Tai Chi – Rotating the Hips
So you have joined a tai chi class and during the beginning posture the teacher mentioned rotating your hips, you watch and they seem to be pushing their hips forward, but what does this mean? Does it have anything to do with the whole of your tai chi form or is it an exercise you do at the beginning?
Rotating the hips is one of the most misunderstood aspects of tai chi posture, often students think that they just need to do it during the preparation posture and release it while doing the rest of the form. Unfortunately I see this one aspect too often being left uncorrected even in many long term practitioners, causing misalignment and imbalance of body movements and postures, the risk of injury and improper flow of chi within.
This one small aspect affects many areas in our forms and it is important to understand its application and function to get the most benefit out of our tai chi practice. Rotating our hips affects our posture, balance, body mechanics and also the way the energy flows, there is not one aspect of our forms that do not use it as a foundation.
What Muscles to Use
From my own experience of teaching it can often be a sensitive subject to explain, depending on the class group composition I can find myself skimming around the subject, this is because the muscles used in rotating the hips, dare I say it, are the same ones used during sexual reproduction. There I got that one out of the way, it’s the same ones used to thrust the pelvis forward and up, the only difference is that during our tai chi practice, once the rotation has been engaged, it is held pushed forward and not released throughout the whole of your tai chi practice, regardless of what you are training.
You do this by turning your tail bone under at the same time as you squeeze your lower pelvic floor muscles, you will then feel the rotation happening plus other body mechanic changes. Make sure you are not holding tension in your buttocks or that your buttock cheeks are not squeezed tightly together, this is wrong and will effect your movement, balance and energy flow.
Also make sure you do not have the feeling of lowering your buttocks and sitting down, this is also a wrong mechanic, and instead you should have a feeling of pushing forward and up, lifting your weight, giving you a feeling of being lighter and of the whole body combining as one.
This then has the effect of turning the tail bone, at the base of our spine, under between our legs and pushing it forward, this then stretches the base of our spine, straightening it and releasing the nerves, stimulating energy and allowing the chi to flow. Tucking our chin under as part of our posture also has a relationship with turning the tail bone under, when we tuck under of our chin it has the same effect on the upper spine as rotating the hips does to the lower spine.
How to Do it
Rotating the hips and turning your tail bone under can be best understood like this, stand with one leg in front of the other, make sure that your feet are shoulder width apart measured from front to back and side to side, shift your weight into your front leg. The front leg is bent at the knee and back leg is straight, this stance is called pilar and post, in the same way that a post is braced at a farm gate, your bent leg is the post and diagonal leg the pillar (brace).
While in this stance turn your tail bone under pushing it forward, you do this by tightening your lower pelvic floor muscles (lower abdominal), this makes the inside of your buttocks cheeks rotate in and press forward. Do this without lowering your buttocks as if you are sitting down, instead you will have a pushing forward and up feeling. Keep this as relaxed as possible and don’t over push.
To check if you have done it correctly try to rotate your lower spine separate from your hips, try this while you are holding this posture and also when you release it. When released the spine and hips can rotate separately, when the posture is engaged the hips and spine can only move as one.
The 2nd check is to let the posture out and notice how you can shift your knee over your front toe, now rotate your tail bone up and under as above and then try to shift your knee over your toe, if done correctly it will be impossible for your knee to overextend.
Centre of Gravity
Once your hips have been rotated under in the correct manner you will notice some effects on body mechanics. The first will be that your point of balance will change, to understand this you must think of your body and its relationship to gravity. The pull of gravity wants your body to be flat on the ground, this pull is happening all the time and the very act of standing up is fighting against it. All points on your body are being pulled downwards; this also goes for your opponent’s body whose balance you can come to understand through pushing hands practice.
If you hold one arm out to the side of your body you can imagine imaginary weights hanging from it, at any point parallel to the ground gravity is pulling down. Understanding this we need to adjust our centre of balance in tai chi so that it is always in-between our feet as they are our point of contact with the ground. Normally for most of us our buttocks is backwards creating an unstable balance point. Rotating our hips turns our buttocks under shifting our centre of balance forward and between our feet, this makes us more stable regardless of our posture and also makes it easier to sink our weight down.
Engaging the Waist
As mentioned in the practice example rotating our hips also locks in and joins our hips, waist and spine as one so that they cannot move independently of one another. This is then also supplemented by the lowering and turning in of the elbows which then engages the hips, waist and upper body as one. This allows us to relax our upper body and generate all energy and movement from the legs and the waist, allowing it to transfer properly through our upper body and limbs.
When the hips are rotated under properly they will then have the effect of lifting the weight and making our legs and feet feel lighter. This then makes weight shifting and stepping easier as well as it ensures that during this movement our centre of balance is always maintained. It also protects our knee joints as in the above practice example by making it impossible for us to shift our knee over our toe if we are in the proper stance. This also is an added bonus during pushing hands making it very hard for the opponent to break our stance and balance.
The proper alignment that is created by rotating the hips forward allows for free energy transference between the hands and feet and back again. This means that if you can relax your body to the right state any incoming energy absorbed in the upper body will naturally transfer down through the feet and into the ground. It also allows this energy to be ‘bounced back’ and returned to the source without any damage to yourself. From a health point of view proper alignment will allow chi to permeate throughout your body, from head to toe, allow proper cell breathing and health benefits.
The small adjustment of rotating the hips should not be underestimated but studied and understood, at first it may feel awkward but with practice you will find you will be able to easily maintain it through your practice without tiring and then reap the benefits.
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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