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The Correct Tai Chi Postures

by Great Grand Master Kellen Chia

December 8, 2005

Lots of people have been practising Tai Chi, many for over forty years, however many of their Tai Chi postures are incorrect. Learning Tai Chi with correct postures is extremely important. This will also correct any posture, and allow you to walk correctly, and properly sit, stand, sleep and perform other daily routines. Therefore, learning Tai Chi will give you much more energy in daily life.

Tai Chi postures -- creating Tai Chi's core power -- good Tai Chi postures generate enormous energy which vibrates through the body and the extremities, and produce maximum mobility and flexibility. Good Tai Chi postures produce the power and allows it to travel smoothly through the legs and ascend to the upper body -- in Tai Chi the power bounces from the ground, travels through the legs, and is directed by the waist and is manifested in the hands. Also, good Tai Chi postures increase the healing effect tremendously which becomes potent on the body’s systems. They also help relax the upper body and the mind. When the Tai Chi form is done correctly, the body's weight is sinking into the feet pressing against the ground -- creating a slight flex in the tendons and activating the acupuncture point on the kidney meridian number one ( K - 1 ) on the soles of the feet -- developing rooting. The meridians correspond to the tendons, so the flex attracts a strong flow of Chi which travels down the corresponding meridians to the feet. This allows the exchange of energy with the Earth which can be used to heal one's body and others', and make a spiritual connection with nature.

Tai Chi stances are extremely important in order to create the power in Tai Chi practice, and also good Tai Chi stances cultivate the energy that strengthens the body. If Tai Chi stances are poor, e.g. too long, too wide, too low, etc, then all of the movements become clumsy, and the body eventually feels exhausted.

In Tai Chi postures the knees must always be bent slightly, and must not bend further than the toes. If the knees pass the toes, the body weight goes into the knees and creates too much tension on the knee joints, diminishing the flow of energy throughout the body and reducing the power in Tai Chi. This also strains the muscles in the lower back and overuses the patellar tendons which connects the muscles from the femur or the thigh bone to the tibia or the shin bone ( the bone below the thigh bone ). These incorrect Tai Chi postures subsequently develop pain in the knees because the tendons are worn, which also hinders the flow of Chi through much of the upper body during Tai Chi practice. In the correct Tai Chi postures the knees do not pass the toes, the body weight is supported by the legs, and the feet press into the ground. These Tai Chi postures create a slight flex in the leg tendons which draws Chi down the corresponding meridians, ensuring a strong circulation of Chi and blood to the legs. The correct Tai Chi postures also produce a lower centre of gravity and greater stability, and encourage the development of internal power in the legs. Furthermore, the correct Tai Chi postures help activate the lower Tan Tien energy centre which is located approximately two inches below and one and a half inches behind the navel. The Tan Tien is a holding place for an abundance of Chi that can be accessed at any time; to have a 'flow' of Chi from this area to other areas of the body.

The only time in Tai Chi the legs are locked straight is during some of the kicks, to create upright alignment with the upper body and allow powerful Chi to transmit to the intended destination. The tendons that run down the backs of the legs flex and draw Chi down their corresponding meridians. In Tai Chi the body should be aligned so that there is a vertical line between the twentieth acupuncture point on the Governing meridian ( GV - 20 ) on the top of the head, to the first acupuncture point on the kidney meridian ( K -1 ) on the soles of the feet.

One of the most important principles of Tai Chi practice is to keep the spine straight, and the back relaxed. These Tai Chi postures entice the flow of fresh blood into the muscles, generate immense energy, and allow Chi to ascend up the spine through the Governing meridian to the head, and through every part of the body. Tai Chi practice in this way also avoids overuse and poor conditioning of the lumbar spine ( the lower back ); pain in the lumbar spine can restrict activity and diminish quality of life. Keeping the spine healthy is vital for an active life. Also these Tai Chi postures give a sound structure and a better support that enhances mobility in the body, and flexibility in the extremities. These Tai Chi postures cultivate greater power which emanates from the muscles of the lower back, and permits the entire body weight to be used efficiently in Tai Chi application with the support of the robust muscles on the legs that help transfer power, and provide strength for activities such as standing, walking and lifting that makes the legs strong. To straighten the upper spine, lift the head back and up, and pull the chin in slightly. By tilting the coccyx forward and under the torso, the lumbar spine is straightened.

While the spine is straight during Tai Chi practice, the chest should not be inflated. By keeping the chest hollowed, it causes Chi to sink to the lower Tan Tien, and relaxes the torso, the upper extremities and the mind. This generates substantial flow of Chi through the body. If the chest is expanded then Chi is blocked in the chest region, and it strains the muscles around the neck and creates tightness in the shoulder muscles. Nor should the chest do the breathing; if the chest does the breathing then it precipitates an imbalance in the circulation of Chi in most parts of the body.

In Tai Chi the tongue gently touches the roof of the mouth at the front. This tongue position helps one to better relax, focus, and slow down while practising the Tai Chi forms, Qigong/Chi Kung, and meditation. This also creates a condition where one can breathe only through the nose, which is important because then, the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide is maintained in the blood. If carbon dioxide is lost too quickly, as in mouth breathing, then oxygen absorption in the blood is decreased, causing the arteries and vessels carrying blood to the cells to constrict and preventing the oxygen in the blood reaching the cells in sufficient quantity. When carbon dioxide is held longer in the lungs, the alveoli relaxes which results in increased oxygen absorption in the blood.

Tai Chi practice takes full advantage of the amazing structure of the shoulder: the shoulder has three joints that work together to produce astonishing mobility; it is the most mobile joint in the body. The muscles and tendons in the shoulder allow this mobility, and regarding stability, the shoulder relies on muscles more than any other joint. Problems in any of these areas can cause pain in the shoulder. In Tai Chi practice, the shoulders should remain relaxed, hung downward and a little forward to make the chest slightly concave. This allows Chi to flow through the upper extremities and sink into the belly, and allow great power to be produced in the Tai Chi forms. If the shoulders are raised, then there is a stiffness in the muscles of the shoulders, upper back and neck, because many of the muscles that work the shoulder originate in the spine and continue to the neck. Such a position also inhibits mobility in the upper extremities, resulting in the loss of power in Tai Chi execution and preventing a good flow of Chi to the hands.

In Tai Chi the movement of the hands is very important -- it is an integral part of the form and is given maximum stability by the extraordinary structure of the elbow and its complex interaction with the forearm and wrist. At the elbow, there are three bones and two joints. The bone of the upper arm meets with the larger bone of the forearm ( on the opposite side of the thumb ) that allows the elbow to bend and straighten. At the second joint, the smaller bone of the forearm ( on the same side as the thumb ) meets with the bone of the upper arm. This joint is complicated because the smaller bone of the forearm has to rotate -- so that the hand palm can turn up and down -- and at the same time it has to slide against the end of the upper arm bone as the elbow bends and straightens. This joint is yet more complex because the smaller bone of the forearm has to slide against the larger bone of the forearm as it rotates the wrist as well. There are also the muscles that straighten the fingers and wrist, all coming together in one tendon and attaching in the elbow area. Problems with the elbow can affect the function of the hand and wrist. Tai Chi execution requires an effective use of the hands. Positioning the elbow in the correct angle in Tai Chi determines the amount of power transferred from the elbow to the hand. To transmit power into the hands, the elbows must remain far below shoulder-level. Even in Tai Chi forms like Crane spreads wings, the elbow should not rise to shoulder-level, let alone above shoulder-level. If the elbow is elevated to shoulder-level then the muscles of the shoulder tense, the muscles of the back over-stretch, and the flow of Chi through the body and the upper extremities is interrupted. If, however, the elbows are below shoulder-level then it is easier for the shoulders to remain relaxed, resulting in a tremendous flow of Chi to the upper extremities with power manifesting in the hands.

The arms should be moved forward until there is a continuous curve across the upper back, making horizontally the shape of an archer's bow, with the elbows slightly bent. In Tai Chi, to maintain flexibility in the upper extremities the elbows are never locked, but they should not be too bent because this would reduce the flow of Chi. A space under the armpits is created, about one and a half inches wide, so that Chi can flow freely through the shoulder joints and down the arms, allowing the power to circulate smoothly throughout the body during Tai Chi practice. If the undersides of the arms are touching the torso, then the shoulder joint is closed, flexibility is reduced in the limbs, and the Chi flow is restricted in the upper extremities.

Throughout Tai Chi the tendons in the hands should be slightly flexed as if they are reaching out to grab an object, but the muscles should stay relaxed. The flex draws Chi down the meridians that correspond to the tendons, creating a sensation of fullness in the palms and fingers and stimulating great energy used in the Tai Chi forms. The hands are concave, and the fingers should not be touching each other. This posture activates the eighth acupuncture point on the pericardium meridian ( it can be located by bending the middle finger until it touches the palm ), which is used to emit Chi for both the healing art of Tai chi and in healing others. The thumb should be held away from the other fingers, and should remain relaxed. The web of skin between the index finger and thumb should be slightly stretched so that the fourth acupuncture point on the large intestine meridian is activated ( this point is located roughly in the middle between the index finger and thumb, and is about two fingers width from the web of skin to the back of the hand ), helping bring Chi from the belly and the lungs into the hands. The reason for having the fingers slightly flexed and extended in both Tai chi practice and in the healing posture is that it creates great strength along with an increased flow of Chi. With the hands and fingers in this shape, they are capable of emitting a concentrated flow of Chi which increases the healing effects on the subject.

Once these Tai Chi postures have been mastered one will enjoy practising the Tai Chi forms, bringing tremendous health benefits for the body, mind and one’s well-being. The young become strong and the not-so-young regain lost health. One will continue living an active life to the end. All of this is the result of the power of the flowing, spiralling and relaxed movements of Tai Chi.

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