Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 258
Imagery – The Stool
If you want to reach the highest levels of proficiency and skill in Tai Chi Chuan, imagery provides a clear path to reach your goals. Imagery allows the Yi, or thinking mind, to combine with Hsin or action mind, to increase one’s involvement in performing a movement and gaining maximum enjoyment.
We are in the Park now. The Studio is closed for the time being and we use the great outdoors to practice – breathe deeply, move unhindered, and feel the Spring sun warm our bodies and souls. As I glanced at the group going through the Grasp the Bird’s Tail section, I had one of those enlightening moments that the student affords the instructor. Let me share this with you.
Most Tai Chi players, even more advanced ones, tend to fall off of the leg and hip holding the body, when they step. (Take a few steps, as naturally as you can, around and see if there isn’t a moment when the body is moving forward without the other foot heel touching).There is a moment when they are actually falling forward or backward. I stress over and over, in any way I can think of, for the Tai Chi student to keep the weight on the balancing leg until the heel or toe of the stepping foot, touches down. Tai Chi movement is different than natural walking. During the Grasp the Bird’s Tail, I particularly noticed this. My mind then flashed an image that I knew would help overcome this falling tendency.
The image is of a stool that is placed under the standing leg hip while the other leg is emptied by rolling up onto the toe. When you feel the weight of your hip settled on the stool, you step. The stool is moved from side to side as needed. An example.
Tai Chi Walking. In Tai Chi walking, the weight is shifted back first, then the leading foot is pivoted out to a greater angle, the weight is then shifted to the forward foot, the rear foot rolls up onto the toe, then the rear foot is stepped forward until the heel just touches, then the weight is shifted onto the new forward foot. This is good practice for the stool image. Shift back, pivot out, shift forward, roll up the toe and place the stool (in your mind) under the weighted hip, step forward, and then shift. Then the other side. This is an exercise one can do in the home, walking circles, practicing balance, and controlled stepping.
In the Yang Form, the first Grasp the Bird’s Tail follows Commencement. Commencement is designed to get the body and mind into the proper place, and to sink the weight into both legs, setting the height of the squat for the rest of the form.
Commencement to Ward Off Left. From Commencement, shift the weight onto the left foot, open the right hip to the right pivoting on the right heel, then shift the weight onto the right foot, roll up onto the left toe, and step forward with the left foot, touching the heel, then shift the weight.
Simple enough, but this move is where so many players come off the right foot as they are stepping with the left foot. Here is where the image of a stool comes into play. Follow the sequence. Shift left, open right, shift onto the right foot. When you roll up onto the left toe, you image sitting on a stool with the right hip. Relax into it. Then step with the left foot, touching the heel and now shift to the left leg.
Ward Off Left to Ward Off Right. As you roll up onto the right toe, place the stool under the left hip. Sit and relax. Step with the right foot, touching down the right heel in the new direction. Shift the weight. The rest of the Grasp the Bird’s Tail doesn’t need a stool, as we aren’t stepping, just shifting.
So basically, anytime you step, you place the stool under the balance hip. It is so grounding, relaxing, and fun. Explore this for yourself. One of the tricky parts is to keep the energy moving the whole time, and not stopping when sitting. That will come later after practice. For now, take your time and see if you can keep this mind game going. Contact me with any questions or comments. Enjoy.