Saturday, August 13, 2011

Proprioception and Tai Chi

Tai chi is a great exercise to improve proprioception and kinesthetic sense. What does that mean? Read on. During movement of any kind, we are constantly losing our balance and regaining it quickly. The better our ability to regain balance, the safer and more skillful our movement. Better balance makes athletes less likely to get injured and reduces falls among the elderly. Balance is improved by improving your proprioception and kinesthetic sense.

Proprioception represents your body's ability to react to external forces. A kinesthetic sense is your ability to sense where your body is in space. It should be pointed out that not everyone agrees on the definitions of these terms.

Proprioception is an inner sense that works with the central nervous system. It is the ability of your brain to communicate and manage parts of your body with each other. It is your reflexes working to keep your body in balance. Good exercises to improve proprioception are those that challenge your balance and equilibrium. (That sounds like tai chi to me!)

Proprioception works through proprioceptive nerve endings to sense your body's location. Muscle spindle fibers in the muscles communicate information to allow the muscles to maintain proper muscle tension to support the joints. These nerve endings and muscle spindle fibers degenerate without regular use. Tai chi works many muscle groups to restore and improve function.

Kinesthetic Sense
Kinesthetic sense, or kinesthesia, is an outer sense that works with your body in space and time. It is your mind knowing where each part of your body is in relation to things around you. Good exercises to improve kinesthetic awareness are those that require coordination and movement control. (That sounds like tai chi to me!)

Your kinesthetic sense can improve through practice. Just be aware of every movement in your tai chi forms. Be precise about placing your hands and feet. Check your placement to give yourself feedback and learn from that feedback.

Combining proprioception and a kinesthetic sense improves your ability to control your body's movements. Improving your proprioception and kinesthetic awareness can turn you from an eternal klutz into a skilled athlete. It helps you make more precise movements with less effort. In other words, it improves your balance and coordination. Tai chi is very precise and controlled. This brings the player's focus to the movement and that focus transfers to everyday life.

© 2011 Eric Borreson


  1. Thanks for the new word!
    Calls to mind the recent discussion on LinkedIn regarding whether or not Tai Ji is a Martial Art...which can be associated with PushingHands-as-aimed-at-VICTORY
    An alternative paradigm is...PushingHands-as-proprioception ...
    as SURFING with Gravity...and Levity
    Dao De Jing #26 states: "In gravity is levity grounded."
    One in-urbanlife-exercise can be...practicing proprioception while standing up on a Metro/Subway...without holding on to any strap or pole.
    LiuHeBaFa emphasizes the practice of moving/fluid rooting.
    My Sifu, Master Yun Yin Sen, embodies this

  2. Kevin, thanks for the note. I like your term Surfing with Gravity. I will have to think about ways to use that.

  3. Most students don’t realize how tense they are and can’t remain calm under verbal or physical attacks until they have practiced martial push hands and other 2-person exercises leading to realistic free-sparring.
    Classical Tai Chi is dying because many teachers don’t know the classical forms and have been taught shortened made-up forms. Even those who teach classical forms of Tai Chi can’t find devoted students who are willing to spend years studying. See “Are You Really Learning Tai Chi and is it Effective for Stress?” at