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.