A blog about the intersection of Tai Chi, Zen and Dao. I hope that you find something of value for your own practice.

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Thursday, 5 July 2012

Resolving Body Confusion: Your Feet

As I watch my T'ai Chi students, I often see a common problem that I'll call, body confusion.  They're not sure which part should move when and to where, and how to get it all connected. How DO you know, apart from listening to and watching your teacher?  In the next few articles, I'll give you a few simple tips to help you sort through and improve this part of your practice.

Tip 1: Work on one thing

Sounds so simple, doesn't it?  But what should you work on; hands? feet? transitions? connections? smoothness? energy awareness? and the list goes on.  How do you choose where to start?  Well, there's no right or wrong but what I like to do is work from a position of strength.  And since strength in T'ai Chi comes from your root, which is your connection to the Earth, the feet are usually a good place to start so let's talk about your feet.

First, let`s just look at your feet.  Just take your normal everyday comfortable stance that you would assume if you were talking to someone who is directly in front of you. What`s going on down there on the floor? Do you have large, small, narrow or wide feet?  Do you stand with one foot splayed out to the side? Are you pigeon-toed or knock-kneed?  Are they spaced wider than your body or very close together?  All this will have an effect on how you do your T'ai Chi forms.  Let's go right back to the beginning and start with a good technique I use for finding a good starting foot placement during T'ai Chi Form work.
  • Just stand naturally
  • Place one foot directly in front of the other, in a straight line, with the heel of the foot in front touching the toes of the foot in back.  Not so easy to stand like this is it!
  • Now, rotate the front foot on the big toe toward the side of the foot that it is - right to right or left to left - until they make a perfect right angle (corner of a rectangle) to each other, about a foot's distance apart.  You should look and feel kind of silly. 
  • Finally, rotate the front foot on the heel so that the toes are again pointing forward naturally
You should now have a good solid stance, with the toes of the back foot a little less than your foot's length from the heel of the front foot.  And there should be about a bowling ball's width spacing between your legs, depending on the size of your feet. This is a perfect position and in T'ai Chi, this is called the bow stance.  It requires very little effort to hold and also uses minimal effort when shifting weight from back to front and vice versa.

OK, let's do some analysing.  Start doing your form and at any posture of the form you're practicing, stop, hold the posture and then look at how you've placed your self and in particular, your feet.  If your feet aren't well placed, get them where they need to be and hold that for a minute or so.  Try to memorize what that feels like.  Then continue your form. Stop again and repeat.  In Forms that have repeating postures, you might see if you achieved a better position the next time it comes around.  If not, readjust and continue.  T'ai Chi is a never ending source of learning and practice.  Eventually, with good intention and many repetitions, your feet will begin to obey you. 

Most important, playing T'ai Chi should be fun. That's why we say playing, not working! Don't worry if it's not exactly right in the beginning. You have the rest of your life to get it right.    


1 comment:

  1. Rich, I enjoyed the article. For some reason, bow stance seems really difficult for students to learn.