Tag Archives: foundation

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.

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.