Sunday, November 28, 2010

Alignment 102: The Legs

The Classics describe transferring energy through the legs as though they were springs. 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 unique, most are repeated throughout the form, 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.

For example, let's look at the 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.

While it is helpful to think of the legs as springing, my teacher will also use the metaphor of pouring one's weight from one vessel into another. The point of this visualization is to be aware of your feet, and appreciate their relationship to your legs during practice. The integrity of your 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 direction of intent. 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.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

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 and through the shoulders, and expressed through the hands and fingers.” 
This should be kept 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 initialization of power transfer. 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 be 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). That's a topic for another day, but for now practice listening to the foot empty, connect and fill. 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 bring significant returns to your practice.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Importance of Alignment

My investigation of Tai Chi Chuan really took off when I understood the importance of approaching my practice with alignment in mind. Whether you come to this study for its health benefits, martial properties, or as a form of personal expression, your alignment should be a clear indication of your level of success.

Take the simple analogy of a water hose: if this conduit is left open the water continues to flow along the path; if the hose is bent, however, the output is hindered or completely blocked.

“Well,” you might say, “I'm a wee bit more complex than a tube... how does this apply to me?”

Tai Chi Chuan means “Supreme Ultimate Fist” or “Supreme Ultimate Form.” This is not a declaration of ego (quite the opposite), but rather a reference to the relationship between the Taoist principles of yin and yang. For a moment, think of the joints of your body as gates that allow energy to flow. When these gates are working in unison, energy flows freely in the direction of your intent. However, if a gate is closing (yin) when it should be opening (yang), the flow is compromised. Likewise, if a gate is opening when it should be closing, energy is lost.

As we listen to and work on alignment, our practice can't help but improve. From a health standpoint we become more efficient on many levels, which relieves excessive strain from our bodies. From a martial perspective, we learn more about the transfer of energy and the dangers of overcommitment. Artistically, we will find ways to communicate more clearly.

Over the coming weeks we'll look at ways to get a better understanding of alignment and ways to improve it. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Welcome to Tai Chi Method!

The mission of this site is to help practitioners of Tai Chi Chuan get the greatest benefit from their investment of time and energy.
It is important to understand that the study of Tai Chi Chuan is not an end in itself, for how could a lesson on the ever-changing Tao ever be complete? Whether you have been practicing for five weeks or fifty years, there will always be room for refinement. Being mindful of this during one's practice will reveal Tai Chi Chuan as an invaluable method of investigation that will lead one to growth and transformation.
Principles are presented here to aid you in that investigation. Most of these relate to the alignment and mechanics of the body and are therefore applicable to any Tai Chi form. So explore and experiment with what you find here.
Study with patience; enjoy your practice.