– by Ian Sinclair …continued from Tai Chi – How does it work? Part 1
It’s not so much about what you do. It’s more about how you are when you do it.
Tai Chi Core principe number 1 – The Head
“Hold the head as if suspended from above, so as to allow the spirit of vitality to reach the top of the head.”
– from Yang Chengfu’s 10 important points.
The head should be balanced easily. The back of the neck should be upright and extended without tension. The jaw relaxes and the chin may seem to drop downwards relative to the tense and collapsed position in which the neck is often held. It helps to have the tip of the tongue lightly touching the roof of the mouth.
This is the first point for good reasons. The head is the end of the body, and it is natural to start from the top and work your way down. More importantly, however, the head is the end of the body that students can most easily adjust. Other parts of the body, such as the hips, ankles, legs and waist require a deeper awareness than the head does. When you adjust the head, you can literally see the difference it makes, even without a mirror. The position of the head is also crucial to the ability of the student to make corrections in the rest of the body. If the correct alignment of the head and neck is not understood, then the positions of the other parts of the body cannot be achieved.
Of course, it also follows that if the head is held correctly, the rest of the body should actually fall into place quite naturally. This brings up an important concept regarding tai chi principles. While we describe the alignment of the body in terms of the body’s separate parts, no part can be considered in isolation from any other part. To truly correct one thing corrects all others. If one part is out of alignment, all parts are out of alignment. Each of these points can only be understood as part of the whole.
The alignment of the head and neck can be influenced by other parts of the body as well. This author was once having persistent difficulty correcting stiffness in his neck. He tried many different types of self adjustment of the neck and upper back, using proven therapeutic exercises, self massage, and contortions. A friendly chiropractor took one look at the way the author was twisting his neck and said simply, “T-10” suggesting that the cause of the neck problem was a mis-alignment of the 10th thoracic vertebra. The author self-corrected T10 and was immediately able to move his neck normally again.
When we speak of the head suspended from above, we mean that no force is used to lift it up. Yet it does seem to be lifted. It will feel, at times, as if the head is floating or hovering. Some tai chi schools describe the alignment in other ways, however. For instance, a teacher may tell students to imagine that they are balancing a leaf on the top of the head. Another teacher may tell students to imagine that they are wearing a 100 pound hat. In fact, this author has heard of at least one tai chi teacher in China who practices with an 80 lb. iron hat on his head. (Warning! He worked up to that gradually over many years, beginning with a 2 lb. hat and carefully increasing the weight. )
When the alignment of the head and neck is correct, the spirit will be energized in such a way that other people will see it in your eyes. It is believed that with proper alignment, your mind will also become more calm and focused, and your will power and awareness will improve.
Most people confuse the middle of the head with the top of the head. The highest point (no pun intended) of the head is found by placing the tip of one index finger atop either ear and moving them up along your skull until they meet at an acupuncture point called “baihui” (“one hundred meetings”). When this point is allowed to be the highest point on the body, the chin will drop down a little, the neck will relax, and the gaze will be a little bit downward. This is a natural and logical position for the head to be in if one is walking, not only because it allows the body to relax and align properly, but because it allows your eyes to see where you are going.
If your head is held with the middle of the skull as the highest point, then your nose will be lifted up, your neck will become tense, and you will not be able to see where you are going. The tension created in the neck will also translate through the rest of the body and create tension in the back, shoulders, chest, hips, knees, ankles and feet.
The correct alignment of the head is the first step in eliminating unnecessary lateral tension. The elimination of lateral tension in the body is important for healthy alignment and for the proper function of the body and mind. It is also the most essential step in the development of internal power for practical self defence.
Stay tuned. Part 3 is coming soon. Subscribe to the RSS feed there is a link on the right, or check back here each day or two and click on the “core principles” tag or the “Theory” category.