Body Alignment in Tai Chi Chuan


An engineer knows that a building without good structure will eventually topple. Whether it’s a bridge, a skyscraper, an airport, or a stadium; the structure must be strong. This also holds true for Tai Chi Chuan. Every part of the body must be properly aligned for Tai Chi Chuan to work effectively.

Mr. Fang Ning, a grandmaster of traditional Yang Family Style, tells his students that, “one inch off is like one thousand miles.” He continually emphasizes the importance of body alignment.

Some key points to remember about proper body alignment are:

Tai Chi Chuan begins and ends with the body aligned as a one-piece structure.
The head is held as if suspended. Not leaning forward or backward. The chin is tucked but not tense.
Shoulders are relaxed and sunk, not stiff.
Hands are held loosely by your side.
The coccyx (tail bone) is pointed towards the floor, not outwards.
The feet are parallel not pointed inwards or outwards.
Most beginners have a hard time visualizing what their body is doing when they try a new move or form. It might be a good idea to watch yourself in a full-length mirror from time to time. The whole Tai Chi Chuan set stresses body alignment. It begins and ends in aligned postures.

In figure 1, Mr. Dimitri Mougdis, Head Instructor of the Internal Arts Institute in Hobe Sound, Florida, demonstrates poor posture. He is slouching, off-center, and disconnected. His structure is very weak, both externally and internally.

In figure 2 you can notice the feet splayed outward. He is not aligned or centered. By comparison, the posture in figure 3 is properly aligned. His feet are parallel and his knees are directly over them. This stance is strong, externally and internally.

Sometimes, beginning students try “too hard” to get everything right. They tense up and their posture becomes rigid. The arms in figure 4 are rigid. This will create tension in the shoulders, elbows and wrists. As a result, the rest of the body becomes tense. Notice how relaxed the arms are in figure 5. The whole body is relaxed.

One of the key points that Yang Cheng Fu stressed was to “keep the head as if suspended.” Beginners often don’t have an awareness of head placement. They lean the head back or look down to see if their feet are properly aligned. Correct head alignment acts as a counterbalance and helps to keep the spine straight and the body “connected.”

In figure 6 the head is leaning backward throwing the neck and spine out of alignment. The top of the head should be pointing in a straight line over the coccyx (tail bone) as illustrated in figure 7.

If there is a key element in Tai Chi Chuan, it is proper body alignment. It is introduced in the very beginning, cultivated, and refined to mastery.

Good body alignment is easily recognized, even to the inexperienced spectator. Mr. Mougdis demonstrates proper alignment in the single and double push forms (see figure 8).

The classic single whip (figure 9) of the Yang Family Style shows very strong body alignment. You can see how everything fits into place like a well-structured building. And as in all of the Tai Chi Chuan forms, the body is relaxed and centered.

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