Tag Archives: yin

World Tai Chi & Qigong Day

World Tai Chi & Qigong Day in Welles Park - ChicagoAfter reflecting upon last weekend’s World Tai Chi and Qigong Day, I would like to share why I believe it to be a event worthy of celebration (and perhaps some extra practice).

A long time ago, people left the wilds and their natural surroundings for the benefits of communal living. As the size of these communities grew into kingdoms, the walls that were designed to provide security and convenience also became a haven for stress and conflict. The citizens were becoming afflicted with disease, internal strife, and greed.

Some of the wiser people noticed that communities had strayed too far from the balancing forces of nature, and presented remedies to those who would listen. They called attention to the flowing rivers, which were teeming with more life than stagnant waters. They pointed out that it was the more pliable trees that could weather heavy winds and snow much better than the stronger ones. It was the creatures that lived simply and within their means, they said, that made it through the harshness of winter and enjoyed the next spring.

The place was ancient China, and these wise folk were Taoists, who looked to the elements of nature and the concepts of yin and yang to help them enjoy healthier lives.

Over the years, continued observation and refinement led to the development of systems that helped people live in harmony with the Tao. Tai Chi and Qigong of modern times are direct ancestors of those systems, powerful internal arts that are practiced to balance and maintain the body. It should come as no surprise, then, that the remedies proposed to restore order and harmony to kingdoms of old (flow, softness and sustainability) can just as effectively be applied to our practice:

What adjustments can I make to my alignment that will help with balance and flow? Where are there restrictions in my movement, and how can these be softened? Are there places where I am overextending?

For me, the annual celebration of World Tai Chi & Qigong Day begins with a reminder to look back and consider the roots of these internal systems. I finish the day with the encouragement to continue listening for ways to soften and refine for another year.

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.