Tag Archives: connection

Alignment 103: The Waist

The Classics refer the to waist as the director, as it plays two key roles during the practice of Tai Chi. The first is that it transmits the energy generated by the legs up through the spine to the shoulders. It is also responsible for keeping the body in alignment as the body moves from posture to posture. This is why The Classics refer to the waist as the director.

There is a lot to know how to work from the waist and make it an effective director. Here are some tips to keep in mind during your practice:

• The hips should remain at the same height throughout the form. If one hip becomes higher than another, the spine must compensate in an unnatural way to maintain balance. Try to visualize the waist as a bowl filled with water to its rim; don’t spill a drop!

• The turning of the waist should be coordinated with the shifting of the weight. When gathering, the waist can be used to align an emptying foot for the next step. When shifting the weight forward in the Bow & Arrow Stance, the waist should begin to turn as the front knee tracks over the ankle toward the toes.

• Make sure that the feet and legs give the waist enough room to operate. As mentioned in an earlier post, a foundation that is too short, long, wide or narrow will leave the waist little opportunity to keep the body balanced or move the energy.

• Be aware that turning waist too far can lead to tension in the hip and knee joints, or even uproot the feet. The direction of the navel should never point outside the direction of either foot.

• To achieve a solid connection between ground (earth) and the crown of the head (heaven), the abdomen should be slightly engaged throughout the form. By this I mean that the lower back is slightly lengthened by the activation of deeper muscle groups (most notably, the psoas muscles). This can take some time to find, but the reward is more than worth the effort. For example, when one’s body begins to understand that it is the waist that directs the yin leg (whether that is to help close the back foot during a two hand push, or align an emptying foot for the next step), one’s practice will be so much more profound.

Consider the role of the waist in your Tai Chi practice as being similar to the hub of a wheel. If the hub is off-center or does not keep a tight rein on the spokes, the wheel will be unbalanced and much less effective. However, when the hub is strong and properly aligned, the wheel should be able to carry its load with grace and finesse.

Be the hub.

Alignment 102: The Legs

The Classics describe transferring energy through the legs as though they were springs. When avoiding, the front leg moves the one’s center back; when applying, the weight launches it forward. The center should never move so far as to uproot either foot.

During Tai Chi Chuan, the practitioner shifts his weight from one leg to the other dozens and dozens of times. Some of these transitions between yin and yang are fairly straightforward, others are slightly modified or unique, but all hold a common theme: the yin leg must be structurally stable enough (yang) to accept the energy from the yang leg, and the yang leg has to be relaxed enough (yin) to listen to the needs of the transition.

This is evident when preparing to push from a Bow & Arrow Stance. While coiling on the back leg, it should feel as though you are sitting back onto a stool, but there should still be some mobility in the hip and knee joints. The front leg should be fairly empty; however, some structure is required (bent knee aligned with the foot) for balance and also so that it can receive the weight transfer properly.

Remember also that a good set of springs is only as good as the placement of the anchors. The integrity of each foot’s connection with the earth will affect the strength and direction of your energy. If your Bow & Arrow Stance is too long, your push will not go in the intended direction. If too short, you will not be grounded enough to make an effective push.

Take a few minutes before class to practice shifting your weight from leg to leg very, very slowly. Listen as one leg fills up and the other empties. Do both feet remain completely grounded? Are you moving in the direction of intent? When sitting back, does it feel as though your legs will push in the direction you want to go?

Find your springs.

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.