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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.