align themselves. The best practice is to start with the feet and align them as best as possible (which again can take years, again, if ever). There are some tricks that some people have used. See Wujifa Zhan Zhuang Practice: Tight Calves and Ankles. Also seeing a qualified teacher who understands these things can really help as well.

3. Holding in the lower back and pelvis - Both the lower back and pelvis are included together here as they are rarely seen alone. When holding is found in only one of these two areas, a common response for example to relaxing the pelvis will be to tighten the lower back or vice versa, relaxing the lower back and tightening the pelvic area. Relaxing both are key for better Wujifa Zhan Zhuang practice. One of the big problems is people often store a lot of tension in the lower back and pelvis when they push themselves to hard. Simply taking a break and noticing and stretching throughout the day helps. Over at Internal Gong Fu Blogspot there is a long post about relaxing different areas of the pelvis (See: Relaxing the Pelvic Floor for Tai Chi and Zhan Zhuang). Taking a deep breath and exhale while relaxing those areas while practicing your Zhan Zhuang can help too. I’ll repeat, a simple stretch can aid in making progress and there are a lot of good YouTube videos you can look up (see comment area for suggestions). When practicing Zhan Zhuang, notice the habits of "tightening" and let yourself relax. It will take time to change a habit but it can be achieved pretty quickly (weeks or months) if you take the time and stay with it.

4. Knee Torque - Knee torque was talked about with the ankle alignment above, but there are more causes and knee torque deserves to be number four on this list because it is so common. While practicing Zhan Zhuang people often "lock" themselves into place (See: Is Your Stance Like a Dead Post) to take the weight out of their legs or to make it more tolerable by slightly torque-ing the knees in or out. The answer is to "slowly" build up to standing longer periods of time and change this habit of torque-ing the knee. Also over time the I.T. bands can be shortened and this can cause problems with the knees as well. Hip and lower back alignment as well as ankle alignment are common problems that contribute to knee torque in Zhan Zhuang practices. This is another case where a qualified instructor can really help you notice and make the changes you need to make with changing the habit of knee torque.

5. Chest/upper back and shoulder tension – Chest and shoulder tension are so common that for many it is the number one bad habit of people who practice Zhan Zhuang. You may be asking yourself why chest and shoulder tension/tightness is listed as number five on this list? This issue is listed as number five because many people who train Zhan Zhuang practices know they have this issue. If you visit or train with any high level masters or go to high-quality seminars you will see kind of adjustment being shared over and over again. It is the kind of habit that people change and keep picking back up and so it takes diligent practice to change this habit. If the muscles are chronically tense you may need to stretch often and get some bodywork like Rolfing to help speed you along the way. Most people simply need to pay attention and correct the situation and develop new habits.

I know of some instructors that will adjust the arms to a higher level for tense shoulders. This will cause the shoulder muscles to feel like they are on fire. Please don’t do this at home because you want to wait until the shoulder muscles give up, drop and relax and most people will give up way before that and develop more tightening in the shoulder muscles. A better way is to let the arms drop a little lower so the shoulders don’t have to work so hard to try to support the arms until you can understand what connection is, what relaxed is. Remember in Wujifa we say "Relaxed is not limp" and it may take some people awhile to understand what that means.

Another suggestion for the chest is to breathe deeply and exhale and simply "let the chest fall". Both this and the suggestion above don’t create a long term change directly. Only really paying attention and changing your habits over time will do that. What these two suggestions will do is give you some awareness of what a more relaxed chest and shoulders feel like.

Five Common Bad Zhan Zhuang Structural Habits - Conclusions - 

I hope this was helpful and a reminder to pay close attention to correcting any bad Zhan Zhuang habits you may have. One more quick suggestion that people sometimes find helpful, and please don’t make it a habit, is to tighten a tense area and then relax it quickly. This will also bring some awareness to the possibilities of structural change. Also, remember one of the best pieces of advice I can share, that is see a qualified instructor for assistance and verification. Many of these types of corrections can only really be made in person and hands on.

There are many more bad Zhan Zhuang habits we could add to a list like this such as: zoning out, practicing dead post, letting the mind wander, check the clock every couple minutes, and the worst of the bad habits that didn’t make the Zhan Zhuang bad habits list is not practicing at all! Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions or if I missed any other bad habits you’d like to see included in this or future list. Have a great day!


  1. Here are some examples as promised of YouTube videos you might find helpful as it relates to this article “Five Common Bad Zhan Zhan Zhuang Structural Habits.”
    Lower Back Stretch
    Understanding the Knee and Ankle
    Upper Back Stretch

  2. Thank you for putting together a nice list of don'ts to balance out my list of do's. Being western I really have trouble moving toward being good and feel much better moving away from being bad.

    The most remarkable part of this post is that it reminds me of the old saying. The ankle bone is connected to the knee bone which is connected to the hip bone which is connected to the hunching bone which is connected to the noggin.

    The amazing thing is that I can feel those connections by taking care to notice each of the others either in a positive or a negative light.

    Anyway, keep up the online teaching, I may come to class sometime and validate my great need for polarity.

  3. Thanks for a most helpful and intelligently written post.
    I'm new to zhan zhuang, and am trying to go it alone for the time being. It will take me a while to absorb the information in your post, but I do have a procedural question: in the Conclusions paragraph, you cite checking the clock every few minutes. Now, sometimes I can do fifteen minutes, and sometimes I pack it in after seven minutes that have felt like fifteen. So how does one keep track? I've got a bunch of jazz videos that last about ten minutes, so I try to listen to those. Any ideas would be welcome.

  4. Thanks... I'm glad you found this posting helpful. Watching the clock is a bad habit because it takes one's mind off of, or away from, the practice.

    Developing neuro-pathways involve mind and body working together. Focusing on the quitting time develops different neuro-pathways or different type of focus.

    So to answer your question I would simply suggest setting an alarm clock or better yet a cooking wind-up timer as you can take it out to the park for example (I’ve used an iPhone alarm set to the Harp sound). This is the best and easiest answers for someone who is just starting out.

    I will add it's interesting to notice how the monkey mind will try and distract a person away from this kind of intention. This is something I have and will write more about in the future. The monkey mind has been a welcome friend and little devil at times for me and to explore and work with in my training.

    Also keep a practice journal and track your progress and thoughts... You'll be glad you did.

    Thanks for the great question! Hope this was of some help... thanks again...

  5. Thanks for the great post, Rick!

    I've found that these problems are multi-layerd like onions: working on the obvious layer reveals a more subtle layer.

    And then, what's obvious depends on one's ability and depth of seeing and feeling.

    Regarding using a timer... I used to do this and worry that the timer quit mid-practice and I would check to make sure it was still running. Then I put the timer on a table behind me (Chen XiaoWang's "Listen behind") so I could hear its tick tick tick tick.

    Every method has its trap and way out.

  6. Great tips Mike!

    The "Monkey Mind" getting us to stop and check if the timer is still working. Wonderful to have training opportunities like these to notice and explore. I like to think of them as "My Teachers" re-framing these as opportunities for growth and personal development.

    Thank Mike... Give his blog a visit at he shares a lot of good stuff over there about IMA, Wujifa, and his personal practices and insights.

  7. Hey Rick, this is a really well-put-together article... Reminding me of the purpose of how we do what we're doing. You talk a lot about developing new habits here... how do we develop a new habit? I bet there are lots of ways, but which one is most conducive to the practice of Wujifa? I bet it is the one that is based on the principles of relax, balance, and structure. How would you say that these three principles apply to the development of a new habit, especially a bodily habit?

  8. Thanks Dan

    Yes, relax, balance, and structure are fundamental concepts to begin with... in Wujifa Zhan Zhuang practices. Now changing or better said developing new habits or developing and maintaining neuro-pathways is even more fundamental.

    The real question to start with is a simple question. "What do you want?" Next is to chunk this down into simple steps and details and simply follow through on getting what you want. 

    Now the best way to change a dysfunctional Wujifa Zhan Zhuang habit? This is pretty simple too actually and involves engaging a basic functional skill set. First is being honest with yourself, second is be curious, third is to notice. These get you the biggest bang for the buck.

    Really it just comes down to noticing. As we say in Wujifa "Noticing changes everything."

    Thanks Dan again for the great comments and questions. 

  9. Hey Dan,

    I believe the Wujifa "one, two, three, four and One. two, three, four" as a method for alignment is also helpful.

    I would also suggest reading:

  10. Thanks Rick... I feel there's a lot of good in Honesty, curiosity and noticing. I'm curious how I'll be able to put these principles into my practice!

  11. Hello!
    I have been following your website for long time as I'm very interested in ZZ.

    Since starting, I have had great energy and improving health and it just felt great for at least 3 months.

    Then I think I started developing bad habits and my health and emotional levels deteriorated.

    I have been trying to work this out for long time and still cannot find the reason.

    The main points bothering me is "relaxed is not limp". OK I understand, it feels like, when you clench your fists really tight, it feels rigid and exhausting hence no energy. when your fists are limp it lacks power and you know, buzz. So it's in between. I use this analogy of the fist and try to apply it to the whole body. However the harder I try the harder i cannot concentrate and lose focus as I exhaust myself in 5 minutes.

    Anyways, the 2nd point bothering me now is what I recently found out. When my feet is parallel as you have shown in one of your posts, and I try to relax the knees, the knees starts to point inwards (towards each other). Is this what you mentioned as Torquing inwards?
    To counter this I use force to try to push it back to right alignment as I know of that the knees should be in line with the feet. I know that using force is a big nono but I have no choice.

    When I first did ZZ and felt great, I felt my thighs burning and generating a lot of body heat, my mind was focused on the standing and it was like working hard. Now I cannot do this as I struggle with my knees torquing inwards as I try to relax my knees, and my mind chatters a lot.

    What can I do to improve my situation? Any help is greatly appreciated!


  12. Chuckie,
    Visit and write us and we will get back with you.

    Basicly ease your feet as much as they can to good alignment and still be comfortable. They don't need to be prefect the first day... change takes time. So it's ok right now.

    The mind is a tricky beast... write us and we can share more stuff with you there too.

    Google+ has video and so does skype so there are options and we have been pretty good using this to help students who live out of state.

    Hope to hear from you soon and hope some of these option make sense...

  13. Your link for how to relax the pelvic floor doesnt work. N e chance you have a link for somewhere else? That is my big number 1 issue. Thanks