Friday, March 1, 2013

Tai Chi Opening Movement - Part 1 of 4

Sometimes there is value in going back to the beginning and focusing on the basic forms again. Let's take a look at the opening form of tai chi single-hand practice. I primarily practice Sun style tai chi, so that is what I discuss below. Different styles of tai chi use slightly different movements in this form, but they all have the basic principles in common.

When new students begin learning tai chi, they have a very limited understanding of using their body and breath together to calm the mind. This 3 4-part series of articles is intended to help them start to develop an understanding of some of the deeper principles of tai chi.

Description of the Movement
Stand with your heels together with your toes pointing out at about a 45° angle with your arms hanging at your sides. Keep your knees soft and don't lock the joints. The motion starts with simple movement created by your arm muscles. Slowly swing your arms out toward the front, with the palms facing each other. Bring your hands up to about shoulder height. As your hands get close to full height, turn your fingers slightly upward by bending your wrists.

Bring your hands back down through the same path they used to travel upward. As your hands drop to about waist level, start to pull your hands in toward your waist. Start to shift your weight onto your right leg. As your hands reach your waist, your weight should all be on your right leg. Bring your hands up along your abdomen (not touching) to about chest height. At the same time, start to step forward with your left foot. Place your left foot with no weight on it (empty).

Start to shift your weight forward onto the left foot. At the same time, extend your hands forward, keeping your palms facing each other. As your hands extend, step forward with your right foot, timing it so that you finish your hand movements at the same time you finish your stepping and weight shifting.

As you bring your hands up along your abdomen, bend your elbows to move your hands instead of lifting your shoulders. As you extend your hands, keep your elbows below your wrists to keep the shoulders relaxed.

Remember the 70% Rule
Estimate your greatest ability to perform an exercise. Practice at only 70% of that level. This is not a competition. If it hurts, stop immediately. Apply this rule to everything in taiji, from how far you stretch, to how many repetitions, and to how long you practice. As you become more familiar with the forms and with your own body, you can gradually increase this number.

Control Your Movements
A good first principle at this stage is to learn to control your movements so they are slow, smooth, and continuous. You should move as though there is a gentle resistance. Think of your qi flow as a river. As it flows downhill, it gathers strength. Keep your movements slow, smooth, and continuous to smooth the progress of the qi flow.

Posture and Body Alignment
Another way to think about controlling your movements is to work on body alignment. Being upright is very important, but it is not as simple as it seems. A way to approach it is to think of your spine as a string. Imagine gently stretching the string from both ends. Being upright provides the internal organs with more space. Slightly tuck in your chin to straighten your spine.

Next week, I will continue this discussion by adding in some more of the basic principles of tai chi. This will add more depth and enjoyment to your tai chi.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

To read the next article in this series, click here.

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