Tai Chi: The Art of Standing
In the practice of Chen style and all tai chi styles, correct posture and precise structural alignment are vital to cultivate pure relaxation. This is the art of standing: how to align your body with gravity and conserve energy. This is the key to all tai chi postures and movements.
In this article we will discuss 3 different methods to achieve the correct standing posture.
How to Stand
The following rules act as a guide to develop the proper way to stand:
- Stand with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart.
- Imagine rice paper under your heels – don’t crush it!
- Breathe naturally in and out through your nose.
- Gently lift up the top of your head as if suspended from above.
- Relax your face muscles and smile a little.
- Eyes look forward. Ears listen behind.
- Press the tip of your tongue lightly against the roof of your mouth behind your upper teeth.
- Touch your lips and teeth together lightly.
- Stretch up/lengthen the back of your neck, lower jaw slightly tucked in.
- Relax your shoulders, sink your elbows, and let your arms and hands hang comfortably by your sides.
- Fingers extended and slightly curved, holding them slightly apart, as if there is a small cotton ball between each pair of them.
- Relax/hollow/empty your chest.
- Relax your upper back muscles and let your shoulder blades spread apart.
- Relax your stomach and lower back muscles and let your lower spine straighten naturally.
- Allow your pelvis to relax in the neutral position, without any flexion or extension.
- Relax, sink, and loosen your hips.
- Keep the area between your legs round, expanding outward. Do not allow your knees to collapse inward.
- Keep your knees springy and in line with your toes.
- The soles of your feet, heels, and toes all remain in contact with the ground.
12 Point Checklist of Body Alignments
(Use this as a quick reference for all tai chi postures)
- Top of head gently lifting/suspended from above?
- Eyes and ears level?
- Nose in line with umbilicus?
- Shoulders level and equally relaxed?
- Both elbows sinking and expanding equally?
- Chest relaxed?
- Shoulders in line with hips?
- Lower back naturally straightened and relaxed?
- Hips level and equally relaxed?
- Top of head in line with perineum?
- Knees in line with toes?
- Rice paper under heels?
3 Points on a Line
This method involves lining up three points of your body on a line that is in the vertical plane (ie in line with gravity).
Stand with your feet shoulder wide and parallel, body upright and relaxed, arms hanging naturally by your sides.
The 3 points are as follows (red dots in drawing):
- Bai Hui – the point at the very top of your head
- Hui Yin – the point where your legs join your torso – the perineum
- Yong Quan – draw an imaginary line on the ground connecting the two yong quan points (on the bottom of the feet just lateral to the ball of the foot). The third point is midway between the 2 yong quan points on the ground.
Stand with your eyes closed, relax, and breathe naturally. Focus your intention on each of these 3 points until you can truly feel each one. Once you can actually feel these 3 points, then visualize them forming a vertical line from the front and from the side. When you can do this, you will have achieved the correct alignment that allows your body to fully relax.
How to practice
Practice these 3 standing methods a little each day until they becomes familiar, and in a short time it will get easier. Once you can feel this alignment, then practice it in other postures and then while moving. This is a major key in developing relaxation, balance, stability, rooting, and the ability to move easily from one posture to another.
Click here for another article on the importance of the proper standing method.
Yiquan Zhan Zhuang
For comparison, I am including this article on the standing methods in another internal martial art called Yiquan, or “Intention Fist”. This is a fascinating art, and you can find both similarities and differences between it and tai chi. Many of the rules for standing are the same, so this will expand your knowledge and understanding about standing.