Taoist standing practise – core stability


traditional exercise practised by martial artists over the centuries, Standing Practise (Zhan Zhuang) is known for its surprising toughness (postures are traditionally held for at least 60 to 80 minutes) and for its ability to develop health, strengthen the bones and tendons, increase core stability, correct any muscular-skeletal misalignments (crucial for lop-sided sports like golf, javelin, tennis etc), increase sensitivity to balance, and develop a powerful competitive spirit

The six benefits of Standing Practise are as follows:

  1. Physical strength and stamina
  2. Relaxation
  3. Grounding
  4. Lower Abdominal Breathing
  5. Opening the energy gates of the body
  6. Cultivation of intrinsic energy

Other benefits include correcting misalignments of the skeleton and cultivating a calm, aware mental state (’Here and Now’ thought). The more advanced posture you are going to learn here, will continue to help train all the above, and due to its intensity and demanding nature, it will help to prepare your mind for increased focus, intent and competitiveness.

San Ti Shi – Three Body Posture

The foundation of Xingyiquan (Hsing Yi Ch’uan) is its stance keeping practise of San Ti Shi, which means “Three Body Posture” or “Trinity Posture”. Hsing Yi Ch’uan is one of the three Chinese internal martial arts, alongside the more well-known T’ai Chi and the more esoteric style of Ba Gua Ch’uan. To get a rare glimpse of these ancient arts in action, watch a film called “The One”, staring Jet Li, in which he plays two roles – a good guy and a bad guy – the first using the fighting skills of Ba Gua Ch’uan and the other using Hsing Yi Ch’uan . These arts are known for their physical toughness and for their ability to develop the practitioner’s mind to a level where the mind sets the intent for the physical movement – Hsing Yi Ch’uan actually means “the mind that forms the fist”. The exercise you are going to learn here will help you set your mental intent for the movement skills of any sport and is particularly good if you are a competitive athlete, as it will help to increase your level of intent or desire by training your mind, breathing and nervous-system to stay focused yet relaxed under pressure.

San Ti Shi – How to Stand

  • Stand with your feet about half shoulder width wide, the toes of both feet parallel and pointing straight forward
  • Gently tuck under your lower back to take out the lumbar curve
  • Unlock your knees and sink your weight into the balls of your feet
  • Turn your right toes out about 45 degrees and shift your weight onto your right leg – then step forward with your left leg, keeping your left toes facing straight ahead
  • Keep your weight 70% on your right leg and 30% on your left leg
  • Keep your centre of gravity mid-way between your feet, rather than predominantly on either the right or left leg
  • Turn your hips and shoulders 45 degrees to the right, matching the direction of your right toes – your eyes and head point straight forwards, in the direction of your left toes
  • Relax your shoulders – bring your left arm in line with your left leg, arm and fingers pointing straight forward and your elbow relaxed and in line with your left knee
  • Bring your right arm in front of you – waist height – and touch the outside edge of your right thumb against your lower abdomen, about 2″ below your navel (this is your T’an Tien – the body’s natural centre of gravity) – your right fingers point forward and your elbow is relaxed and holding your ribs
  • Keep your chin tucked under, to take the curve from the neck and hold your head upright, imagining the crown of your head is suspended by a balloon on a thread
  • Gently touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth
  • Breathe in and out through your nose
  • Relax all the muscles of your body and try to be aware of your breathing
  • Look straight ahead

For a left back-stance (the opposite of that described above), simply mirror the posture on the other side of your body. Try 3 minutes each side at first and gradually work up to 10, 15 or 20 minutes each side.

What to expect

With your waist and shoulders facing right, while your eyes, fingers and intent are directed forward, you are learning to train your ability to release energy from the T’an Tien – your body’s natural centre of gravity – which is used all the time in sports yet rarely trained in isolation. In the martial arts, this stance is used to develop Fa Jing or explosive power in your punches, and if you want to experience this, try this exercise once you can hold the San Ti Shi posture each side for at least 5 minutes:

  • Starting in San Ti Shi, sink your weight deeper into your feet
  • Make a loose fist with your right hand
  • Throw your hips forward and release the punch at waist height, keeping your shoulder, elbow and wrist relaxed – your punch should end up in line with your T’an Tien (2″ below your navel) – your hips and shoulders will now be facing forwards
  • As you punch, simultaneously grip and pull your left hand back to your waist, turning your left closed fist upwards as you do so – feel as if you are grabbing and twisting someone’s belt-buckle and are pulling them towards you with your left hand, while punching with your right
  • Focus on the T’an Tien – the pivot point around which the hips turn – this is an energy centre about the size of a golf ball, located 2″ below your navel. Imagine the ball rotating and that in turn, your hips, shoulders, arms and fists are all thrown into place as a result

If you really want to give yourself a challenge, try this exercise standing in front of a lighted candle and use the intent, relaxation and speed combined in your punch to generate enough force to put out the flame. Once you can do this up close to the candle, step back a little and try again.

Learning to hold the San Ti Shi stance for 10 or more minutes each side will really train your core stability muscles to keep you relaxed and poised while keeping only a narrow base. Usually we are comfortable with a wider base and generally stand and play sports with our feet under our shoulders. Narrowing your stance like this while lengthening your stride will help to lower your centre of gravity and increase your relaxation response, which in turn makes your body denser and stronger. This type of training also strengthens the bone marrow and tendons and is used a great deal in Traditional Chinese Medicine where it is considered a form of Chi Kung or energy training.

Having a strong intent and competitive nature is vital to achievement in sports, whether you are competing against others, against your own self, or against the time-marker on the treadmill. Masters’ level swimmers who have trained in San Ti Shi, agree that their intent pool-side while warming up and getting ready to enter the water has increased dramatically, as has their opponents reactions to them on account of their indomitable body-language (a much over-looked weapon in the athlete’s arsenal). I believe San Ti Shi can be used to great advantage by any athlete who has to face the starting blocks in some form or another. I have even worked with a potential Formula 1 driver who has used San Ti Shi as part of her race preparation including psyching herself up on the grid at the start of a race.

Any time you need to initiate an all-out performance of pure action without heed to reaction, internal chatter or self-observation, then San Ti Shi is the training tool for you. But remember, the exercise really starts to work, just at the point when your mind wants to give up (”I’m bored”, “this hurts”, “God, is that only two minutes?”).

Stay with it, relax and breath and in no time you’ll be stronger, quicker, ready for competition, and above all, focused. Next time, we will look at elements of T’ai Chi for extreme and endurance sports.

Further Reading:

  1. The Tao of Yi Quan – Warriors of Stillness, Volume II, by Jan Diepersloot
  2. Xing Yi Nei Gong – Health Maintenance and Internal Strength Development, Edited by Dan Miller and Tim Cartmell

Article Reference

This article, written by Jane Storey, appeared in Issue 37 of the Successful Coaching Newsletter (November 2006).


About the Author

Jayne Storey is a specialist in T`ai Chi and uses this to help athletes and teams with balance, posture, body-mechanics, attention control, co-ordination, stress management, mindfulness….and also to create the right internal conditions for accessing the sporting zone/flow state. Jayne can be contacted through her website at www.jaynestorey.com


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