For tai chi to work the correct body position is essential otherwise the student will not lose the required stress and will not gain a flow of chi. Pay attention to each part of the body. This will build robust health, help you find the movements, boost your chi circulation and heighten martial application.HEAD The head is held upright and light, as if one of the hairs of the crown lifting the head. Do not over do this action, it will lead to the tightening of the muscles in the neck. You are looking for a light feeling.
Common Mistakes -
Looking down. This often comes because when learning tai chi we look down to check the posture.-
Lifting the chin. This can be due to standing too erect and throwing the head back too far.-
Turning the head independently of body movement.
The eyes reflect our health, mind and vitality and in Tai Chi the eyes should be alert, not dull, vague or looking down. The eyelids are naturally relaxed and the gaze is level allowing us to be aware of our surroundings. The spirit (Shen) should be like a cat stalking a mouse.
Dull eyes mean the mind is not in control-
Staring is a sign of nervousness-
Do not close the eyes as it affects coordination.
When practicing, the ears listen to an area just behind the head. This helps maintain an upright posture, focuses the mind and makes us aware of our immediate environment. It also helps lower the chi to the dantien.In Tai Chi we breathe through the nose although during fajin (the explosive moments) it can be through the mouth. Breathing is slow and even and you should feel the body’s expansion.Close the mouth gently with no tension – the lips rest on each other and the teeth do not touch. The tip of the tongue rests softly on the upper palate. This will generate extra saliva and you should swallow this. Placing the tongue here also complete a circuit in the meridians.
Pursed lips – all signs of tension.
The shoulders are level and hanging down without any stress or tension. This can only be achieved through time, focused training and good teaching. If the shoulders are raised the chi rises which causes instability and if the shoulders are depressed too much the internal power cannot reach the hands. It is important not to lift or shrug the shoulders, keeping them level throughout movement.
Lifting the shoulders-
Excessive shoulder movements (i.e. Too much shoulder turning) from using the shoulders to lead a movement. It is very difficult to change this habit-
Huddling the shoulders results from over sinking the chest.
ARMS AND ELBOWS
The arms are always rounded to form an arc. There are no straight positions and they are not pressed close to the body. The space under the arm is about the size of an orange to enable easier deflecting of incoming energy.The elbows are always lower than the shoulders and are drawn in to help relax the shoulders.
Lifting the elbows – this affects both chi flow and martial usage.
WRISTS AND FINGERS
‘Extend the fingers and seat the wrists’. The fingers are loosely extended, like gently opening each joint out. The thumb and little finger are slightly drawn towards each other to allow the cupping of the palm. This keeps this acupuncture point insubstantial. Keep the hands soft or chi will not be held. Keep rounded the gap between thumb and index finger.When holding a fist keep the palm relaxed until the point of contact. When moving the fist is relaxed, only strengthening when contact is made.
Curling the fingers – energy will not reach the fingers-
Extending wrists and fingers too rigidly.-
Trembling hands – a sign of nervousness.
‘Contain the chest’. The chest is slightly drawn in to store energy. This helps the chest relax which in turn helps with smooth and effortless breathing. A relaxed chest also helps the shoulders to relax which in turn helps the energy pass.
Tightness in the chest – Chi has not yet settled to the dantien and breath may not be natural.-
Sticking out the chest when you over emphasize the opening movements in the form.-
Sinking chest too much.
The back is held naturally and straight. The area of the back between the two arms is extended out towards the hands to get a rounded feeling. .The main point of tai chi posture is the spine as it links the head, body and limbs. The back is straight and relaxed to open the gaps between the vertebrae to allow chi to pass. The spine should be like a straight rope, not a stiff pole otherwise energy will not pass.
Hunching the back-
Collapsing the spine
This is the main point of confusion in Tai Chi studies. The Chinese regard the waist as the area between the hips and the ribs including the lower back, kidneys and dantien.This area connects the upper and lower body. It is the most important axis. This area controls the change of direction and it is the centre of internal energy. It regulates posture, controls movement and maintains balance. In Tai Chi the constant turning of this area builds the strength we later need for fajin movements.
Not keeping the waist straight-
A stiff waist due to lack of movement-
Excessive movement of the waist as it is too loose and twists too much.
TAILBONE, BUTTOCKS, KUA and DANG
The tailbone is naturally relaxed and its direction corresponds to the movement of the waist.The buttocks follow the spine and remain perpendicular to the ground. Avoid sticking the bum out or tucking too much as it disturbs alignment, creates tension and inhibits the legs. Holding the buttocks still stops the movement of the waist, essential in Chen Tai Chi.The Kua is the muscle in the inguinal crease at the top of the legs. Relax the kua is often heard during a tai chi course as it helps coordinate upper and lower body movements.Dang (the crotch) should be held open and rounded to ensure good footwork and smooth shifting of the weight.
Sticking out the buttocks – a sign of weakness in the legs and the waist.-
Pushing the kua forward. This is a major problem. The top of the thigh is too straight and unable to sit down which prevents the waist from moving freely.-
Not opening the Dang-
Opening the Dang too much as it affects balance.
The position of the legs determines the stability and balance of the body as well as the flexibility of the upper limbs. The joints of the legs should be in the correct position to allow the passage of power. The height of stance should be adjusted depending on a person’s age or physical requirements.
The knees are kept slightly bent throughout Tai Chi practice. Balance is kept by aligning the knees with the hips and ankles. The knee is for movement, not support, so do not put too much pressure on the knee. The knees do not bend independently. They act in response to the kua relaxing, the hips sitting and the tailbone extending. The body weight is directed through the knees into the ground.Warm up your knees thoroughly before practice to avoid injury.
Pushing knees too far forward. This is when the knees go beyond the toes. Train yourself to know the position of your knee as this will cause injury.-
Collapsing the knee. The knees move in the direction of the feet and the inside of the knee should not drop.
The feet are the foundation of the body and we push against the ground to find a rebounding energy. “Energy is rooted in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist and manifested through the hands”.
Lifting the heel. This is known as ‘plucking the foot’ and often occurs during fajin.-
Lifting the sides of the feet causes instability-
Rocking the feet – feet are not firmly on the ground.