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T'ai Chi Posture and Breathing

These two basics in T'ai Chi — posture and breathing — are actually basics of life. That is one of the beauties of T’ai Chi — its concepts, principles, and basic constructs are things you can learn and apply almost immediately to your everyday life. So think of these two basics as helping you learn how to stand — and standing, as you well know, comes before learning to “walk so you can run.” You also should learn how to breath fully so you can laugh at life better too.

T’ai Chi posture

Unless you stand well, you’ll never move well, and if you can’t move well, you’ll never feel the chi when practicing T'ai Chi. This is not just about standing upright, but standing upright with power, without tension, and while being fully in control.

Follow these steps to form the basic T'ai Chi posture or stance, starting from the feet:

  1. Stand upright with your feet about shoulder-width apart, or perhaps 4–8 inches between them, and parallel.

  2. Bend your knees slightly so they are not locked. Think of softening the joint.

  3. Allow your tailbone to tuck under a little with the bend of the knees.

    Don’t force it. Your tailbone just drops under you slightly when you soften the knee joint. The curve in your lumbar spine (or low back) will flatten a little.

  4. Relax your chest and shoulders.

  5. Let your chest sink slightly.

    Allow the chest to soften downward and slightly concave as a result of the shoulders relaxing.

  6. Feel your arms hanging naturally at your sides.

  7. Imagine that your head is suspended above your body, as if a string is attached to the crown and pulling it upward. Feel the neck get longer and release.

  8. Open your lips oh so slightly, as if you were starting to smile.

  9. Touch your teeth lightly together, and let your tongue touch the upper palette just behind the front teeth.

    This is said to help regulate the flow of saliva during practice.

    Don’t clench your teeth! That’ll bring more strain into your entire body!

  10. Finally, let all your muscles relax, breathe fully (see below for more about breathing), and let your gaze “go inward” so you are looking straight ahead while looking at nothing in particular.

You are now in the Infinite Ultimate stance or a grand T’ai Chi Posture . If a string with a small weight were dropped from the crown of your head, it would fall straight through your torso, down the middle of your pelvis, and land at a spot right between your feet.

The powerful but relaxed T'ai Chi Posture.
The powerful but relaxed T'ai Chi Posture.

T’ai Chi breathing

Full and proper breathing is essential to developing your T’ai Chi practice. T’ai Chi breathing is:

  • Slow, just like the movements are slow.

  • Full, but never forced.

  • Coordinated with the movements for great flow.

T’ai Chi breathing uses the abdominals, not the chest. A healthy, deep, full and powerful breath in, or inhalation, moves all the way down to your abdominal area and expands it outward. When your belly expands, more air can get into your lungs. That also means more good oxygen goes into your blood, while more bad carbon dioxide gets pumped back out.

Don’t force deep breaths by sucking in or expanding more than you can naturally. And definitely don’t let your shoulders hike up to try to get more air in.

When you exhale, or breathe out, the belly relaxes and simply lets the air escape back out. Just like you don’t want to stop the inhalation before it gets to your abdominals, you also don’t want to stop the exhalation before it fully releases the air in your lungs. But you also don’t want to try to squeeze out any extra that doesn’t flow out naturally.

To breathe in the T’ai Chi way, you have to do more than breathe with your belly. You also have to breathe in or out at the correct time with the movements. That will give you more power when you need it and more relaxation when you need that. Here are four basic breathing guidelines:

  • When you raise your arms, breathe in; when you lower your arms, breathe out.

  • When you open your arms, breathe in; when you close your arms, breathe out.

  • When you push out, breathe out; when you pull in, breathe in.

  • When you strike (hands or feet), breathe out; when you withdraw, breathe in.

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