Over the years, various taijiquan and qigong masters have created many postures for standing still meditation. Generally speaking, they are safer to practice than the small circulation exercises because they build up the qi locally in parts of the body, rather than directly in the qi vessels. The ultimate goal of this training is to combine the qi built up by this wai dan practice with the qi built up in the lower dan tian through the nei dan practice. Advanced taijiquan martial artists will do this during their standing meditation. However, as a beginner you should just do the wai dan training, keeping your mind calm and letting the qi build up naturally through the postures.

I will now introduce two of the postures most commonly practiced by taijiquan martial artists.

Arcing the Arms (Gong Shou, 拱手) or Embracing the Moon on the Chest (Huai Zhong Bao Yue, 懷中抱月)

The Posture: Stand with one leg rooted on the ground and the other in front of it with only the toes touching the ground. Both arms are held in front of the chest, forming a horizontal circle with the fingertips almost touching. The tongue should touch the roof of the mouth to connect the yin and yan qi vessels (conception and governing vessels, respectively.) The mind should be calm and relaxed and concentrated on the shoulders; breathing should be deep and regular.

When you stand in this posture for about three minutes, your arms and one side of your back should feel sore and warm. Because the arms are held extended, the muscles and nerves are stressed. Qi will build up in this area and heat will be generated. Also, because one leg carries all the weight, the muscles and nerves in that leg and in one side of the back will be tense and will thereby build up qi. Because this qi is built up in the shoulders and legs rather than in the lower dan tian, it is considered “local qi” or wai dan qi (外丹氣). In order to keep the qi buildup and the flow in the back balanced, after three minutes change your legs without moving your arms and stand this way for another three minutes.

After the six minutes, face forward, put both feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart, and slowly lower your arms. The accumulated qi will then flow naturally and strongly into your arms. It is like a dam, which, after accumulating a large amount of water, releases it and lets it flow. At this time, concentrate and calm the mind and look for the feeling of qi flowing from the shoulders to the palms and fingertips. Beginners can usually sense this qi flow, which is typically felt as warmth or a slight numbness.

Naturally, when you hold your arms out, you are also slowing the blood circulation, and when you lower your arms, the blood will rush down into them. This may confuse you as to whether what you feel is due to qi or blood. You need to understand several things. First, every living blood cell has to have qi to keep living. Thus, when you relax after the arcing hands practice, both blood and qi will come down to the hands. Second, since blood is material and qi is energy, qi can flow beyond your body, but your blood cannot.

Therefore, it is possible for you to test whether the exercise has brought extra qi to your hands. Place your hands right in front of your face. You should be able to feel a slight sensation, which has to come from the qi. You can also hold your palms close to each other, or move one hand near the other arm. In addition to a slight feeling of warmth, you may also sense a kind of electric charge that may make the hairs on your arm move. These are indications of qi’s presence.

Sometimes qi is felt on the upper lip. This is because there is a large intestine channel (hand yangming, 手陽明大腸) that runs over the top of the shoulder to the upper lip. However, the qi feeling is usually stronger in the palms and fingers than in the lip because there are six qi channels that pass through the shoulder to end in the hand, but there is only one channel connecting the lip and shoulder. Once you experience qi flowing in your arms and shoulders during this exercise, you may also find you can sense it in your back.

Many advanced taijiquan practitioners continue to practice this standing still meditation. In addition to building up qi in the shoulders, they also train using the mind to lead the qi in coordination with the breathing to complete two qi circuits. The first qi circuit is a horizontal one in your arms and chest. On the exhalation you lead the qi to the fingertips of both hands, and then across the gap from each hand to the other. On the inhalation you lead the qi from the fingertips to the center of your chest. The second circuit is a vertical one that connects heaven, man, and earth. On the inhalation you take in qi from nature through your baihui on the top of your head and lead the qi downward to the lower dan tian. On the exhalation you lead the qi further downward and out of your body through the bubbling well (K-1, yongquan, 湧泉) cavities. When you practice, the two circuits should happen at the same time. If you are a beginner, this is not easy to do. If you persevere, however, you will be able to use this exercise as part of your advanced practice.

This exercise is one of the most common practices for leading the beginner to experience the flow of qi, and some taijiquan styles place great emphasis on it. Similar exercises are also practiced by other styles, such as Emei Da Peng Gong (峨嵋大鵬功).

Holding up the Heaven (Tuo Tian, 托天)

This is a very strenuous exercise, so if you are old or weak, you should not practice it. Instead, work with easier and more relaxed moving qigong exercises until someday you feel strong enough to practice this one. Then make sure you start slowly and carefully.

The Posture:

  1. To hold up the heaven, stand with your feet shoulder distance apart and your arms slightly bent with the palms facing downward.
  2. Stand still, regulate your mind until it is calm and concentrated, and regulate your breathing until it is natural and smooth. Then, while inhaling, turn your hands to face each other.
  3. Lift your hands to shoulder height.
  4. Then while exhaling, turn your hands palm downward.
  5. Then lower your body with your palms pressing downward until both of your thighs are horizontal.
  6. Next while inhaling, move your arms upward in front of you until the palms are facing the heavens.
  7. As you raise your hands, follow them with your eyes until you are looking upward. Finally, as you exhale, raise your body slightly into the horse stance. As you stand in this position, breathe regularly and keep your body as relaxed as possible.
  8. Keep your arms in position as you inhale and slowly lower your body until both thighs are horizontal.
  9. Then exhale as you lower your hands to your abdomen.
  10. Next inhale and raise your body until you are standing upright, and at the same time lift your arms up to shoulder height with palms facing each other.
  11. Finally, exhale and turn your palms downward as you lower them to your waist. Stand there for a few minutes and breathe deeply and regularly before moving.

As you raise your hands, follow them with your eyes until you are looking upward. Finally, as you exhale, raise your body slightly into the horse stance. As you stand in this position, breathe regularly and keep your body as relaxed as possible.

If you are a beginner, only stay in this posture for a minute or so. As you become stronger, extend this time to three to five minutes. Always remember: your body cannot be built up in one day. Advancing slowly and safely is the key to success.

As you raise your hands to the final posture, imagine you are lifting up the heavens, and then stand there as if you were holding up the entire sky. Keeping this idea in your mind will lead qi from your lower dan tian upward to your hands and also downward to the bottom of your feet. This exercise gradually strengthens your ankles, knees, and hips, as well as the muscles of your trunk and neck.

When you decide to stop, do not just stand up quickly.

In conclusion, I would like to remind you that nei dan sitting small circulation practice is dangerous for beginners, and you should not start it until you have reached an advanced level. The first wai dan standing meditation presented here is generally safer for beginners, and holding up the heaven is generally safe for those who are strong enough and in good health. Always remember: be cautious and proceed gradually.

The above excerpt is from Tai Chi Qigong, 2nd Ed. Revised: The Internal Foundation of Tai Chi Chuan by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming