Tai Chi Lower Body Silk Reeling

Below is an excerpt from my recently published book entitled Tai Chi Basic Training Manual.

We will discuss the importance of tai chi lower body silk reeling, and explain the step by step training method to achieve this very important skill.

The 3 principles of tai chi

There are really only three principles (sometimes referred to as the “3 Pillars of Tai Chi”) that define this art. They are:

  1. Use intention to guide your movement, not external force (Yi bu li)
  2. Letting go of all physical and mental tension (Fangsong)
  3. Continually spiraling full body movement (Chansijin)

In this article we will focus on silk reeling, tai chi’s continually spiraling full body movement. I will write articles on the other two pillars at a later date.

What is silk reeling?

Before we get into the mechanics of this silk reeling exercise, we need to define what silk reeling is, and its level of importance in the practice of tai chi.

Silk reeling (chansijin in Chinese) is a term used to describe tai chi’s continually spiraling full body movements. The name comes from the action of the silkworm when spinning silk.

In the practice of tai chi, every part of the body – arms, torso, and legs – demonstrates this spiraling motion. Silk reeling is the key to the development of power and yielding tai chi’s long list of benefits for health and healing. 

Silk reeling: internal and external in one

On the outside, we move every part of our body in circles and spirals. On the inside, the chi (vital energy) moves in circles and spirals.

When we practice tai chi, the internal and external must be in harmony. By making external spirals, we enhance the chi circulation. In this way, we can say that tai chi is an internal and external exercise. 

Tai chi is a form of qigong

And some would also say that tai chi is a form of qigong, because during practice, we are building up healthy strong chi flow.

Tai chi is a martial art and health exercise in one

By practicing silk reeling in our basics, form, and partner training methods, we are improving our health and developing our martial skills at the same time.

Importance of lower body silk reeling

The reason I chose this as the first excerpt to share from my book is simple: In all the years I have been practicing tai chi, I never heard the lower body silk reeling method explained clearly. There are some subtle movements happening with the legs during silk reeling. And if it is not explained clearly, there can be a lot of misunderstanding that leads to incorrect practice. It is my hope that this explanation will make the lower body silk reeling more clear and therefore easy to practice and manifest. 

Another reason for sharing this training tip is that lower body silk reeling is the foundation for all tai chi movements. Until you understand this and can do it, you will not be able to manifest whole body power.

Lower body as foundation for movement

In tai chi it is vital to develop proper lower body structural alignment and silk reeling motion.  Without this, the upper body can not relax and we can not cultivate internal skills.  It seems that we focus much more on upper body movement in general, and do no give the lower body equal time.  This results in movements that are not balanced, coordinated, or connected.

By practicing the following step by step training method, one can develop a solid lower body foundation from which to build their tai chi skills, whether in solo form or Push Hands.

Practice with full intention

I invite everyone to practice this lower body silk reeling method as a solo exercise just as I explain it below. Once it is understood and you can practice smoothly, then start incorporating it into your basics, form, Push Hands, and self defense applications.

Practice this daily for a while. Any questions you may have please feel free to contact me and I will do my best to clarify this method…

1. Begin in horse stancelower body silk reeling

Feet 3 to 4 feet apart, turn toes outward slightly, bend knees 30 – 45 degrees, and sit down from the pelvis.

Cross the center of your palms (men place left hand first, women place right hand first), and place them on the lower stomach approximately 2 – 3 inches below the umbilicus.

Keep your body straight with the point at the very top of the head lifting up, and the perineum sinking down, both these points forming a straight line with gravity.


2. Shift to right bow & arrow stancelower body silk reeling

Weight 70% right side – Waist rotate to right – Body raise up to top of arc – Legs silk reel/spiral in (right leg counterclockwise, left leg clockwise = lifting/raising up) – Knees compress towards each other – Heels “grinding” outward.


3. Shift to horse stancelower body silk reeling

Weight 50 – 50 – Waist rotate to front – Body sink down to bottom of arc – Legs silk reel/spiral out (right leg clockwise, left leg counterclockwise = sinking down) – Knees expand away from each other – Heels “grinding” inward.



4. Shift to left bow & arrow stancelower body silk reeling

Weight 70% left side – Waist rotate to left – Body raise up to top of arc – Legs silk reel/spiral in (right leg counterclockwise, left leg clockwise = lifting/raising up – Knees compress towards each other – Heels “grinding” outward.

Practice the lower body silk reeling daily

Practice shifting back and forth from Right Side Bow and Arrow Stance to Horse Stance to Left Side Bow and Arrow Stance, etc. until your movement is smooth and you are incorporating all of the elements explained above. Good luck with your training!

Special Notes:

  1. Make sure both feet remain firmly on the ground.
  2. In Bow and Arrow Stance, keep a slight bend at the extended knee – do not lock it in full extension.
  3. Make sure your shoulders stay directly in line with your hips and your nose stays in line with your umbilicus – there is no spinal rotation in this movement – the entire upper body moves as one piece from the waist/hips.
  4. “Grinding” inward – imagine the points just lateral to the ball of the feet are the pivot point, and the heels are pushing/rotating (grinding) inward. in the second half of the movement, the heels are pushing/rotating (grinding) outward. The heels are not actually grinding, they are pushing inward and outward in coordination with all the other components of this complex exercise…
  5. Learn this lower body silk reeling well before adding the arm silk reeling!

When you can coordinate all of these components together at the same time smoothly and comfortably, you will have a solid foundation for lower body silk reeling.

It is vital to understand that everything described above begins with the intention.  You must imagine/visualize this intricate series of motions all coordinated together as one whole.  This requires a lot of practice with full intention.

Once you can do this from Horse Stance as a basic training exercise, then start applying it to other stances and during form and Push Hands.

Check list for tai chi lower body silk reeling:

  1. Shift side to side
  2. Rotate waist
  3. Downward to upward arc
  4. Spiral legs
  5. Open and Close legs (knees)
  6. “Grinding” heels

 I wish everyone good luck with developing this very important tai chi skill: Lower Body Silk Reeling.

Click here for more information on silk reeling.

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  1. Thank you for this helpful article! Could you please clarify the difference between “Spiral legs” and
    “Open and Close legs (knees)”. Isn’t it almost the same?

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