Now you have learned the movements of T’ai Chi Chih. It is necessary to practice them regularly, not hard to do when you begin to realize how joyous such practice can be. Here are a few tips on what to remember as you do each movement:
Rocking Motion is a good way to loosen up and get the Chi to start flowing. Be sure the arms (fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders) are loose. Keep the knees soft as you rock forward, and up and down, and back. Coming down, don’t forget to land flat on the feet before lifting the toes; it is easier than rocking back on the heels. Do not raise the balls of the feet.
In Bird Flaps its Wings, when the arms are out to the side the third time, do the wrist circles with the wrists, not the arms, and be sure a complete circle is made each time. We flip the wrists to the side quickly, but bring the arms and hands back together slowly. As the hands come together, the polarity of the palms facing each other is important, so do not rush bringing the hands together.
Around the Platter is done mostly with the wrists, starting at the chest. The hands are kept close together all through the movement. Be sure to settle down on a bent back leg as the weight shifts back, and straighten the back leg (not stiff and tense, however) as the weight moves forward to a bent front leg. Do not do stiff-legged T’ai Chi Chih! Observe the yinning and the yanging, the shifting of weight. Exaggerate it if necessary.
In Around the Platter Variation, be sure you carry a ball halfway around, then let it drop as the hands flatten out. Do not rush the backswing; slowly and evenly is the right way.
In Bass Drum we imagine a big drum at the chest, and we circle under the bottom and around over the top. Hands are about a foot apart and the movement is done mostly with the wrists.
In Daughter on the Mountaintop we start low because we are going high. (Actually, the two hands cross at about chin level.) The right hand crosses outside the left hand no matter which foot is stretched forward. After the two wrists cross, do not point the fingers down but bring the cocked wrists downward with the fingers still pointing up until the very last moment, and then relax the wrists completely, and allow the fingers to point down as the wrists separate.
In Daughter in the Valley we start high as we are going to go low. The hands swing in a half- circle, then start up with the palms facing each other, only a few inches apart. This slow rise of the hands as they come up is all-important because of the polarity caused by the palms facing each other. We are still shifting the weight forward until the hands begin to pull apart at the top of the arc. Do not begin to shift the weight backward before the top of the arc is reached.
Carry the Ball to the Side has several important points to remember. First of all, we have our hands cupped on the sides of the ball, and the ball is curved (so the knuckles are soft). As we move to the left and do an under-swing just below waist level, we slightly emphasize the right hand, but there is no emphasis as we swing up and over back to the right. Similarly, when we later step to the right, the left hand is slightly emphasized to balance the positive leg (bent with the weight on it). As we come up and over, moving the hands back to the left, there is no emphasis.
Push Pull is done with slight emphasis on the right hand as the left leg is forward. The emphasis is on the left hand when the right leg is forward. Remember that we push out and just slightly downward going forward, then turn our hands up and come up and over slightly as the weight shifts to the back leg. Do not push hard. Keep your fingers pointing upward as you push forward.
Pulling in the Energy is done with the palms facing upward, and, as we move the hands in a circle (as we did in “Around the Platter”), we visualize the energy coming into the fingertips from the most distant star. This is a simplification of imagining the five colored Pranas (Chi) coming in through the fingertips. In India it is felt that there are five major functions of the Intrinsic Energy, called Prana, and each one has a representative color. It is not necessary to know this; just use the energy from the stars.
Pulling Taffy seems to be one of the more difficult movements to learn, but it does not have to be; just remember that one hand, palm turned up, makes a horizontal pull below the top palm, turned down. The feet remain firmly on the ground as the weight shifts; the heel is not raised. When the pull is finished, both hands are outside the hips, turned up to the sun, and the other is turned down near the straight (yin) leg. The “T’ai Chi sideways step” is used, the leg snaking out to the side with the knee first slightly bent and the foot pointing slightly to the side, not the front. This assumes you begin with feet in a slightly “V” position. Do not start with the two palms facing each other (a common mistake). The arms have crossed and then the hands pull past each other on a level glide to the side. (It is not up and down like a dance movement.) And keep the heels on the ground!
Pulling Taffy – 1st Variation – Anchor finds us turning our hips and stepping forward as we pull the palms past each other (and we are slightly pigeon-toed), then we bring the legs back in line and do basic “Pulling Taffy” to the side.
Pulling Taffy – 2nd Variation – Wrist Circles is sometimes called just “Wrist Circles,” for obvious reasons. As we make two complete circles plus one half-circle with our wrists (not the arms), we go up on the balls of the feet with each circle and then come down before starting the next circle. However, on the third – the half circle ending at the top of the loop – we stay flat on the feet, with bent knees, and remain there, well- anchored, as we start the basic “Pulling Taffy” motion.
Pulling Taffy – 3rd Variation – Perpetual Motion is often called just “Perpetual Motion” as it is continuous. After we have pulled taffy to the left (see photos on pgs. 70-71), both wrists and palms turn and sweep across the body to begin the pull again. All this is done continuously with no resting point. After nine (or more) repetitions, we come to a graceful conclusion. If one were in a blizzard and wanted to develop warmth quickly, this movement would be a handy way to do it.
Working the Pulley is surprisingly easy, though it may look difficult. The hand that is pulled back, about waist level, moves slightly behind the body, then comes up just above the shoulder in a swimming motion before pushing forward (see photos on pgs. 72-75). When the left foot is forward be sure to turn, with the torso only, definitely to the left (not straight ahead), and when the right foot is forward turn the torso sharply to the right.
Light at the Top of the Head (and Light at the Temple) finds the feet held in one place. As the hands (really the wrists) swing out from above the head (or from the sides) three times, we rise on the balls of the feet and come back down as the hands come together above the head (or at the temples). Then we make a few circles, with the palms facing each other, fingers pointing up. When we eventually come down, in a wide circular fashion, the hands cross with the right hand underneath, and then circle up to bring them down to the sides in the rest position.
Joyous Breath requires some pressure from the arm muscles, the only movement that does. We push vigorously down to the ground, breathing out deeply as we do so, and then pull up vigorously to the top of the chest as we breathe in deeply. Here we hold the breath for a few seconds, then start down again. This movement is so invigorating that some like to do it at the beginning of practice.
Passing Clouds is a very graceful movement.
The hands move in circles, going in opposing directions, and each hand passes by the opposite elbow (it does not swing wildly) as it moves to the opposing side. We start with the left hand moving to the right, and we finish with the right hand moving to the left as we bring the right foot over to meet the left foot. In other words, we close on the left side.
The Six Healing Sounds are movements put to ancient Chinese Healing Sounds that sages used when they lived in the forests. The sounds are not spoken aloud but are aspirated, that is, breathed, with barely audibly sound pushed out vigorously. In sweeping to one side or the other, both hands have wrists cocked and fingertips up, the palms facing the direction to which the hands move.
The Cosmic Consciousness Pose is stationary, with the left heel off the ground, resting and just above the right ankle bone. We gaze through slightly spread fingers and try not to have extraneous thoughts. This might be held 30 seconds or more, then the arms are lowered slowly to the sides.
This article is published in Joy Thru Movement.