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How Standing Still Put My Life In Motion

For the past 6 months I practiced an ancient Taoist pose for 21 minutes everyday and have seen incredible results. Here's how you can too.

Mark Sandusky - Stand Like Tree

The only thing standing in your way is your own excuses. In order to defeat your excuses, you have to be able to notice when you are making them and have the mental resilience to overcome them. Here’s the story of how I stumbled upon a way to better overcome excuses in my own life.

A Drunken Conversation

About 6 months ago I was talking to a guy from Belgium at a party. I couldn’t even tell you his name, but we quickly dove into metaphysics, meditation, and self-discipline. While he wasn’t exactly in peak physical condition anymore, he shared stories of his past involvement with Kung Fu. He was very knowledgable and had a pleasant air about him.

He complained to me that he has been slipping, and that he used to work out all the time and “stand like tree” every day for 15 minutes. He confessed he hadn’t “stood like tree” for over 2 years now.

I practice yoga 4+ times a week, and assumed he was talking about the classic “tree pose” that is practiced in most Yoga classes. However each time he would mention “stand like tree” he would hold his arms up like he was giving a bear hug to an invisible ball. So I asked him what standing like a tree was and he explained the position and it’s supposed benefits.

It wasn’t your classic Yoga “tree pose” and it sounded interesting, so I promised him: starting tomorrow, if he stood like a tree everyday for the next 2 weeks, I would too. Then we walked away and continued with the party. I have no idea if he held up his end of the bargain, but I did. Here is what happened.

Zhan Zhuang

The next day, nursing a hangover and feeling the need for self improvement I did some research on “Standing Like Tree” and found a few articles on Zhan Zhaung and ultimately found that the physical basics of the pose are simple.

In fact, looking back on it, if I wouldn’t have started because I was “worried I wouldn’t do it right” that would have been just an excuse. So, here is all you really need to know in order to get started. No excuses 🙂

How To “Stand Like Tree”

Like most things today. Start with your phone. Be sure that it is in airplane mode and that the volume is ON. Then set a timer for how long you want to be in Zhan Zhaung. I do 21 minutes everyday. 1 minute to get settled, 20 minutes to be in the pose.

Zhan Zhaung can be held from 5 minutes to a few hours. I’d recommend you start with 11 minutes and then work your way up from there if you desire.

Once distractions are neutralized and the timer is set, stand with your knees slightly bent and your weight in your heels.  Stretch the crown of your head long and keep your neck in alignment with your spine. The idea is to make your spine as long as possible.

Also be sure to not arch your lower back by tucking your tailbone down and under.

Lift your arms to shoulder height and round them like you are bear hugging a big ball. Keep the tops of your shoulders down and away from your ears. 

Try your best to not lean forward at the waist or keep your weight in your toes. You want your weight down and back through your heels. 

Breathe into your Diaphragm, aka deep belly breaths. Take in air through your nose, down into your belly and then out through your nose. 

Focus your breath, attention and energy right below your belly button. That is your center of gravity and will keep you grounded throughout the practice.

As you stay in the pose, your mind will wander. Your shoulders will ache. You will become tense in certain spots, lean forward, arch your back, scrunch your face, want to give up because it is hard, want to give up because it is a stupid waste of time, think you didn’t set the timer, think you’re doing it wrong, and really hear every excuse your mind has to offer. That’s ok though.

Your job through all of that is to refocus on your breath, make the subtle shifts to rediscover alignment and relax into the discomfort. You can make it through this.

In the moment, it may feel like you are just standing there in pain, but really you are training your mind to hear your excuses and overcome them.

Here is what you will gain by doing this

Why “Stand Like Tree”

The benefits of Zhan Zhaung are three fold – mental, physical, and spiritual.

Mental

First, like a classic seated meditation, you will learn to tune into your thoughts. To watch the thinker. The more you can observe your mind the better you can control it.

The added bit that comes with a standing meditation is that you are observing your mind while your body is in a state of physical exertion. Your shoulders will ache. Your mind will be making excuses, which allow you to watch those excuses arise and therefore learn the language of your excuses so that you can better defeat them.

Physical

“Stand like tree” has its roots in Taoism. The general idea is that you want to be able to do as much work with as little strain and effort as possible.

So, Zhan Zhaung will also improve your posture. Reason being, your body will naturally want to better align and stack its vertebrates because it is easier to stand for long, focused periods of time correctly than incorrectly.

Beyond improved posture, your legs, core and shoulders will strengthen. Make no mistake, focused standing in a beneficial posture can be a great exercise.

Spiritual

I won’t dive too deep into this as everyone has their own beliefs, but the general idea is that Zhan Zhaung unlocks your Qi, or inner life force.

The energy of the universe will better flow through you when you are in alignment.

What Has Happened Since I Started?

It has been about 6 months since I started and I haven’t missed a day yet. Here is what has happened.

Within the first week:

  • I’m “inexplicably” in a better mood overall. Sure, there are still ups and downs, but my baseline happiness has shifted upward
  • I am so much better at completing tasks. My mental resilience has gone through the roof. I take tasks one breath at a time. If you can get through tree you can get through X….
  • My shoulders and neck are stronger

Within the first month:

  • I have begun to better prioritize my life. I’m focusing my energy on things that are more beneficial or enjoyable rather than waste time.
  • I am maximizing my improvement time. I started to learn to sing again and I am doing it with such mindful attention. No more going through the motions and it has been paying off.
  • I am a better leader at work. I think before I speak. I don’t let the little things get to me.
  • My relationship with my wife has improved (not that it was bad, but things can always go up!). In fact, she noticed my shift so much that she started standing like a tree too! (And also loves it!)

3 Months and onward:

  • I greatly curbed my alcohol and drug intake. I wasn’t an alcoholic or junkie, but like most millennials, I’d go hard on the weekend and some weekdays too. While I’ll still have drinks here and there, my stronger mind and focus naturally decided to waste less time partying and more time building my dreams.
  • I have seen side projects take off. I am not sure if this is coincidental, but I don’t think it is. I now have the strength and discipline to come in and put in the work necessary for a self administered project to succeed.

Conclusion

Zhan Zhaung, “Standing Like Tree”, has been the most beneficial practice I’ve found. It has changed my outlook on life and helped me in so many ways. In an age where mental and physical health is in the dirt, I am on a mission to “Build a Forest.” I encourage you to “Stand Like Tree” with me. Try it for at least a week. You’ll be amazed. If you do enjoy it, please reach out. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

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