I spent my lunch hour practicing Tai Chi with the leaves falling around me, which made me realise that Autumn is definitely here. Practicing under the trees also made me think about the strong parallel between the postures of Tai Chi and the structures of nature.
Take trees for example – the branches grow upwards and outwards:
If you look at the postures of a Tai Chi form you can see the same ‘outwards and upwards’ structures:
Animals have the same quality too. The horns on a deer are a good example:
But the alert, ready posture of most animals (when they’re not sleeping) also mirrors this:
The spine is always extended, the eyes engaged and the posture directed upwards and outwards.
The following is a Yang Tai Chi form video. Notice that his body structure is always opening outwards and upwards:
So why do we do this in Tai Chi? Well, natural structures are inherently strong structures. Nature has been working on trees, plants and animals for millions of years, and they have evolved into strong shapes that can take a battering from the elements and survive. In terms of postural considerations of Tai Chi we are aiming to mimic natural structures to take advantage of their inherent strength. For example, with the arms, the elbow is usually kept below the wrist in Tai Chi, when the hand is going up and outwards, this enables your arm to create the same sort of shape as a tree branch that grows outwards and upwards.
If you collapse the structure of your arms – say, close your joints like the elbows and shoulders too much, you don’t get this effect of mimicking natural structures. Instead, the structure needs to be supported by more muscle usage if it is going to withstand pressure.
Think also of stretching the ‘body suit’ of skin, fascia, tendons. If you bend the joints too sharply you lose the stretch from feet to toes. If you look at a picture of a fower, plant or tree, it looks kind of ‘stretched out’, doesn’t it?
There’s a lot to learn from nature.