Continuing with our look the various texts known as the ‘Tai Chi Classics’, this month we look at what the Tai Chi Chuan Ching has to say about posture and movement. This section from the Tai Chi Classics describes the way the body should be trained, both in its posture and in its movement, and although just s few short lines it is a great signpost for our practice. Indeed when we think of this verse, we quickly can associate it with the graceful movement and body position of the Tai Chi Adept.
The postures should be without defect,
without hollows or projections from the proper alignment;
in motion the Form should be continuous, without stops and starts.
The first part of this description is concerned with the way in which we form our position and posture. This also happens to be an area of great discussion and controversy in Tai Chi (surprise surprise!). We see varied schools, even within the same family style arguing over the right way to form the postures of Tai Chi, to incline the body or not, how to ‘hollow the chest’, the position of the tail bone, the alignment of the knees, the direction of the intent, the position of the chin … even the position of the tongue in the mouth! There is great discussion over every tiny detail when looking at posture and position.
So with that in mind, the best way that we can describe the ‘correct’ posture for Tai chi is that it should be the correct posture for your school. In the Tai Chi Academy, our postural requirements are such that they produce the optimum central equilibrium from which to express and produce the varied directions of the practice. It is from this equilibrium, this neutrality, that we can begin to develop an appreciation for directions, first the upwards and downwards, then the left and the right, and then forwards and back.
As such this verse from the classics directs us to make sure that this posture is correct, “Without hollows or projections from the proper alignment”. This second part of the description is clever in its wording. Hollows and projections … an interesting turn of phrase.
The reason this is so useful is because it not only describes how the posture may be contorted in some way from its alignments, it also describes deviations inside the body. For instance, if when forming the posture, if we puff our chest out, we have failed in our ability to maintain the correct posture. Not only are we hollowing the back and projecting the front in our posture, but also, internally we will perceive that the interior of the body feels unbalanced. Areas inside our bodies will seem dense or sparce and the equilibrium inside us will be upset. This would also fit the description of ‘Hollows and projections from the proper alignment”.
And so this initial few words directing us to take care of our posture is deep and profound. This refinement of our posture and position is a constant exploration and one which all of us, no matter how long we have trained should continue to delve into.
The form is continuous.
In order for our movement to be whole and complete, the postural conditions described above must first be in place. You cannot move smoothly if there is no equilibrium in the body, if there is no balance from which to move. It is from here that we see the importance of the next line.
The ‘form’ in this instance does not refer to the long form or the common repetition of movements. Instead it describes the appearance of the movement and body, the form that our body takes as it moves in accordance with our intent (yi). When observing the adept of Tai chi, their movement will be graceful and somewhat unending. Even before the adept moves, and even when they meet the end points of a particular motion, there is no ending of movement. The mind and internal directions continue inside the body, they continue in a way that guides the external movements.
When we think of internal directions or movements, it is easy to let our minds wander into the esoteric, but there is really no need for us to do this. In fact, internal movement can be felt in the commonest and most mundane of situations. When we stand up from a chair, if we pay real attention, we can feel the various effects inside the body, the action of muscles, the distributions of weight and mass, the levers and angles in the joints, the internal pressures in the body cavity and so forth. The adept simply maintains a much more acute understanding of these processes, and is able to guide and create them to refine their movement.
This marriage of external movement and internal movement produces a ‘smoothness’ to the adepts skill. A level of movement that produces the appearance of an unending or continuous and unbroken movement, that only stills in the culmination of the practice, when they return to equilibrium.