Tai Chi - Increasing Balance
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Have you ever been practicing your tai chi form and whilst shifting your weight or standing on one leg felt unbalanced and unstable? This feeling comes from improper sinking of your physical body and chi energy. When you perform movements during your tai chi practice the chi energy will start to rise, this can accumulate in your upper body turning the top half of your body into yang and lower half into yin making it feel top heavy. It is easy to observe this while practicing pushing hands because your balance is affected by another persons force, but harder to observe when you are practicing the forms.
Also too much chi energy high in the body will coincide with an increase in thinking, thinking will stop any development in your practice and causes your ability to balance to be lowered. This is because a large part of physical balance comes from mental engagement with the action, if our thoughts are racing we cannot concentrate and without concentration physical balance is difficult . We have all experienced tripping over due to being lost in thoughts while we were walking somewhere. During practice we should keep our thinking as simple as possible “in breath, out breath”, that’s all we need to think about.
When performing tai chi keep the lower part of your body yang, solid, balanced as possible and upper body yin, light, soft, pliable. This does not mean that the upper body is never yang, during a punch for example the chi rises up through the strike, but as soon as it has finished you should sink your chi back down, into the lower body, connecting with the ground. This way the lower body remains stable and it is harder for your opponent to take advantage of your yang energy rising and making you top heavy.
Learning to sink your weight whilst moving from one posture to another has more benefits then just increased balance and leg strength. It can also help to increase your concentration and be an aid to the settling of your mind. When you sink your weight down it is not only a physical movement but also a mental movement. If you combine the physical movement of bending your leg with placing your attention at the base of your foot and concentrating deep down into the ground, your chi will also sink creating a strong foundation. This has the feeling of hitting a strong post into the ground with a heavy hammer, picturing this mentally as you shift weight can help with increasing your ability to balance.
This will remove the feeling of being “top heavy” whilst practicing your forms and will create a feeling of lightness and relaxation in your upper body.
To increase your balance and ability to sink there are a couple of exercises you can do. First it is important to understand for ourselves just what our balance feels like, to do this stand with your feet parallel, shoulder width apart. Place all your attention mentally at the base of your left foot and shift your weight into the left leg slightly bending at the knee. Think deep down into the ground and each time you breathe out picture exhaling through the base of the foot, this can have the feeling of putting roots down into the ground, like a tree.
Once your get this feeling, place your eyes looking at 45 degrees in front of you and raise your right knee off the ground, the front half of your leg dangling down. Keep concentrating deep down below your balancing leg and fully extend your right leg in front of you. Hold it for as long as you are comfortable then bend your leg back and lower your leg to the ground again, do this a few times, not rushing it and try to feel and come to understand your own balance.
Now take this into your tai chi practice, every time you shift weight think deep down through the balancing leg into the ground, breathing out strong roots. Breath in to your dan tien, breathe out through your hands and feet, always keeping your connection deep into the ground. Keep your centre of balance low to the ground, do not bob your body up and down when shifting between legs, each step should have the same depth of balance as if you were going to stand on one leg.
Make sure you do not neglect the yin postures and rush through to the yang; all postures that have yin movement, contraction, should have the same balance as yang postures, those that expand. Breathing in sink everything down to the ground, in the yin posture, breathing out breathe into the ground and out through your hands, giving the feeling of an expanding bubble during a yang posture. Expansion, contraction, expansion, contraction, the flow of yin and yang, sending deep roots into the ground like a strong tree, always connected.
The general rule to apply here is every time you shift weight onto a leg, whether you are moving forward or backwards, shift your weight as if you were going to raise your leg off the ground. If you apply this to your form, from beginning to end, you will feel your legs are working more then they ever did before. You will also feel a deeper connection with the movement of the form, your body will relax, mind quieten, the movement of chi will become clearer and with your new found stability a new enjoyment towards practice will arise.
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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