Static Stance Training Tai Chi
As a beginner, Tai Chi can be perceived as something quite simple. Yet the emphasis on achieving the correct posture whilst relaxing the body and breathing deeply can be quite difficult at first. As soon as you concentrate on dropping your shoulders, your lower back closes. Ok, try again.... as you drop your shoulders your breathing reverts to upper chest breathing. Hmmm, try again..... Concentrate on deep belly breathing and your shoulder muscles become tense. The focus on details can be immense and a bit overwhelming. The goal is to have your body, mind and breathing as one unit, working together naturally and smoothly.
Whether you are practicing the various Tai Chi static stances used with Qi Gong breathing, or are practicing moves within the form. As a beginner try focusing on doing one thing correctly for a few minutes. An example would be in your standing practice, for 2-3 minutes focus just on your shoulders. What are they doing, how can you relax them, can adapt your posture gently, are they getting tired early, can you move them slightly to get a better connection? Use a mirror if you need to initially, until your body learns instinctively where to put itself. Over time the more training you do, these moves will become natural, meaning your body has built a memory from practice. This is how you progress. Over time the principles you have trained begin to merge together. Any pose from your Chen style Tai chi form can be help as a static stance. This is a great way to check in on the principles and alignment to develop your form.
Layers in Tai Chi - Static Stance Training
|Feet||There are many different ways to balance the weight on your feet. Overall aim for a solid equal connection on the three balls of the feet; two at the front and one at the heel. Weight centred or weight slightly back.|
|Ankles||Central and straight. Avoid the ankles rolling in, remedy this by opening outwardly without changing the feet position.|
|Knees||Knees bent slightly with a springiness, sitting over the centre of the foot / shoe laces (sometimes called over the arch). Not past the toes, nor locked straight.|
|Dang||Rounded, open, arched, relaxed groin and thighs.|
|Song Kua||Relax the inguinal crease and area around the hip joint, out towards the buttocks. This helps the hip muscles and psoas to relax.|
|Hips||Sit back and down into your hip crease, a mini squat that you hold with relaxed suspended and aligned power.|
|Tailbone||Relaxed sacrum and tailbone, with the tailbone aligned behind the heels.|
|Pelvis||Don't tilt the pelvis forward or back, keep the pelvis in neutral in the middle. For those who exaggerate the S curve in the lower back in the daily life, roll the pelvis slightly under, tipping the tailbone down. Imagine the pelvis is a bowl with water, don't spill the water. This opening is both vertically and laterally as the pelvis spreads from left to right. Avoid over exaggerating this to create the principle. Everyone holds their spine through habit differently, this will need to be looked at by your instructor.|
|Lower Back||Open the lower back by relaxing and lengthening the lumbar and sacrum. Bring dantian towards mingmen to fill the lower back to protect your spine.|
|Dantian||Concentrate the mind on the Dantian (approx 2 inches below your navel, and approx 2 inches into the body, the Dantian is your energy storage centre).|
|Waist (Yao)||Relax the soft tissue around the waist and side body, without collapsing your structure. The flesh of the waist must be released and lengthened.|
|Elbows (Chui Zhou)||Drop the elbows. Place a gently relaxed weight in the elbows to create space in the joint. Keep a slight bend in the elbows. In wuji stance the elbows are slightly away from the body.|
|Hollow Chest (Han Xiong)||Chest relaxed. Avoid sticking the chest out, which closes the lower back and the shoulder blades. Avoid sinking and slumping the chest inwardly or down. The chest is in neutral.|
|Shoulders (Chen Jian)||Shoulder blades open. Avoid the shoulder crests protruding forwards, and the shoulder blades closed together at the back. Relax and drop the shoulders down with gentle weight. Avoid having your trap muscles hunched up by your ears. Shoulders carry a lot of tension. Align correctly and work to release and relax.|
|Central Spine||The spine is centred, straight and erect. Imagine it like a rope rather that a solid pole. Avoid swaying back and the military posture. The natural curves are maintained in the spine, not over exaggerated (see pelvis).|
|Suspended Spine (Ding)||Lengthening the spine by heavying the hips, aligning the lower back correctly and gently expanding the spine upwards to the crown. Creating equal opposing relaxed force, to open and create space in the spine.|
|Neck/Head/Crown (Ding)||Head erect, chin gently withdrawn. Feel the spine gently lengthen and open at the back of the neck, allowing the weight of the head to travel down the spine. Relax and release the muscles around the neck.|
|Mouth (Ding)||Cross the magpie bridge to connect the microcosmic orbit (ren and du mai channels). The tongue gently touches the roof of the mouth, by the top front teeth. This sets the body up for nasal breathing.|
|Fang Song||The most important principle of all that can be applied to your posture whether in stillness or movement. Letting go of the muscles whilst maintaining and aligned body and an elastic stretch. The release of physical tension and active relaxation, without collapsing your skeleton. The joints/bones are open with space around them. Muscles relaxed, using appropriate muscular contraction. This means avoiding using all of your muscles at once, which is too many muscles and will drain your energy quicker.|
|Guan Jie Song Kai||Opening the joints with relaxation. Creating space in the joints by releasing physical tension and actively relaxing the joints through a gentle expansion. Not locking any of the joints in the skeleton. You want your body to be completely connected without blocking the meridians.|
|Yi||Mind intention. Focus on your breathing to calm the mind and release mental distraction. Become aware of sensations in the body and follow them e.g. hot, cold, pulse, tension, tingles. Mentally scan your body from the crown to your toes for areas of tension, and mentally drop these areas of tension away.|
|Yong Yi Bu Yong Li||Use the mind/intent, not strength/force. This means to avoid straining your mind and body when following the principles. Train stances from the inside, working to the outside. This could be using your imagination of a principle, before this becomes a reality in the physical body. Physically you may be doing less, mentally you are doing more. Over time the balance shifts to the body doing more. Train with grace not force.|
Layer Training in Movement
When learning the Tai Chi form and training drills, it is important to have a single point of focus. This is active mindfulness. There are many layers of learning, and it is impossible to focus on them all at once. By training the layers and principles separately, over time they all start to mould together in your performance, as muscle memory develops.
Read more in my article "Chen Tai Chi - layer training in movement".