A review of the basic principles of T'ai Chi movement is in order at this point, because without a firm grasp of these basics, you are not doing T'ai Chi, just a slow-motion dance. With the principles in mind, however, you will enter into the magical world of healing and relaxation, of spiritual cleansing, and of greater everyday optimism.
Starting with your feet, place them shoulder-width apart and parallel. Remember that the feet should be parallel in order to reduce the stress on the ankles and knees, and although you may normally walk splayfooted, at least for the duration of these exercises try to indulge my taste in foot alignment.
The knees should be slightly bent, not as if you are being crushed under a two-ton weight, but comfortably. The main idea is to get away from locking the knees, a common practice in many people. Recall that energy will not flow through a locked joint, and that relaxation is practically impossible to achieve if you are holding tension in your joints. The best way to determine the proper amount of knee bend is to first lock the knees. Then slowly unlock them until the feeling of tension behind the knee disappears. Usually this is a matter of moving the knee forward perhaps 1 inch.
The pelvic girdle should be tilted slightly upward and forward, in order to straighten out the lower spine and keep the buttocks from protruding. This helps maintain an even balance and allows the energy to flow throughout the pelvic area.
The chest should be slightly "closed"—that is, don't puff out your chest like a soldier at attention; rather, bring the shoulder blades forward slightly. This closing of the shoulders is almost imperceptible, so don't force it. Again, the idea is to allow the Qi to flow unimpeded.
Speaking of shoulders, let them drop down and relax them completely. Each little bit of tension that you hold in the shoulders is transmitted throughout the arms and upper chest area, so make sure you relax. The elbows should be slightly bent, the wrists loose, and even the fingers should show a slight curl inward. All of these points of attention are again designed to both relax you and to open up the energy channels.
The head should be lifted up and supported as if a string were pulling upward on the very crown of your head. This further strengthens and straightens the spine, and ensures good posture and alignment. Tuck the chin in slightly, as most people have a tendency to lift their chins along with their heads. The end result of this alignment procedure should be that your gaze is level and calm, with a feeling that your spine is totally at ease and that your upper-body weight is flowing downward through your legs into the ground.
Finally, remember to keep the tongue gently touching on the upper palette of the mouth, just behind the front teeth. The most important reason for this unusual tongue placement is again related to energy flow—it bridges two of the main energy channels and allows the Qi to flow in a circuit throughout the body. Without the tongue in this position, the energy flows up the spine, over the head, and then comes to a halt—it does not continue it's journey back down the front of the body and back to the spine.
Remember also periodically during these exercises to stop and check your alignment and posture. In time, with repeated checking and conscientious practice, these alignment principles will become second nature.
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