Tag Archives: engaged

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.

Remain Patient, Be Present, Get Playful

Reprinted from an annual retrospective, written for students of the Tai Chi Center of Chicago.

I’m always delighted to be writing for TC3 as we round the bend on another year, full circle. This is the first one that requires two hands to count out our anniversaries, and it just occurred to me that we have students who have been with the school for four, five or more years. Where does the time go?

I want to take this opportunity to share some personal insight here, because it was about that time in my study of Tai Chi that I felt as though I was hitting a plateau. I wasn’t feeling as refreshed by or engaged with my practice as compared to those first couple years. I was maintaining a regular schedule, and I knew that Tai Chi was good for my health and well being, yet restlessness and frustration continued to surface as I searched for something else that the form could teach me.

At best, it felt like treading water. At worst, a sense of stagnation began to settle in. And from a Tai Chi perspective, that’s just unacceptable, right?

If your practice is still rainbows and unicorns right now, that’s awesome. Move along to the next post; just remember to put a bookmark here should anything (dare I say it…?) change down the road. However, if this issue sounds remotely familiar, read on and we can look at nipping this thing in the bud together.

One remedy for boredom and frustration is to (perhaps not so) simply remain patient. Slow the form further, or try to soften more. Listen. Be more receptive, and soon you just might notice something that can carry you to that next level.

However, if your expectations and restlessness cannot be dissipated with patience alone, consider a more proactive approach. Choose one thing to observe, and give it your fullest attention for the duration of the form. This could be anything that will help you maintain a sense of playful engagement: Is my yang foot truly rooted with every step? Is there enough room in my foundation to adequately shift my weight? Are my shoulders as relaxed as possible? Can I follow my breath as I shift attention between my tan tien and the yang hand?

Keep at it, and you’ll find places in the form that are in need of more more attention. From there, you can dig deeper, either on your own or with the help of an instructor. The lesson here is to not look for what the practice holds for you, but rather consider bringing more exploration to the table. Get playful and mix it up; then do it again. Check in with an open mind on a regular basis. This is where the investigation becomes personal — and truly passionate.

So make the most of these last few Dragon days: get creative, and before too long you’ll have some nice juicy homework to keep you tuning and refining for the next year.