Balancing the body
When performing tai chi and qigong, you need to organise your body so that it feels as though all aspects of the body (i.e. left/right, front/back, and up/down) are supported; in other words the left is supported by the right, the front by the back, the up by the down, etc..
Because of this, the body therefore has 100% awareness of all angles, and all directions, all the time.
This is the same idea as an architect designing a building that will withstand the elements from any direction. In order that the building stays standing, it must have a solid foundation, and the proportions must be self-balancing.
A further example is the method of construction of a stone arch, where the pressure of the stones on one side of the arch needs to equal the pressure on the other side.
In taiji, you need to have this same idea of balance in the body. In other words if someone were to gently push, or pull you from any angle when you were in a tai chi posture, you would feel as though you were stable and able to withstand the push or pull (within reason).
This is ‘Peng’ energy – a feeling of being inside a balloon, and when ‘testing a posture’ is what you are aiming to generate.
As an example of this, when you are doing a double-handed push, moving from an Empty stance with your weight starting on the rear leg to a Bow stance with your weight finishing on the front foot:
- Qi in the back: If you do the movement described above with no qi in your back, anyone standing in front of you, who catches hold of your wrists, would easily be able to pull you forwards.
In this instance your world isn’t round – in Chinese terms, there is no qi in the back. The upper spine is, in effect, collapsing; the world is round at the front (qi pushing forward), but you are weak at the back (no qi, no feeling of expansion in the same way that there is at the front).
- Testing the legs: If you were again using the same pushing movement, and if a partner were then to stand beside you and push your front or back knee sideways (e.g. inwards), you should feel stable; both knees would have a very slight sensation (certainly without making it obvious) of expanding outwards. It wouldn’t be enough to only have one knee expanding, because then again your world wouldn’t be round.
- Qi up and down: If your partner were to push down on the top of your head, you should be able to feel yourself pushing from the floor (i.e. downwards), up through the crown; yet again, qi in both directions.
The function of 2-person taiji
This concept should be applied not only to taiji but also to qigong. It is precisely the reason why solo tai chi is sometimes not enough to allow you to understand and feel the structure of a posture; occasionally we need a little help.
This is where 2-person exercises and forms come in; you need someone else to act as a ‘gauge’ so that you can feel your own vulnerability.
Because of its shape, a sphere is self-supporting; the pressure from its core to anywhere on its circumference is equal. The world might not be a perfect sphere (apparently it’s an oblate spheroid), but it’s certainly round, and when doing tai chi and qigong we should feel as though our body, acting from its core, behaves in the same way.