Looking at your Building Blocks
How we move our weight through space is often overlooked. We are a body and we want to move from point A to point B. First on the list is we get there, but how often do we notice how we got there? When we don’t have impediments to our movement it is even easier to overlook the how. It never hurts to check-in with symmetry, range of motion, swing of limbs, etc. Since I am walking a lot, I noticed that I need to consciously switch which hand or shoulder I am carrying my tote bag. My left shoulder is more consistently hiked up from favoring carrying items on that side. Similarly, I try to take a look at my shoes (gym and hiking) to see how I am wearing the tread or if I need to replace them because the worn out tread is creating additional asymmetry.
The following article is Tai Chi in words. Lovely flow and feeling to the use of words. Tai Chi can be a great way to look at weight distribution, integrative movement, balance, timing, and more. Enjoy!
Tai Chi Chuan and the Art of Balance | Tai Chi Classes NYC
Tai Chi Chuan and the Art of Balance.
Of course, are we talking about physical balance or mental balance? In tai chi, both are developed, but neither is guaranteed.
That being said, tai chi is well known for helping with physical balance and studies have backed up this statement. But why is this so?
It intrigues me that the tai chi solution to balance has nothing to do with holding yourself together on top of the ground. Tai chi is about letting go and sinking into the ground. Tai chi has nothing to do with a rigid center line that rises up from the feet into the head. It has more to do with the circumference – the outer circle of your body – and letting that circumference be in harmony with itself and in harmony with its surroundings.
When you study tai chi, initially one element is brought forth – a soft upright quality of the body. “Body upright!” we are told. Another way it is approached is letting the spine hang from the top of the cervical vertebrae.
This “hanging” allows relaxation to take over and to let the pelvic bones anchor the torso around a column like or pillar like sense of the upper body. This top section then rests on the hip joints which in turn rest on the legs on the feet on the ground. So the hanging and resting quality in tai chi lets the weight fall into the ground through the body, unimpeded. The joints open and are encouraged to be relaxed and flexible.
At the same time, it allows other muscles to relax and to let you have enough mind left over to feel the outer edges of the column of your torso. This is actually not a literal sense of the torso, but more of relating the front with the back of a circular column, and the right with the left sides of this imaginary column. Later, we extend this to include the lower half of the body and finally we grow from a column to an oval or circular ball like sense of the body.
By being a ball, we roll along the ground as opposed to sort of clomping along. We become smoother. (Observe that a ball doesn’t really balance on the ground, it just IS with the ground.)
Note the progression above. We go from hanging from above to relaxation to a sense of being a column to the sense of being a ball. This has nothing to do with holding yourself up rigidly to maintain some sort of balance.
The tai chi form offers plenty of moments of challenge in terms of balance when we move one foot off the ground to land somewhere else. By being relaxed and open and connected to the ground, we learn real balance. At these particular moments, the training emphasizes being on the foot where the weight actually is and by not lurching or falling onto the foot that is finding a new place to land. This is the opposite of walking where we really do take advantage of falling onto the next foot as we move forward and catching ourselves as we move forward.
Your body is like a scale. One foot connects more and more into the ground where the weight currently is, the other foot lightly lands – no weight – onto the ground it plans to move towards. So there is a moment where you are ready to shift your weight forward, but you haven’t made any physical commitment in that direction, at least for a brief moment. The scale is all on one side of the fence preparing to move to the other side.
We spend a great deal of time working at this precarious place because we are training ourselves to create a new habit. We no longer perch on top of the ground, but we now sink into the ground and use the ground to help stabilize and relax our bodies, utilizing several new tools to assist in the process. Subtly, you relax the upper body to use the ground to find stability.
Another aspect here, somewhat hidden, is that by working this way, we are encouraged to put our awareness into the body. Our mind is not dwelling on some idea, plan, past annoyance and any other distraction. This new kind of balance is so mentally challenging and oddly satisfying that you absolutely have to be very aware of what is going on within the body itself. A new habit is being formed – that of having your mind in your body.
In tai chi training, we return again and again and again to feeling what is going on inside of our physical selves. To have a special exercise where this is required is a huge benefit.
Yet another aspect is that since tai chi is also a martial art, your awareness has to include your surroundings, even those areas that you don’t see with your eyes. You learn to feel your surroundings. Like an octopus with many tentacles, your awareness expands to include the whole space. We are developing a large inclusive way of perceiving the world.
One could argue that you don’t need tai chi to put your mind in your body. That’s true, but I would argue that by practicing tai chi, you have a tool that gently encourages you to put your mind in your body. Otherwise, most likely you wouldn’t want to be bothered. And since practicing tai chi contains many other benefits, you get more “bang!” for the time spent studying and practicing.
I mentioned mental balance. While this is a tough act to achieve, I’ll briefly state that I believe that putting your mind into your body is a good place to begin if mental balance is an issue. This is not the whole answer of course. It seems to help, though like any human endeavor there are many ways to defeat even the best of training activities.
Balance is a worthy practice, a challenge, rewarding and endlessly fascinating.
Tai chi really helps you get there.