I have been teaching tai chi for a while now. One thing that I've learned is that none of us really understand how our body moves (teachers included). I keep learning new things.
When we start learning tai chi, we begin by using muscular force to move. Eventually, we start to learn how to use spiral force to connect with the ground and use our whole body to move. However, there are subtleties with this can take years to understand.
Let's look at an example. Most styles of tai chi have a form called "Push the Mountain" or something like that. The hands move into a position where the palms face forward towards an imaginary opponent followed by a push or lift. There are different ways this is done, but they usually involve starting with the hands palm down, stepping or shifting backward, turning the palms forward, and stepping forward to push. In Yang style, it is the end of Stroking Bird's Tail (the "an" of "peng, lu, ji, an").
Let's look at one tiny piece of that. How do you move your hands from palm down to palm forward? Let's start with muscular force. Stand with your feet slightly apart, about the width of your hips. Bring your hands up to about shoulder height with the palms facing down, your elbows slightly bent, and your shoulders relaxed and loose. Bend your wrists to raise your fingertips so that your palms face forward. It's not very satisfactory, is it? It is weak and causes tension in the wrists and shoulders. That's not good tai chi.
Let's add in a little bit more connection. Place your hands at shoulder height as before. This time, bend your elbows and allow your hands to pull in toward your chest. Your palms now face forward. Your shoulders and wrists can remain loose. That's a little better.
Let's add in a little bit more connection. Place your hands at shoulder height as before. This time, sink your weight into your right leg. Let your weight spiral around as you sink. Let your body relax and loosen. Pay attention to your right elbow. You should feel a little force pulling your right elbow down. Do it several times until you become familiar with the feeling. Now try it on the other side. Sink into your left foot and feel the force pulling your left elbow down. You have just figured out how to connect the ground to your hand.
If you are not feeling it, go practice your tai chi and work on relax and loosen and sinking the qi. Read more here. Then come back to this in a month or two.
Let's apply this to your forms. Get into the proper posture for the style you practice and try it. You will have to practice it to understand how to apply it to your own tai chi. You cannot do this seated. Quit reading, stand up, and try it.
There is an old spiritual song in the United States called Dry Bones (sometimes called Dem Bones). Part of it goes something like this:
The finger bone is connected to the hand bone,
The hand bone is connected to the wrist bone,
The wrist bone is connected to the arm bone,
It's easy to connect them dry bones.
It's obviously not anatomically correct, but it goes on and on in a fun story about how each part of our body is connected to the rest of our body. Tai chi teaches us about this if we are smart enough to listen.
© 2013 Eric Borreson