The first step to begin Tai Chi is to find a "rooted" stance. This simple practice can have a profound effect on your breathing, posture, and joint health. Focusing on this one stance can eradicate many bad habits people tend to fall into when they are not conscious of how they carry themselves.
First, what is a "rooted" stance?
We are all stuck to the ground by the effects of gravity. We do have a choice on how to handle this pressure, however. The first choice is to lock the knees, slouch, and lower the chin, and effectively succumb to the pressure. The other choice is to become "rooted," or to use the body to work alongside gravitational pressure to distribute the body's weight against the ground. Being rooted is to engage both the body and mind in order to be conscious of imbalances and tensions against the settling of your weight. The rooted stance is a practice in engaging the mind in becoming aware of how your body is being held to the ground.
Notice how each limb and joint of the man in the drawing has a natural looseness.
To achieve rootedness, begin by placing your feet about shoulders-width apart. To engage the mind, take note of your heel, sole, and toes pressing against the ground. Next, bend your knees and find a balance of engagement in your muscles- not too deep so as to burn, but not so rigid so as to rely on your knee-joints to carry all of the weight. Align your hips under your shoulders, roll your shoulders back into a relaxed position, and feel your spinal column become straight. Imagine a string holding your posture from the crown of your head down to your tailbone, and surrender to the support of this string.
The hands need special attention, as they contain the most nerve-endings and are therefore a very useful way to engage your mind with your body. Let your hands float to your side, but not so wide so that your shoulder muscles are strained. Focus your mind on the palms of your hand- this will guide you towards a balance in holding your arms, and this in turn will lead to an overall balance from your shoulders to neck to spine.
Hold this posture, and as you slowly breathe in feel how your chest expands, how your body moves while being filled with air, and how this naturally re-distributes your weight against the pressure of gravity. Bring your attention to any tension, and try to relax your muscles of their own accord. After some practice you will feel more natural between the pressures of ground and gravity, meaning your posture, stride, and even small movements will take on a more relaxed and pleasurable aspect.
That’s it! The first sign of progress to feel out is becoming more conscious of your feet, your posture, your knees, and how you hold your head. This practice is highly beneficial to the spinal column in general.
Previous Tai Chi posts:
Part 1: Overview