How to move in the Tai Chi way
We’re in a strange situation where the vast majority of people who “do Tai Chi” are performing some kind of elegant, slow-motion movement ritual, but without the required ‘internal’ body movement. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this, as most of the benefits Tai Chi can give you – like relaxation, better breathing, suppleness, improved general health and flexibility – don’t really require ‘proper Tai Chi movement’. If you’re up and you’re moving then you’re doing your body more good than everybody left on the sofa. This is particularly important for the elderly.
But what do I mean by ‘required internal body movement’? Well, I’m talking about how your body forms the posture of Tai Chi – the movement you use to get into the various postures and flow between them. By default everybody uses a kind of normal human movement – the sort you use when you reach for something in the cupboard, or when you are tidying up a room. You don’t think about it, you just do it. And it’s the same with performing a Tai Chi form. If you’re going to do White Crane Spreads Wings then one hand has to circle up, ending above your head, and the other hand has to circle down, ending near your hip. Like this:
The question is, how did the hands get there?
With ‘normal movement’ we just do it – our brain tells the muscles what to do and they do their thing, in the order and manner they’ve been working in since we were babies.
In Tai Chi we need to repattern the way our body moves to adopt the ‘internal’ model of movement. This involves creating a sense of connection from the toes to the fingers (like you’re wearing a suit), along which you can feel a slight stretch, and then keeping this stretch as you move, while powering and controlling the movement from the dantien and legs, not from the shoulders. In fact, the shoulders shouldn’t be actively doing much at all – they should act as conduits for power, not generators. There are other additives that are used to generate movement, but those are the basics.
It’s a lot easier to practice this sort of movement in a simple controlled way than it is to jump in at the deep end with a Tai Chi form and all the variation it offers. To help you do this, people have created are what have become known as “Silk reeling exercises”.
There are a ton of these on the Internet to watch and follow along with, but like most things of that nature, it’s not the exercise that’s the important thing, it’s how you do the exercise. Luckily, Mike Sigman has recently produced a couple of new videos that not only show the exercise, but also show how you are supposed to do them.
Take a watch, try them out, then see if you can repattern the way you are moving in your Tai Chi form.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to talk about Silk Reeling without getting into some of the style wars within Tai Chi. Silk Reeling is often though of as the preserve of Chen style Tai Chi, and that in other styles of Tai Chi they do something else. You can do you own research on the matter, but the conclusion I’ve come to is that all the various ‘tricks’ that you learn in Tai Chi (like bows, or rotation or sinking and rooting) are all different facets of silk reeling, and you can therefore save yourself a lot of time by just adopting the model wholeheartedly.
Here’s a link to an article on the Yang Family website extolling the virtues of silk reeling and why it’s so useful. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about why it’s up there.
As it says in the article:
“We need to understand the requirement to ‘link everything together’. Not only does moving energy require going through all the joints, it also needs to be sent through the muscles and sinews above and below the joints. This is the function of spiralling silk reeling.”
So, to return to the aforementioned Crane Spreading its Wings – this is how you get your hands to circle up and circle down. Now you just need to go and practice it.