Friday, April 13, 2012

Posture in Tai Chi


Tai chi teachers always talk about maintaining good posture. What are some things you can practice to improve your tai chi posture? First, simply be aware of your posture as your practice your forms. Be aware of whether or not you are upright when you are supposed to be. If you focus on posture every day, your posture will start to improve.

One of the 13 classic postures of tai chi is called Zhong Ding, or central equilibrium. It's all about posture and it can be thought of as maintaining your center position. Zhong Ding is the key direction of the 5 steps and represents the balance of yin and yang around the center. Zhong Ding is the primary direction in wu ji and standing post. 

Separating Heaven and Earth
If you find that you still have difficulty maintaining an upright posture, there is a very simple exercise called Separating Heaven and Earth that you can do as part of your daily warmups. It is a classic exercise that has been used for thousands of years. It is part of the Eight Silken Brocades (Ba Duan Jin) qigong set.

Slightly tuck in your chin to straighten your upper spine and tuck in your tailbone to straighten your lower spine. Hold your hands in front of you with one hand about chest height and palm down and the other at your lower abdomen with the palm up, as if holding a ball. Separate your hands and exhale, slowly moving the bottom hand palm up over your head and the top hand palm down at your hip. Keep your elbows slight bent.

Visualize that your qi is flowing up your spine to the top of your head. Pause briefly without moving and feel your spine stretching and the space between the vertebrae opening up. Imagine yourself growing taller. As you inhale, bring your hands back to the center and visualize that your qi is flowing down the front of your body. Reverse your hands and repeat to the other side. Repeat several times.

Remember that this exercise is called Separating Heaven and Earth, not Stretch for the Heavens. This is a spine stretch, not a full body stretch. Don't stretch your whole body as if you are trying to reach the heavens. I have seen people doing this by leaning to the side and trying to reach as high as they can. That's not the point. This is primarily a visualization exercise, not a stretching exercise.

Visualize your body reaching for central equilibrium. As you exhale, visualize that your spine is a string and you are gently pulling the string from both ends to stretch your spine. This is very similar to the Song exercise I wrote about last week.

Modification for a more challenging form
If you are looking for a little more of a physical challenge, you can get that here, too. Begin in horse stance. Move your feet farther apart, as if you are sitting on horseback. Bend your knees to the extent you find comfortable, while maintaining an upright posture.

As you stretch and extend your hands, rise from the horse stance. As you relax and return to neutral, inhale and return to horse stance. Continue moving from horse stance to standing as you alternate hands.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Note: If you are practicing Wu style, it's probably better to talk about whether you are properly aligned, but I have no experience with that style and can't provide any help.

© 2012 Eric Borreson