Tai Chi Developing a Foundation
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To help your tai chi to develop you first need to create a firm foundation, a strong platform. Without this foundation it will be very hard for you to internalize your tai chi because you will always be off balance, unable to relax and in this state your mind will never settle down. Just as if we had a glass of muddy water and put it on a three legged table, the table would rock whenever it was touched causing the mud to stir up in the glass and the water to stay cloudy. If we had a four legged table, and it legs were strong, if we placed a cup of muddy water on it and someone touched the table it would not move. The mud would settle to the bottom of the glass and the water would become clear enough for us to see through it. The muddy water is like your thinking mind and its incessant chatter, to quieten it down you need a solid foundation.
To create this foundation you need to pay attention to your posture from your head to your toes, when everything is aligned properly not only will it increase your balance but also create conditions that will allow your body to relax and chi to flow. Without a solid and stable posture you will not have a good centre of balance, this means that you will not be able to lead any force into the ground and you will be vunerable to being easily uprooted. Just as if a tree has shallow or no roots, yet it has strong foliage and branches, and when you push the tree in any direction it will fall over because it is top heavy with no foundations. If you do not have proper posture then your balance will be high, like the trees and you will be easily toppled over.
Wu Tai Chi Stance
The following stance is based on Wu style tai chi, wu tai chi is small frame, this means it does not use big stances but instead the feet are usually shoulder width apart. This is not only from front to back also sideways; the reason for this is to create stability in all directions. An example is if a tree has strong roots in the front and the back, but shallow roots at the side, then it is just a matter of rocking the tree sideways to topple it over. But if the tree has strong roots at the front and back and also at both sides it will be very difficult to uproot it.
To create a strong foundation stand with your feet parallel, shoulder width apart and slightly bend your knees. Tuck your chin in slightly towards your neck, so that you get a slight stretch of the back of your neck, don’t tilt it so far in that it affects your breathing. Think of the crown of your head pulling upwards to stretch out the spine, focus your eyes at a 45 degree angle in front of you, not looking around.
Now tilt your pelvis forward turning your tail bone up and under, do this gently whilst still keeping the spine straight, as if one disc is stacked on top of another. Tilting the chin and turning the tail bone under will gently stretch the spine increasing the energy flow in your body. It will also change your central balance from backwards to in-between your feet.
Next circle your shoulders up and back then let them fall straight down, hands by your side, palms facing backwards, and relax. Take a deep breath in the slowly let it out feeling all the days stress going out with it. Take another deep breathe in then let it out slowly again, feeling your body relax. Remember pain and tension in your body go hand in hand, when you let go of the tension and allow your body to relax the pain also leaves with the tension.
Be aware of what standing feels like, the balance of your body, the pressure of your feet on the floor, relax into that presence. Maintain this posture throughout the form, the feet move but the body stays upright and balanced, the tail bone stays tucked under.
This posture will instil alertness and keep away any sleepiness during your practice, through stretching the spine you are exciting the nervous system and encouraging the flow of energy. If at any time you feel sleepy whilst doing Tai Chi check your posture to make sure you’re not slumping.
Wu Tai Chi Stepping
Start by having your feet side by side then step your right foot forward by the same amount as the width of your shoulders. Shift all your weight onto your front leg bending it and straightening your back leg. Shift forward and back and feel the stability within it. Check your stance width and purposely make it too shallow, as if you were on one ski, now rock forward and back and feel the balance, then rock from side to side and feel how unbalanced it is.
Adjust your stance so that from front to back and side to side, the stance is the same width, forming a square. Now test your balance rocking side to side and front to back feeling the stability of your stance, the feeling should be like that of a large bell sitting on the ground. Because of its wide base and narrow top a bell is very hard to push over.
Shift all your weight into your front leg until your back leg is straight and has no weight on it. Step your back leg up beside your front leg in a zigzag pattern then step it forward and back to shoulder width apart. The zigzag pattern of stepping is very similar to the pattern of stitching in a sowing machine. This type of stepping is designed to control the centre of your balance when you move. Maintaining your central balance throughout the whole of the movement and not just the beginning and end is essential to tai chi. The zigzag stepping does this by shifting your weight onto your supporting leg as you move the back leg to step forward. The same is true but in reverse for stepping backwards.
In Wu style tai chi our posture is slanting, slanting means that when our weight is forward and our back leg straight that our body is following the same line as the back leg. When shifting backwards onto the back leg your body maintains that same slanting posture causing a V between the front leg and the upper body. It is important not to have your posture totally upright as this will cause your upper and lower body to be seperate, which leaves you vunerable to being off balance an unable to disolve incoming force into the ground. This in itself is a detailed mechanic that I will leave until another time to explain.
Points of Balance
To understand how the whole of your tai chi posture comes together to create a strong balanced foundation think of your body in relationship with gravity. Gravity is always exerting a downward force, if you held a string with a weight on the end, it would fall straight down. Imagine every point of your body having one of these weights and strings hanging off them, in between your legs you would have the main weight, it lines up with your waist, spine and head. If any of these parts changed their alignment with each other then it would change where that weight falls between your legs.
If your head for instance was tilted too far forward this would then create a separate weight and string which would pull your body forward. If you put your arm out to the side then there would be a number of weights coming from your wrist to your shoulder all with a downward pull. If these weights were not counterbalanced then you would tend to want to fall towards that one side, this is the principal and type of thinking that is set around the postures in the forms. If we do not follow the proper posture and pay attention to these points of gravity that manifest then we will be unbalanced and our forms will suffer for it. If we pay special attention to our points of balance, study how any movement changes them, then we can come to understand how to move in a way that keeps us deeply balanced through all of our forms .
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you