The Essential Energies: Balance

At the beginning of the year my taiji class shifted back to Fu-style taiji, returning to a form we’ve studied within the past couple of years and introducing a few very useful, but quite strange exercises. I think some of the class had encountered them before, but they are all new to me: waist-sieving, four-corner kicking (which has been compared to a bizarre cross of taiji with irish jig), and waist rotation.

That last one begins with assuming a horse stance, arms raised as though hugging a big rubber ball. (If you go to this link and scroll down to the picture titled “Sifu Wong practicing the Three-Circle Stance,” that’ll give you a fair idea of what I’m talking about.) Then you start to rotate the upper body from the waist: lean forward, then to the side, back, other side, and front again, describing a big circle with your upper body. The waist doesn’t twist, the body always faces forward, just leaning in different directions. Only the upper body moves. The legs and hips hold still, supporting the movement.

(Whew, this stuff is hard to describe in words. At least I’m not talking about the four-corner kicking one. I’m afraid “Irish taiji jig” is all you’re going to get from me, use your imagination.)

This movement was a little weird when we started, but I didn’t think it was too bad. Horse stance is nice and stable.

And then we changed to bow stance. Then sit stance, then empty stance, and then one-legged stance. Try to imagine doing this: standing on one leg, and rotating the upper body in that big circular movement. Or in a little circular movement. Or any kind of circle or movement at all, without losing your balance. There have been times in my life when I thought the standing-on-one-leg part was hard enough on its own, thank you very much.

Those times, however, were all before I started studying taiji, because taiji has taught me a lot about keeping my balance. Keeping the body relaxed, not trying to be stiff and still, sitting back a little bit to lower my center of gravity, using my core and the big muscles in my legs (or in one leg) for stability. But maybe most of all, learning what to think about and what not to think about.

When you stand on one leg, it’s natural to think about the leg that’s off the floor. One foot is dangling, and feet don’t normally dangle. It draws the attention, but it’s exactly the wrong place to put your attention.

In order to keep balance, I’ve learned, the thing to think about is the leg you’re standing on. Think about where your strength and stability come from. Never mind about the dangling foot, it’s fine. Let it mind itself for a bit. When you think about the leg that isn’t helping you balance, you shift yourself out of balance. Think about the leg that’s supporting you, and your balance automatically improves. Putting your mind on what keeps you stable helps the body to be stable.

Brilliant, brilliant metaphor. Because taiji isn’t the only practice which needs balance. Sometimes life feels like a high-wire act, with all the circus lions on the loose and prowling down below. Except never worry about those, because your wire is fraying. Except never worry about that, because the frame holding it all up is on fire.

What on earth do you look at, when everything is going crazy? What do you put your attention on? Chances are, the thing you’ll want to focus on is the craziness. It’s so compelling, it’s hard to focus anywhere else. But it’s exactly the wrong place.

The place to put your attention first is on what makes you feel stable. Whatever that is for you, whatever habits or routines or practices or people make you feel stable and strong, focus on those first and keep coming back to them as often as you can. If you can stay connected with your own center of balance, the craziness won’t tip you over. You can develop the ability to move with it, to use it, maybe even to direct it.

Don’t focus on the leg that gets knocked out from under you, focus on the leg you’re still standing on. Because you are still standing.


1 comment so far

  1. Kim on


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