Principles of Tai Chi
Updated: Oct 29, 2019
The principles in Tai Chi are in place to help one gain a state of total body awareness. During a state of total body awareness, the breathing sinks to the lower belly, and the conduits of the body are completely open. This means that nothing is blocked and circulation is able to flow easily to every part of the body. Stagnant energy and filth - whether emotional or biological - begins to move. As stagnation moves out, the body's natural vibrance activates.
As natural vibrance activates, the individual is given opportunities to let go of disease-creating patterns and adopt newer and empowering ones. As the individual continues to make choices that flow from his or her natural vibrance, it becomes more and more difficult to experience disease and to depart from the Way of Health and Happiness. Therefore, it is said that when your practice becomes refined, "you gradually reach the point at which you cannot but achieve what you want."
Principles of Total Body Awareness
10 Points of Awareness
1. Lift the Crown of the Head
2. Sink the Tailbone to straighten the spine
3. Relax the Shoulders
4. Hollow the Chest, Slightly Round the Back.
5. Activate the Elbows [and open the armpits].
6. Extend through the Finger tips and Toes.
7. Slightly Bend the Knees. Knees above center of feet, pointing the same direction.*
8. Feet Shoulder Width Apart, Outside of Feet Parallel with Each other.
9. Legs Press in lightly, as if straddling a horse. Ideally you feel the whole leg active.
10. Relax the Abdomen and Sink Weight down until the Breath naturally goes there. Relax, Scan the Body, and Repeat until these 10 points of Awareness become natural habit.
*In a wider stance, it can be more difficult to have the knees point the exact same direction as the feet. In this situation it is more important to have the intention of the knees turning in towards each other. This activates the connective tissue in the whole leg.
2. Opposition Energy
In Tai Chi, every forward movement is balance by backward movement. This is the principle of balancing Yin [moving back] with Yang Energies [Moving forward].
a) Lift the Crown on the Head and Drop the Tail Bone. This activates the back and neck. To straighten the neck, look straightforward and cock the chin slightly as if holding a cotton ball between the throat and chin. Then move the whole neck back so that the vertebrae are vertically stacked. It may feel a bit forceful if you are in the habit of "peering out" like a turtle [most people have some variation of this]. Relax any muscular tension by using a gentle "inner smile" - which works by helping bring energy and awareness up to the neck. This process of relaxing the neck can make "lifting from the crown of the head" a physical reality.
b) Sink the Chest and Open the Back. This is a slight pressing back from the center of the chest and an opening of the back. This activates the upper body.
c) As the hands lift up, sink down through your Hips; as the hands fall, rise up through the feet. As the Hands Move forward, Move back with the body; as the Hands Move back Pull Forward with the body.
d) Relax the Shoulders and Sink the Elbows, While Extending through the fingers and toes. This gives us an even better stretch than if the arm was just extended straight out! Even in postures like single whip, in which the hand is closed, our energy still extends outwards through the wrist. In tai chi it is common to pretend as if buckets of water are hanging from the elbows, and in some serious circles, people actually practice that way [though they generally start with very small amounts of water!
3. Make Everything Round. Everything should be slightly round, like a ball. This ensures that energy is constantly flowing. The back is slightly round, the backs of the fingers and the toes round, the fingers and toes curve round toward each other as if holding cotton balls. The thighs and feet point very slightly towards each other [this extremely slight turning in activates the fascial planes on the outside of the leg up through the area on the sacrum].
4. Choosing a Target for Your Energy. When performing physical movements, it is important to direct your energy towards something - whether this is a tree, mountain, direction or extension out onto the horizon. It is as if you will your energy to move far beyond your body, while still [keeping your rooting] being grounded within it. This same skill is used in healing and martial arts to organize energy flow. If practicing martially, you may consider the applications of specific movements [e.g. elbow to the ribs, shoulder, karate chop to the neck, etc.]. Practicing outside in scenic and open areas is for these purposes ideal.
5. Moving Like a River. The common adage is to "move like a river, and stand like a mountain". This means, although our stance is very grounded, our movement is steady and smooth. Although certain movements may for a short time speed up or slow down, shoot to move at the same, steady pace. In general, the slower you move and the deeper breaths you take - the better. There is more opportunity to release tension and observe proper posture and principles. There is definitely a place for faster, more dynamic Tai Chi. But in the beginning, take the time to master the basics.
6. Remain at the same Height. In general, try and remain the same height. If you start the form low, stay low. When practicing walking meditation, it can help to anchor your gaze on one spot on the horizon.
7. Body Coordination Order. Eyes, Hips, Torso, Feet and Hands. Anchor the eyes to still the spirit, Activate movement from the lower abdomen, Follow with the Feet and Finish with the Hands.
Single Whip, Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska.