Tag Archives: balance

Alignment 101: The Feet

During the first class of each introductory program (and oftentimes to answer an advanced student’s question), my teacher would paraphrase one of the more commonly known Tai Chi Classics:

The chi is rooted in the feet, springs from the legs, directed by the waist, channeled up the spine through the shoulders, and finally expressed through the hands and fingers.

Keep those words in mind when looking for ways to improve your practice. Let’s have a look at our feet for now.

Rooting the Feet

A lot of texts and websites indicate that a practitioner should be able to feel the grounded foot rooting three feet into the earth at all times. Surely, a solid connection with the earth ensures proper balance and is critical for the transfer of energy. But how is this accomplished?

One’s weight should be evenly distributed on each supporting foot, front to back, inside to outside. This should be felt throughout each posture of the form. If, during a push, you find more pressure in the ball joint of the yang leg, you have over-committed. If your toe comes off the ground when rolling back, you have given too much ground. Rolling to the inside or outside of the foot indicates a lack of balance while transferring weight or traveling across the floor.

Take some time to check in with your root; make sure every step you take is fresh and new. When the foot is lifted, empty it and allow your calf muscles to relax (yin). Bring it to its destination with a purpose; make sure it connects firmly along all four sides. This will allow you to listen as you transfer your weight to it.

During this whole process of lifting and stepping, the yang foot must remain firmly connected as your center of gravity rises above it. Difficulties here are symptomatic of misalignment or joint weakness further up the chain (the legs, the waist). Those are topics for another day, but for now practice listening to the foot as it empties, connects with the earth and fills. You may need to slow the form for now (or perhaps even leave the arms out of the equation), but know that a small amount of investment here will strengthen the foundation of your practice.

The Importance of Alignment

My investigation of Tai Chi Chuan really took off when I began approaching my practice with alignment in mind. Whether you come to this study for its health benefits, martial properties, or as a form of personal expression, working toward proper alignment on a regular basis will bring great returns with respect to flow, balance and internal strength.

Take the simple analogy of a water hose: if this conduit is left open the water continues to flow along the path; if the hose is bent, however, the output is hindered or completely blocked.

“Well,” you might say, “I’m a wee bit more complex than a tube… how does this apply to me?”

Tai Chi Chuan means “Supreme Ultimate Fist” or “Supreme Ultimate Form.” This is not a declaration of ego (quite the opposite), but rather a reference to the relationship between the Taoist principles of yin and yang. For a moment, think of the joints of your body as gates that allow energy to flow. When these gates are working in unison, energy flows freely in the direction of your intent. However, if a gate is closing (yin) when it should be opening (yang), the flow is compromised. Likewise, if a gate is opening when it should be closing, energy is lost.

As we listen to and work on alignment, our practice can’t help but improve. From a health standpoint, we become more efficient on many levels and relieve excessive body strain. From a martial perspective, we learn more about the transfer of energy and the dangers of over-commitment. Artistically, we will find ways to be more expressive and communicate with more clarity.

Over the coming weeks we’ll look at ways to get a better understanding of alignment and methods to improve it. Stay tuned.