This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.
One of the reasons people choose to play T’ai Chi and learn it in Western cultures is also one of its major health benefits: it can improve your balance, and as you get older it can reduce the amount that your balance degrades and help prevent falls as you get on in life. Falls are quite dangerous as you get older in life, as your body just can’t cope with as much injury. [Don’t take my word for it – checkout all of the third-party studies and testimonials for yourself – Ed].
In our form, one of the moves is called the Lotus Sweep. You can view this on the YouTube video that I have of the form [it’s towards the end of the Part 2 video – Ed]. This move really challenges your balance, especially for a beginner. What you have to do is go into cat stance, weight is in the left, and you sweep in with the right leg and you then sweep out once and then twice in a big circle before placing the feet heels in line to finish.
When I play this move, my right knee (the leg that is doing the sweeping) the right knee comes up to hip height as I sweep in and out. It’s quite natural for beginners to want to try and copy that shape, because as a beginner you are learning the shapes. But what happens as you play the form with the knee up when you don’t yet have Single Weight and when you don’t yet have Relax The Hips and you don’t yet have the uprightness that comes from Head And Body Moves As One Unit … what happens to the beginner is that the sweep in and the sweep out cause the body to wobble left and right quite substantially.
It’s not unusual for beginners to fall over at this point, because they are trying to stand on one foot but don’t yet have the balance to achieve it.
I saw a great thing in tonight’s class where one of my students made a choice. Instead of bringing the knee up high, he chose to preserve his balance and his uprightness by playing the sweep low to the floor instead. He brought the right foot up just enough to clear the floor so that he could sweep in once and sweep out twice and keep his uprightness.
I must point this out as being a great choice that he made, and a great tip for everyone who is beginning to try and find their balance.
One of the reasons T’ai Chi teaches balance is that it is teaching the body to understand what it feels like and what it means to be upright. This is part of the mindfulness side of T’ai Chi. But, as a beginner, if you are wobbling left and right all the time, as beginners are want to do, and as I did too when I was a beginner, what are you teaching the body there? You’re not. You’re continuing to confuse the body by lurching from one side and back to the other. By smoothing these things out, by focusing and saying “right, being upright is the most important thing, and my form will have to grow around that core pillar,” over time it improves your balance far quicker and far better than throwing yourself from left to right.
That’s a great little tip from tonight’s class.