CM Fitness

Balance & Brain Health, 3 mins/day

By on September 15, 2016

In an uncertain world, being physically and mentally balanced is a huge personal asset. When life charges at you, you need to be able to stand firmly with both feet on the ground; sometimes, just one. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to privately learn T’ai Chi. To prepare me for the practice, my teacher suggested this ancient Chinese exercise. It’s powerful medicine. And it works.

Its promise: with 3 minutes of daily practice (no gear needed), you can develop stronger legs and ankles, deepen your physical balance, and experience profound brain benefits that science is just now quantifying. It’s free. It’s hard. It’s…..

Standing on One Leg.

How to Do It

I usually stand next to a chair to stabilize myself. It took me months to get up to over 1 minute. My raised foot is relaxed.

Here’s how I learned it, as passed down from students of Professor Cheng Man Ching:

  • Stand next to a chair or railing. Use your index finger to stabilize yourself, as needed.
  • Start a timer. (A good way to measure progress…)
  • Plant one foot firmly on the ground, lift the other. (Barefoot or flat shoes ideal).
  • Breathe through your lower belly (the tan-t’ien), located 2” below your navel, 3” inward).
  • Hold this position as long as you can.
  • Breathe steadily through the discomfort (the bitter work). 
  • Stop when your leg begins to shake. Switch legs. Do each leg once.
  • With practice, go from 10 seconds to 30. Strive for 1 minute or longer. You’ll get there! 
  • ADVANCED: When you can stand for 1 minute, bend that knee and go lower over time.
  • ADVANCED: Imagine that with each breath a root extends from your foot deeper into the earth. This root stabilizes you.
Learn From the Master

Professor Cheng Man Ching called it bitter work–because you feel its effects. The benefits, however, are remarkable. Energy (ch’i) circulates through six energy meridians in each leg, strengthening the weak ones. This circulation of energy and blood improves blood vessels and brain health. Your balance can improve significantly, and with practice, you’ll feel more centered and grounded. One upside for me: no sprained ankles in the last 2 years!

The esteemed Professor(1902-1975) explains the process more fully.  

“The Taichi Classics say that the proper root is in the foot. A beginner can develop a root by simply spending three to five minutes, morning and night standing fully on a single leg. Alternate legs and gradually increase the time while you sink lower. This bitter work not only develops a root, it stimulates the cardiovascular system, which benefits the brain. It is essential that your ch’i sinks to the tan-t’ien, both feet adhere to the floor, and you exert absolutely no force. When practicing this Standing Posture, you may assist your balance by lightly touching a chair or table with the middle and index fingers. After a while use only the index finger.”
-from the book, Master Cheng’s New Method of Taichi Ch’uan Self-Cultivation, pp 11-12. Translation by Mark Hennessy.

What Does Science Have to Say?

One study timed 1,400 people doing the Standing On One Leg exercise. Immediately following, an MRI was used to measure each person’s brain health. From this, researchers could gauge the potential for strokes and dementia. It’s an eye opener! Read the findings in this Prevention Magazine article


I love ChiGuy396’s dedication to Tai Chi and the simple exercises he demonstrates that keep his body flexible, strong and nimble at 63. The still image above is from his short, understated YouTube video .

Avert Calamity! Stand on one leg 4-5x/week, and  walk with a spring in your step and a twinkle in your brain at any age!



Suzy Meyer, Author
Pittsburgh, PA

I'm a landscape architect, gardener, and of late, a certified NRA instructor. I enjoy practicing T’ai Chi, playing bocce, and walking through watersheds.. This blog is my journey full of learning curves to calm the chaos.


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