how to stand still

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The Independent Culture
Our bodies, according to Master Lam Kam Chuen (right), are suffering from perpetual motion-sickness. Over time, the muscular tensions caused by everyday life are gradually turning into long-term problems. You grab a sandwich at lunchtime with unnecessary force and, bang, there goes your supple wrist joint in 40 years' time, that sort of thing.

Nothing new in that, you might think. But Hong Kong's answer to Mr Motivator challenges our assumption that the road to health lies in more motion, i.e. vigorous and strenuous exercise. His system, a branch of the Chinese martial art of Chi Kung, is based on the principle that the opposite is true. Less a case of Less is More and more a case of Nothing is Everything. "Stand Still, Be Fit" is his catchphrase and you don't have to move far to test it out. In fact, don't move at all. Ask a friend/passerby/household pet to hold up this article while you follow the simple instructions.

The particular form of Chi Kung that requires motionlessness is called Zhan Zhuang (pronounced Jam Jong). It has been handed down from generation to generation in China for roughly 27 centuries and means "standing like a tree".

Fortunately this does not mean you have to stand like one of those people on Hampstead Heath, shaking hands with nature. It is a metaphor to describe the notion of energy or Chi. External stillness belies the constant flow of energy within (bit like a tree, see). The principle of Zhan Zhuang is to strengthen the internal circuit through which energy passes. Any interruptions to the circuit increase the likelihood of illness.

Step One: Spend six or seven minutes warming up. Start with your knees: stand with your feet together, relax from the waist up, bend your knees and, with your hands on them, rotate them 30 times to the left and 30 times to the right. Then do 30 to 40 arm circles.

Step Two: Now get into the Wu Chi position. Stand with your feet shoulder- width apart, toes pointing forward, hands hanging by your sides and imagine your whole body is suspended via a string. "Let the bottom of your spine unfold downward," Master Lam explains. Stand calmly for five minutes, breathing through your nose, eyes forward and slightly downward. "If saliva forms, swallow it," the master advises. Beginners be warned: "The boredom may drive you crazy."

Step Three: You should now be drawing Chi from the earth and be ready to "hold the balloon". This position speeds up inner circulation. You sink down slightly, knees bending. Bring your arms forward and upward to create a large circle in front of your chest (the balloon). Place an imaginary marble between all your fingers and imagine that you are resting on a series of balloons that take your full weight. You should now be completely still.

That's it. Do that for 10 minutes and feel the spangly sensation in your finger-tips when you move your hands at the end. It is surprisingly tiring.

Master Lam, a radiant 48, who introduced Britain to the martial art Tai Chi in 1976, lists prevention of asthma, indigestion, stomach upsets and arthritis among the many boons. You will also cease to worry about your weight: "You listen to your body. If it wants a cake, you eat a cake, no problem." Anger also decreases: "It will not go altogether, but it will be 90 per cent better."

"I like to move it, move it," sang Reel 2 Real, featuring the Mad Stuntman, recently to a lost generation of teenies. Move over, you're going nowhere.

Master Lam Kam Chuen is at the Purcell Room, London SE1 8pm tomorrow and Friday as part of The Performer's Energy festival, running to 1 Dec (0171-960 4242); 'The Way of Energy' is published by Gaia (pounds 10.99); the video 'Stand Still, Be Fit' (C4) pounds 12.99. The Lam Clinic, London, WC1 (0831 802598)