“Master the Basics!”
For me it is not unusual anymore that after many years of Qigong I’m returning again and again to the basics. I’m aware that each time I’m able to understand them in a new perspective which is different from the one that I had as a beginner or somewhere on my path to the present moment. And I always know that this is not the end. I hope that this blog about Horse stance would give you some piece of information also for your puzzle.
Which Horse stance is “correct”?
Horse Stance (or Horse-Riding Stance; in Chinese Ma Bu) is one of the most frequently used fundamental stances in Chinese martial arts and in Qigong. This stance resemble to a posture of a horseman sitting on a horse back.
If you are looking for information about this stance you will find out that exist many variations. Do not try to find the “final” answer which one is “the correct one”. It depends on what kind of martial arts or Qigong you are observing, which style, school or even master… But of course there are in general some common basic rules.
It is important to understand the purpose, the way of practicing and theoretical foundation. When you understand Horse stance you can adjust it in line with your needs.
Main purposes of Horse Stance practice in Qigong
Stability, Center and Roots
Horse stance is used in martial arts for transitioning between techniques or forms. It is practiced with the purpose to develop stability, center and roots and for strengthening your legs, waist and back. Stability, center and roots are important foundation also for practitioners of Qigong and Nei Gong.
Comfortable and relaxed stance for a smooth qi flow
The purpose of a Ma Bu variation that I will talk about is to build strong roots and stability but at the same time to achieve comfortable and relaxed stance which is essential for a smooth qi flow throughout the body. It means that you have to learn how to stand in this stance by using mostly your body structure and with a minimal muscles support.
Later you will be able to use the same principles also in narrower stances. You will be able to stand for a long time without strain during the exercises in stationary qigong or meditate in a standing position. You will feel comfortable and the qi circulates freely. You have built your energy roots which reach deep into the Earth and enable you to raise high into the Heaven.
Improved alignment of the lower part of the body
This stance is also ideal to relax your pelvis and legs and improve their alignment. This is a process that unfolds through longer period of time. In the first phase you allow our body to start relaxing, from outside to inside. First the more superficial tensions will release, connected with big muscles. Later also deeper muscles will relax and later on tendons, ligaments, fascia…
In this process a lot of small alignments happen in the body. As the body is relaxed this minimal corrections appear in a spontaneous way as this is natural process that goes on all the time if your body is not in strain and tension. In Ma Bu stance you gradually learn how to get in contact with your structures and tissues, and gradually feel them interconnected.
Horse stance characteristics
At the first sight this stance seems very simple but under the surface there are many details invisible to the eyes. If you are a beginner don’t try to apply all of them at once. Learning this stance is a process in which you practice patiently and you deepen your knowledge gradually.
Stand with your feet double shoulder width apart (or see the paragraph Stance Width). Feet are parallel and the second toe is pointing forward. During the practice feet must remain flat on the ground. In a Horse stance the body weight is transferred evenly on both feet. The weight is transmitted from your center of gravity (in the area of Lower Dan Tian) downward to the legs to Yongquan points (K-1) on the feet. At first you will have a feeling of leaning forward a little bit, but in time you will develop the right feeling.
This is important because in this way you are able to relax your lower back area simply and efficiently. Otherwise standing in Horse stance can cause tension in your lower back.
Knees are bent to the degree that they line up with toes.
Push your knees very gently out sideways, so that your knees are roughly aligned (as far as you can) with your feet. You should always feel comfortable. To achieve this alignment in a wider stance it will take time and practice. Remember – if you completely misalign your knees and ankles just to stand in a lower or wider stance, over time you will destroy your knees!
In martial arts and in a martial qigong usually you practice this stance in a double shoulder width or even wider.
But in a Qigong you try to find your best width by your feeling. If you are standing too close or too apart you will feel uncomfortable. Try different widths to find out which one is the most natural and comfortable for you. The width in which you feel the most relaxed and you are able to find your center is at the moment the right one.
The height of Horse stance in martial arts depends from a kind of martial art and a style. Very deep stances are often practiced to strengthen legs… But it takes a long time and patience to get into a deep stance without losing proper posture and usually beginners start with higher stance.
In a Qigong practice the height depends again from your feeling. If you are standing too low, your leg muscles will be tight and this will hinder a qi to flow downward to the feet. If you, as a beginner, are standing too high, you will be less stable because you haven’t developed your roots yet.
Beginners who are not able yet to lead their energy downward through legs are practicing a bit lower (but not too much – see the next paragraph!) in order to be more stable. In this way they can lower their center of gravity and gradually strengthen their legs.
More experienced practitioners with strong roots can stand higher, so that their leg muscles are relaxed. This means that they can lead qi downward through legs easily.
The Arch of Pelvis and Legs
When you are standing in a Horse stance you could compare the structural connection of your pelvis and legs with a kind of arch or even better a “stone bridge” (Damo Mitchell). The bridge made in this way (see figure) is able to carry a lot of weight only because of the stones shape and the way in which they are put together. The keystone is that one in the middle – in your case this is your pelvis; without this stone the arch would collapse. The weight of the head and of the body is transmitted to the pelvis. Let go the weight from the pelvis downward through your legs. In this way the pelvis can transfer the weight from the upper part of the body downward through the legs and into a ground.
If the lower part of the body is not aligned properly you feel weight of the torso in your lower joints (hips, knees, thighs and calves). Also the muscles around hips and leg muscles are tight in order to maintain your weight. This tension disturbs qi flow downward, but at the same time also flow of the Qi that you draw from the Earth. These are the reasons why when in Qigong you stand in a Horse stance all these muscles should be relaxed as much as possible.
Also if you stand too low (for example as Shaolin’s Horse stance) you will lose the correct structural alignment because your weight will push down between your legs. You will strengthen your legs but you will not achieve a relaxation which is crucial for a qi flow.
It is easier to learn a correct posture of pelvis when standing in a stance which is wider then a normal shoulder width apart stance. Later on try to narrow your stance (shoulder width) and practice by applying the same “arch” rule.
Torso, spine and head
Your torso is upright, in center and relaxed. In this stance you want your pelvis to be relaxed, hanging from the base of your spine down. Sacrum shouldn’t be pushed backward but also not tilted forward. You can reach this by sinking from your kua and not only by bending your knees. In this way your lower back area will be relaxed.
The idea of a rope that originate from the top of your head and is gently pulling your spine upward it can help you to gently and softly open and lengthen your spine. Be aware of vertical alignment of head over the center of pelvis.
The chin is moved slightly backward in order to straighten your neck. Even more effectively you can do this by imaging that you are pushing from Renzhong point (Du-26) (above your lips) backward in a direction of the back side of the neck.
Your chest and shoulder joints should be relaxed and open. You can put your palms on the area of Lower Dan Tian.
Place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
Horse stance is the most suitable for learning how to lead a qi with your mind (Yi) down into the Earth and build strong energy roots which spread from your feet downward through the floor, as the roots of the tree in the earth, and are foundation of our stability
Getting into a Ma Bu Stance in Qigong
- Stand in a double shoulder width or in a narrower stance if you feel more comfortable.
- Feet are parallel, the second toe is pointing forward.
- Let your body weight to go downward from the center of gravity through your legs to Yongquan points (K-1) on the feet.
- Knees are slightly bent but they shouldn’t cross the line of toes.
- Knees are roughly aligned with your feet.
- Connect the pelvis and legs in an “arch” (“stone arch bridge”).
- Relax the lower back. The pelvis is relaxed and is hanging down from the base of the spine. Sacrum is not pushed backward or tilted forward.
- Imagine the rope at the top of the head which gently pull up your spine. The spine opens and elongates.
- Straighten your neck.
- The chest and shoulder joints are open and relaxed. Put your palms on a Lower Dan Tian.
- The tip of your tongue is on a palate.
- Calm your mind and breathe abdominally, slowly and steadily.
Body and also mind have to get accustomed to a new posture
In the beginning Ma Bu can feel uncomfortable. It is because usually you use too much force to maintain this posture. While standing try to relax yourself by breathing abdominally and try to release tensions which appear. Be especially attentive to the tensions in the area of pelvis, hips and tights. By practicing eventual tensions will slowly disappear, but you have to persist.
Your body and also your mind have to get accustomed to a new posture. As a beginner repeat often instructions described above. First when you are getting into a stance. Then during a practice because your attention might wander somewhere else and your body returns to its usual posture. While maintaining a stance try to calm your mind and breathe slowly and smoothly. After a period of regular practice standing in this stance will be for you comfortable and natural and you will not have to think about it consciously.
How long and how often to practice?
At the beginning you try to practice this stance for only few minutes. But your goal could be to stand relaxed in this stance at least twenty minutes. You extend the duration of practice gradually. Each time practice until you feel completely comfortable and relaxed. Don’t be impatient and don’t rush, even if it would take months. Try to practice regularly every day.
Regular practice of this, only at first sight, simple stance is helpful for developing and understanding several basics which are the keys for a good qigong and also martial arts training.
Enjoy in a Horse stance practice. 😉
May the Qi be with you!
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