Tag Archives: listen

Alignment 105: The Hands

So you’ve rooted the feet, used the legs to spring, directed that power with the waist and channeled that energy up the spine and through the shoulders… now it’s time to express.

We want the forearms and hands to be awake to awake enough to be responsive, yet soft enough to listen.

Remember to keep the fingers together. This simple action calls for a little bit of effort in the hand that keeps it alert. When writing a letter or painting, notice that your hand is not gripping the pen or brush too tightly; nor is the connection too loose. It’s in a state somewhere in-between – a place that is strong to the point of being supportive, yet relaxed enough to receive direct feedback from its action. This is what the hands will do by connecting the fingers: they become an interface.

When a hand technique requires activation with a bend in the wrist (sitting hand, cut, united fingertips, knuckle punch), strike a balance between activation and alignment. The activation of the wrist allows the energy to flow down one side of the forearm to reach the hand. However, twisting the wrist or making the joint too angular will block the flow. As a general rule, do not bend the joint so far as to create major flexion folds in the wrist.

If the hand technique does not require activation in the wrist (jab, punch, back fist), keep that channel open down the forearm to the middle knuckle – straight as an arrow!

The next time you settle into the horse-riding stance at the beginning of the Tai Chi Chuan, listen as your hands and forearms activate.  Continue to carry that sensation throughout the entirety of the form.

Go play; express yourself.

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.