Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Zhan Zhaung, cold shower and goosebumps

According to YiChuan (yi-style: 意拳) Grandmaster Wang XiangZhai (王芗斋), there are two main phenomena or "success-signals" for Zhan Zhuang. The first one is "Muscles-as-one" (肌肉如一), the other is "Hairs-standing-up (i.e. the condition of goosebumps" (毛发如戟 (the other signals of 体整如铸 [body like metal statute] and 身如铅灌 [body like lead-filled] are fundamentally the same as muscles-as-one).

Most seasoned practitioners of zhan zhuang should be able to feel being "muscles-as-one". But, as far as I know, most don't feel hairs-standing-up during their zhan zhuang exercise. Why? And what is the significance of this goosebumps thing?

Anyone who have some familiarization with human physiology understand that goosebumps are caused by exposure to a cold environment or being extremely emotional. Discounting the latter cause, the only cause of goosebumps during zhan zhuang is through exposure to a cold environment.

A second question arises: why did the master ask his students to experience goosebumps? Before we answer this question, one must answer another question: Why most contemporary Yiquan masters don't mention this point (and some have all sorts of fanciful and mythical explanations [like hair-sensitivity training of a cat's whiskers type!]). In order not to arouse too much unnecessary debates here, I shall leave a reader to form his own opinion after reading this post!

Now back to the second question. When exposed to cold environment, our natural response is to have goosebumps (to try to stop heat from leaving our body) and to shiver. Shivering is counter chi-generation. Therefore a practitioner is asked to do zhan zhuang in cold environment, let him have goosebumps, BUT he will be required to focus and relax and to avoid the natural response of shivering.

It is the same theory behind doing cold (shower/waterfall) meditation. Interested readers can refer to my previous posts on the subject, you might like to start with this one).

Hairs-standing-up (goosebumps 毛发如戟)


  1. Very interesting, Paul, thank you! It reminds me I ever had shiver ones...

    See you soon!

  2. Thanks for is most important NOT to shiver, that may take some real concentration and will-power!

  3. Hi Paul, I had some recent new thinking about this. I was reading about how a cat puffs it fur up in order to make itself look bigger. This is in response to a threat and is linked to increase in adrenaline and cortisol.

    Given that we are talking about a martial context, perhaps this is more the explanation that Wang had in mind, that when we go into a "ready" state for dealing with your opponent, the hair in our hands will also stick up, even though our muscles may be loose and relaxed.

  4. Bernard, I beg to differ. Firstly the reason for the cat puffing her furs is to make her look bigger (I am a cat lover!), but that doesn't apply to any human ancestor, secondly, a martial artist is to train himself to stay calm and control his adrenaline release in face of danger, rather than the other way round....when novice ring fighters fight, their adrenaline rush up quickly, making them ferociously punching each others almost at random, and got themselves completely exhausted within the first round...:):)

  5. Good to disagree! Please check out my latest post on the Hour between Dog and Wolf, that we need a certain amount of stress to remain healthy and that the adrenaline also sharpens your perceptions and senses, but not so much that it overwhelms you to helplessness, so for someone who is training zhan zhuang, it can help train a controlled adrenaline release and response. There is also information in the book about how a we can train our tolerance to involuntary stress by slowly building up our adrenaline response. The mechanism for this is the same as for puffing out the fur as this is another side effect of adrenaline released into the system, and I believe that gorillas and some other primates also do the fur thing...

    But always happy to debate!

  6. Agree..I mean, more debate is better than less! Adrenaline is nature's act of arousal for a fight/flight response. In "cognitively managed" situations, I can see the major issue is to control/dampen its release rather than otherwise (which is a natural response anyway). Therefore, though a mild level of adrenaline is useful, the major issue for, say, a performing artist is to manage his "stage fright", and for a martial artist is to dampen his adrenaline release both in competition and self-defense; so that a more desirable performance level can be achieved.

    I certainly concur that zhan zhuang can train us to relax in face of situation that might induce too-speedy an adrenaline rise, fight/flight situation, heart-rate increase, undesirable/uncontrollable muscles contraction etc. In particular, zhan zhuang in cold weather (like meditative cold shower) can "artificially" simulate such situation, and a practitioner can be trained better to consciously relax rather to take the more "natural" route of shivering. That's the whole logic behind my exposition.

  7. :) good response - I don't exclude the cold / shiver theory but I think there may be an element of both.

  8. I think the condition on the other end is called depression, and the relevant agent is called endorphins, surely zhan zhuang can help...:):)

  9. oi meu nome é ronaldo, sou brasileiro e treino zhan zhuang ha 15 anos, aprendi com o mestre wang tie cheng em são paulo onde moro e acho que o foco principal nao estão levando em consideração e estão se perdendo em coisas menores mas darei uma dica
    o fato de pensarmos nos torna diferentes dos animais e também nos limita em muitas coisas e nesse exercicio precisamos faze-lo como animais ou seja : usando apenas o instinto. Não falarei mais a respeito pois tenho como convicção que a pessoa deve aprender com sua própria experiencia de treino

  10. Ronaldo, I can't read Spanish, therefore my understanding of your comment is from a machine translation. I agree we need to block major thinking process, in particular analytical thinking, during zhan zhuang (or cold show meditation/chi-kung, as this post is about). Nevertheless, it is not totally instinctual, for example, during cold showers, our instinctual response is to shiver, and to run away from it, rather than focus, relax our muscles and meditate.

  11. is why during cold bath is the normal contract and relax but not if the person can relax in a situation where the contract is normal she will find it easier to relax in a situation room temperature

  12. Relaxation is a mental attitude, and in zhan zhuang/meditation it actually means contracting the "relaxation" or extension muscles. It is not "normal relaxation" like sitting at a couch to enjoy a glass of cold beer during hot Summer. I hope you can understand what I mean.....:):)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...