There are seven fundamental stances in Tai Chi Ch'uan. They are the Parallel Stance, the Sitting Stance, the Bow Stance, the Horse Stance, the Treading Stance, the Half-Split Leg Stance, and the Single Foot Stance. The second, third and fourth stances can be practiced independently as static meditative exercises which will be described later.
These meditative exercises are concerned with the cultivation of internal energy. The Chinese call this internal energy Chi. The static meditative exercises to develop this Chi are not to be attempted by the beginning student. Only after the student has performed the formal exercises of Tai Chi Ch'uan for a few years should he attempt to perform the static meditative exercises. If the body is not conditioned through the formal exercises of Tai Chi Ch'uan, and the student attempts to perform the static meditative exercises prematurely, he will tend to develop awkward, angular movements rather than smooth, circular movements. Smooth circular movements will facilitate the flow of Chi 7 throughout the body.
Each of the three stances have different functions so that they allow the student to cultivate Chi 7. The stances are concerned with the development of balance, posture, concentration, breathing, proper footwork, the alignment of the internal organs and the alignment of the three psychic centers. The three psychic centers are the upper Tan T'ien (top of the head), the middle Tan T'ien (solar plexus) and the lower Tan T'ien (one to two inches below the navel).
It is necessary to follow the descriptions of the stances exactly because Chi can only flow when everything is in proper alignment. When everything is in proper alignment, then the body is completely relaxed. When the body is relaxed, then Chi will sink down to the lower Tan T'ien. It is from the lower Tan T'ien that Chi7 will then flow throughout the rest of the body. As the student advances in the cultivation of Chi, there will be a point where he will be able to direct Chi7 to any point in his body.
The level of attainment, however, is dependent upon the student's ability to align his body both within and without. It is only through relaxation that Chi will sink down to the lower Tan T'ien. This is a long process and requires the use of the mind to assist in the cultivation. The final goal is to send Chi throughout the body under the control of the mind.
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