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 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 as they 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 . If any of these parts changed their alignment with each other then it would change where that weight falls between your legs.
5. Single Whip - hook right hand, step to left, left hand whips, weight even, balanced
After pressing to the right corner shift your weight fully into your right leg, making sure you are balanced and your weight is 'sunk' down. The foot on your right leg should now be parallel, toes facing the front and heal facing back as in the drawing. The palm that pressed towards the corner now makes a hook with all fingers touching. You do this by bending your right wrist and bringing all fingers and the thumb together to make a downward facing point. Your elbow should also be slightly bent and not fully straightened, always pay attention to this, never lock your elbow as it removes mobility and blocks the flow of the Qi. The left fingers should at this time be touching the wrist of your hooked right hand also with elbow slightly bent.
Now move your left foot half the length of your right foot towards the back and step to the left with your left leg, as in the above right hand picture, to a distance of just over shoulder width apart and shift your weight across evenly. Your right foot should be parallel and your left foot will be facing at 45 degrees as in the drawing. Moving your foot back half a foot length first will ensure that when you step to the side your right foot will be more forward then your left. Now turn your waist so it slightly faces the left, this with the feet make the left diagonal the front in this stance. Do not stand in an even posture facing the front, this is incorrect and comes from a misunderstanding in the functioning of single whip, you can see this in the drawing to the left. Once you have shifted the weight across relax and sink your weight evenly before starting the next posture to allow the Qi to sink down.
6. Watch Low Hand - weight to left side, right palm down, left palm faces up
Standing balanced in Single Whip gently shift your weight from your right leg into your left leg. As you do this move your whole into a slanting posture to the left as in the picture. The right hook hand turns into a downward facing palm; left palm turns to face upwards. This will make both palms face in opposite directions, one up and one down. Right palm them moves down to the height of your hip, left palm to a height just above your shoulder. Both arms are extended but a slight bend is held in the elbows of both arms. Make sure that there is a relationship between the hands, you can do this by imagining there is a plank of wood on a slope in front of you, the top left hand slides up underneath the plank, the bottom right hands slides down on top of the plank. Pay attention that your head stays inline with you body and is not too upright or leaning forward or sideways. When you shift across your eyes should be looking at your low right hand - hence the name of this posture.
7. Watch Low Hand - weight to left side, right hand low
Sinking into your left leg bring your right toe to the centre of your body to balance. Both hands also come to the centre of your body, right palm facing back towards you, left palm facing forward. Now touch your right heal in front of you, about shoulder width distance and shift your weight from your rear left leg into your front right leg. During this time the right arm moves up to your head height and left arm moves downward through the middle of your body until it is by your left side. As the right arm reaches the top, just inline with the forehead, turn your forearm to make your wrist and palm circle to face outwards as in the below Single Whip photo. Once you have fully shifted forward into your right leg step up with your left leg, knees slightly bent and weight balanced. At this stage your feet should be side by side, shoulder width apart. Your right arm should be in front of your forehead and left arm by your left side, palm facing back.
Raise Hands Step Up, White Crane Cools Its Wing, Brush Knee. Five repetitions of these movements from the Wu 108 Slow form, filmed from front and back view to help my students to learn the movements.
8. White Crane Cools its Wing - weight even, right hand stays on forehead, left arm by left side circles back, movement led by waist.
For White Crane stand with your knees slightly bent, weight even between your two legs, body facing the front. You right arm should be inline with your forehead, right palm and wrist facing forward. Your left arm relaxed hanging by your side, palm facing towards the ground. Start by lowering your height by sinking into your legs, bending your knees. Do not bend forward at the waist as you may see in many videos, not only is this bad for health it changes the mechanics of balance for the whole posture. Once you have sunk with your legs turn your body using the waist to face 45 degrees to the left. At this point circle your left arm backwards, and circle it from low to high. When your left arm is at shoulder height start to turn your body, using your waist to turn to face the front again. In this position both hands will be high in front of your face. This posture is named after observing large cranes standing in rice fields. One wing is folded in front of the head the other circles back as if the crane is stretching its wing. Often you will see this in the wild when birds are mating and displaying to each other. This posture when done correctly has a majestic and graceful feeling, this is what you are trying to capture when you practice White Crane.
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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