Qigong Exercises | Zhan Zhuang

Today I’d like to take a quick look at a group of chi kung / qigong exercises, familiar with most ‘internal’ martial artists called Zhan Zhuang. This type of qigong exercises are also known as Stance Training and the two most popular stances are Horse Riding and 3 Circles.

Virtually every ‘internal’ school of martial arts has it’s own set of Zhan Zhuang qigong exercises. But the one thing they all have in common is that the chosen stance is held for anywhere between 30 seconds and 1 hour. Apart from developing strong stances these type of qigong exercises give the benefit of internal force.

Think of internal force as ‘energy+’, it is also said that a martial arts practitioner with strong internal force can ‘channel’ some of that force into an opponent on contact to cause serious damage. Personally I have never been on the receiving end of internal force used like this, but I have seen its effects whilst watching others sparring.

Whilst there are many different qigong exercises that come under the umbrella of Zhan Zhuang they all have one thing in common. They have been stripped down to just 1 pattern. And this is why I say you are crazy if you think you can learn Zhan Zhuang qigong exercises from a book or video.

Zhan Zhuang Qigong ExercisesIt’s just my opinion, but I feel that these qigong exercises must be learned directly from a suitably qualified instructor. Why do I feel so strongly? Well, unlike qigong exercises from the Ba Duan Jin or 18 Lohan Hands, zhan zhuang only has 1 pattern and if you get this pattern wrong – which you probably will – then you have got the whole thing wrong.

Now if you’re lucky, you’ll just end up wasting your time, but if you’re not you can cause yourself more harm than good with this type of qigong exercises.

Remember – qigong exercises are a composite of form, energy and mind. Zhan Zhuang stances are usually quite demanding physically, but it is imperative the body, breathing and mind are relaxed. So if you’ve got the stance wrong, your bodies aching and you insist on ‘feeling the burn’ then your breathing will be effected and your mind will be all over the place – this is very bad, okay!

Even practicing zhan zhuang under the guidance of a master or instructor it is still easy to make mistakes.  One I know from personal experience is ‘over training’ and the first tell tale sign of this is discomfort in the chest.  If you experience this, stop immediately, have a qi flow and speak with your teacher.

Zhan Zhuang is not an exercise in endurance like many students believe, it is actually an exercise in relaxation and the 3 ‘golden’ rules of zhan zhuang qigong exercises is 1) Relax, 2) Relax, 3) Relax.

Please feel free to leave a comment or question – bye for now

Just a qigong instructor

Marcus James Santer

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

MRTB BATES September 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm

I am a kungfu practitioner, with quite a few injuries meaning that my training has been cut down massively to compensate and allow time to heal. There seem to be many different qi gong exercises that one can practice and due to the training gaps in my day, i would like to practice chi gong as much as i can, due to its low risk activity level. Do you recommend practising 2,3 or more qi gong exercises in one session twice per day. e.g. lifting the sky and butterfly dances once in the morning and once in the evening? totalling four qigong exercises (or more if different exercises are added) per day.

ollie September 21, 2010 at 1:57 pm


Less is definately more on this occasion. For the best, I’d recommend you choose just 1 qigong exercise and practice it within the PERFECT frame work I teach.

You can practice 3 qigong patterns (or more) in one qigong session – this is known by various names like ‘medicinal qigong’ or ‘self manifested qigong’. Here you are using the forms to generate energy/qi flow. When you use 1 qigong exercise you are using the breathing to generate energy flow.

If you are familiar with Qigong principals I’d advise you to practice 1 pattern. If not choose 3 patterns you are confident with the form of and practice like this:

  • Stand upright and balanced
  • Relax your body and calm your mind
  • Do 10-15 repetitions of each qigong exercise, gradually increase the speed of the exercise and breath in when you need to through the nose and out when you need to through the mouth. Do not aim to co-ordinate your breathing with your movements. After your last repetition, just let go and do nothing for 3-5 minutes
  • Bring any movements to a slow and graceful stop by gently bringing attention to the dan tien (an energy point just below your belly button)
  • Now standing upright and balanced, just relax and empty the mind of all thoughts for another 2-3 minutes
  • Finish off your session by walking around briskly for at least 30 paces
    1. Hope that helps.


MRTB BATES September 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Thanks for getting back to me. At the moment i am practicing butterfly dances and lifting the sky. My injuries include joint degradation in one form or another in both knees and elbows. These were caused by acute injuries but have stayed around for 1-2 years due to the old mantra “no pain, no gain” that i adopted as law (i know better now of course). I was wondering which of the qi gong exercises you would recommend for someone in my position to practice solely on its own with the perfect approach you recommended. Butterfly, lifting sky, or something else entirely.

Also, I live in greater manchester, and was looking to study under Master Wong (or one of his disciples) with the aim of eventually learning some of the more advanced Kungfu techniques (cosmos palm especially) I can’t seem to find a nearby class to attend and i am probably not in a position to judge a teacher’s competancy (even if i found one). I’d feel better if you were to recommend one in my area. If there isn’t one, please recommend the best class in the UK (for this type of advanced kungfu techniques) as i am willing to move if i have to.


ollie September 27, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Hello again Tom,

Perhaps the best qigong exercise for your situation is Lifting the Sky, though to directly improve your knees I’d recommend ‘Divine Crane Rotating Knee’s’ I made a short private video for a student and have sent you the link to this video.

Recommending a class in the UK for what you want to learn is a tough question. I don’t know of anyone in the UK (myself included) that could safely and competently teach you Cosmos Palm. In all honesty, if you want the very best, I would recommend traveling to Malaysia to learn directly from my teacher. Visit his website for details of up coming classes: shaolin.org.

If you want to find a good qigong teacher in the meantime, just make sure they teach the 3 core skills (though they may label them differently) of 1) entering a qigong state of mind, 2) Flowing Breeze Swaying Willows and 3) Standing meditation. And check that they are an example of the art they teach, i.e. they are relaxed, energetic, look healthy etc.

Hope that helps, stay in touch.


roger reeves December 16, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Dear Marcus
I started my QiGong practice with some visits to a local TaiChi school, where a teacher tought me some ZZ stances and routines. I veared from this as i began to find that holding the stance was like in your words an endurance. Is there something i was missing? I can only imagine that you can hold stances like that with much practice?

ollie December 20, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Hi Roger,

Zhan Zhuang is ‘advanced’ Qigong. You’ve got to build slowly. Let’s say for example you are practicing Three Circle Stance (a common ZZ stance used in Taijiquan) and you can comfortably and easily maintain this stance with correct form and with a relaxed mind for 10 breaths. The next time you practice you may practice for 11 breaths. Then for 14, so on and so forth. There is no rush. Start from where you are comfortable and build gradually.

Counting breaths in Zhan Zhuang is a great way to focus the mind. Remember it’s a practice in relaxation =) Not endurance.

Hope that helps


Maximilian November 16, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Hi Marcus,

First off, I want to tell you that I love your site. I can see the effort and dedication you’ve devoted to it, and it pays off tremendsouly. Thanks so much for your wonderful work to spread awareness of qigong’s benefits.

I was curious about what kind of danger discomfort in the chest suggests. I ask because 1) I’ve never heard anyone else mention it, and 2) long before I started qigong, I periodically get a tightness, itchiness, or warmth in my chest. Sometimes it is accompanied psychological agitation, and sometimes not. I recently started Zhan Zhuang practice in part to ground my energy and cut down the agitation.

My whole situation is fairly complicated: I have fibromyalgia, which is pretty unpredictable, but I’ve done pretty intense yoga and meditation for many years now, and they’ve helped tremendously. I’ve also had some unpleasant energetic effects in the past, so I know to be cautious. I also know I really should find a good qigong teacher, but I’m not sure there are any in my area. However I have very good yoga and meditation teachers who are quite knowledgeable about energetic issues. But I find that different teachers and different traditions differ on their interpretations of energetic effects. Sigh.

Anyway, in your tradition what does discomfort in the chest signify?

Thanks for all your work,

Marcus November 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Hello Maximilian,

And thank you for your kind words.

Tightness in the chest as a result of over doing Zhan Zhuang signifies a blockage to harmonious energy flow. I’d best describe it as a heaviness. Your description of tightness, itchiness, or warmth could signify something completely different. It’s hard to tell.

It has always been difficult to find a good Qigong teacher, they are few and far between unfortunately. I would stick with your Yoga and meditation teachers. Whilst they may not be able to advise and guide you with Qigong, Yoga and meditation still have great benefits to offer you.

Kindest regards


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