Balance: equilibrium; stability; homeostasis; harmony, etc.
In chinese, the word chung ting (Wade-Giles) and zhong ding (pinyin) translates to central equilibrium, i.e., centrally balanced and firmly rooted.
It is the “substance of Tai Chi”, according to Cheng Man-ch’ing in his “Thirteen Treatises”. Substance is first and then application, i.e., turning. First get your balance and then turn your center.
One of the key benefits of Tai Chi, according to numerous Western medical studies, is an improvement in balance which becomes more and more important as one becomes older.
The main requirement for balance is leg strength.
This is addressed upfront in the Tai Chi principles of “Separate the weight in the legs” and “Relax and sink”.
While playing the Tai Chi form, the player seeks to stand on one leg and to sink down by bending the weighted leg. Initially, a balance helper is utilized via lightly touching the heel or toe of the “empty” leg. Keep the sole of the weight bearing foot relaxed and think of it as flat, like a camel’s foot. When balance wavers, the big toe is usually the first to lift up. Asking it to soften and adhere helps keep the whole sole rooted.
Beginners are encouraged, at their own pace, gradually to sink a little lower and to separate the weight as best they can. It’s not an overnight development, but, with patience, leg strength and balance improvement surely will occur.
There is no substitute for this. Only by working the legs can the legs become stronger.
It is essential that the Tai Chi principles become inculcated into daily life. Thus, we have the AOL rule: Always One Leg. Look for opportunities to practice this rule as, for example, you wait for an elevator (better yet, take the stairs), stand in line at the grocery checkout and work at your standup desk, etc.
Another important element in balance is flexibility of the hip joints. Tai Chi addresses this during the turning of the waist by listening for the comfortable limits in the hip joints. This is part of physically leading from the center.
Don’t delay. If you want good balance later, you must start now.
Welcome the Wobbles
Wobbles are inexorable.
There is no such thing as perfect balance in every Tai Chi movement. Everyone wobbles sometimes at least a little bit.
Although we strive for better balance, the Tai Chi form is designed to be challenging for this is how progress is made.
Trying to meet the high standards of physical balance (and energy awareness and mental concentration) will result in inevitable wobbles which in turn will provide valuable benefits and opportunities.
One obvious, positive aspect of wobbling while standing on one leg is the building of leg strength.
Seeking one legged balance causes the leg muscles to work and working those muscles is the only way they will get stronger. If you desire strong legs later, you must build them now.
A wobble also helps us to focus the mind while offering a chance to double check ourselves with the Tai Chi principles.
Some students choose to seek only the smooth and easy path. They do not sink down nor do they separate their weight in the legs completely, perhaps because they are trying to be comfortable. That’s okay if they understand that they are cheating themselves out of some of the major benefits of Tai Chi.
Most will choose to do their best as they relax and enjoy the wobbles.
Release the idea of perfection.
The Tai Chi form is designed to be impossible to do perfectly.
While we work towards better balance,
much of the training consists of dealing with wobbles.
The more one practices, the more one develops awareness.
This continually increasing awareness reveals more things which need work.
It’s never ending, thankfully. And it contains joy.
Tree roots, Hampshire County, West Virginia
by W. D. Conner