Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Develop Your Central Equilibrium in Tai Chi

If you are well-versed in the language of martial arts, you may have heard the term “Zhong Ding.” You may have heard that developing Zhong Ding is crucial in order to correctly execute your Tai Chi forms. So what, precisely, is Zhong Ding? In Chinese, Zhong means center, in the middle or inside. Ding means stabilized, still, centralized and balanced. Together, Zhong Ding means central equilibrium. And it is the key to achieving balance in Tai Chi.

The basic idea behind developing Zhong Ding is that you must lift your Bai Hui point, the highest point on the crown of your head, towards the sky and keep your body centered and vertical, perpendicular to the ground. For beginners this is often very difficult to achieve. It’s easy to lose Zhong Ding while transitioning from one form to another.

In Tai Chi, we have Ding Shi (Still Stances) and transitions. Every form that Yang Style Tai Chi Founder Yang Chen Fu has in his book is a still stance. Any moves between two still stances are transitions. Think of each pair of still stances as dots. Our goal is to connect the dots using transitions. To achieve Zhong Ding we must first be able to hold the right two balanced still stances, and then connect them with transition moves.

In order to start with the right still stances, I suggest you learn Zhan Zhuang (“stand like a post,” 站桩). Zhan Zhuang is a method of training which uses static postures to develop efficiency of movement and perfection of structural alignment. In Tai Chi, we say: stay in the center to form a post; then root your foot. Here are some benefits of Zhan Zhuang:

  • Although many Tai Chi practitioners don’t practice it, Zhan Zhuang can really help you relax your shoulders and the rest of your body.
  • Zhan Zhuang can help you get rid of stiffness and help you develop softness.Your muscles will become soft and relaxed and will be more sensitive and better responsive for push hands.
  • Zhan Zhuang will root your stance to the ground to make you more stable.
  • Zhan Zhuang can help you memorize the movements since it’s easy to see and remember a still stance.
  • Zhan Zhuang will help you circulate your blood and connect each part of your body.
  • Zhan Zhuang can bring more Qi (energy) circling around your body.
  • Zhang Zhuang can balance your Ying and Yang.

To practice Zhang Zhuang correctly, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • You must empty your mind. You shouldn’t be thinking of anything but resting your mind.
  • Don’t change your stance too quickly; you must stay in one position and feel a little soreness in your arm, shoulder or legs to know that you have been standing long enough.
  • Keep your eyes looking forward, your head supporting the sky and your body vertical.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and let your elbow drop down.

To start practicing Zhang Zhuang and learn some basic post stances, check out my article called "Cardinal body parts to relax for Tai Chi and your life".

Enjoy and have a lot of Qi!

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Breathe in Tai Chi

There is no question that breathing is a central element of Tai Chi. Yet, the best breathing techniques remain open to debate. Different people use different breathing techniques.

Some teachers think that our Dan Tian/Red Field (acupuncture point just below the navel) should be the focal point of our breathing techniques because our Dan Tian is the place we store our energy. It is also our physical center of balance and gravity. However, other teachers think that we need to practice abdominal breathing, which uses our powerful stomach muscles to control our breathing for maximum effect.

After many years of study, I can draw two conclusions regarding the mixed views on breathing techniques. If you have read my book, Seeing beyond the Tai Chi Footprint, you may already be familiar with them.

My first conclusion is: Breathe naturally! Don’t pay attention to your breathing at all. Concentrate on your form and the coordination of your movements. All your breathing will occur naturally.

My second conclusion is: Use movements to adjust your breathing. These adjustments must be made very accurately. Any movements going out such as "Peng" will correspond with a breath out. Any movements coming in such as "Lu" will correspond with a breath in. For any open movements, such as "White Crane Spread its Wings", breathe out; for any closed movements, such as "Playing Pipa", breathe in. For any up movements, such as "Golden Roster Stand with one Leg", breathe in; for any down movements, such as "Snake Creeps Down", breathe out.

The length of all the breaths are related to the movements in these cases. Longer movements will need longer breaths. Try to even out your movements as much as possible, so your breaths will be even, deep, long and slow.

Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi 2011