Two advanced tai chi techniques to improve balance and more

Many tai chi practitioners lack central equilibrium, or “zhong ding” in their posture while they move. Many people, even teachers, don’t even know about it. But it’s important for so many things. For example, improving your zhong ding will improve your balance. Also, to advance your tai chi practice and experience the ultimate benefits of tai chi, zhong ding training is pivotal.

I’ve found that visualization helps to incorporate it into practice. My teachers introduced me to two useful concepts to think about: “third leg” from George Xu and “backwards bicycle” from Susan A. Matthews.

The Backwards Bicycle
Sifu Matthews uses bio-mechanics descriptions that effectively help transfer many concepts into experience. Fairly early on in students’ learning she introduces her trademark “Backwards Bicycle™” motion to get the hips to move and stimulate awareness of the importance of the spine in tai chi training. The idea is simple, but familiarizing yourself with moving that way takes some of us a little extra effort at first. Backwards bicycle results in more-effective, full-body movement with more-precise alignment of the spine and skeleton.

The Third Leg
George Xu introduced the term “third leg” during a workshop a few years ago. Like backwards bicycle, the concept of third leg helps to refine the movement of your zhong ding by giving you a visualization to focus on. There is a leverage point in the hip assembly at the base of the spine at or near the sacrum where you can pivot and turn. It’s as though you are sitting on the top of a pole that is planted in the ground. Master George often says “sit on the chair” and it’s like you’re moving the chair with your sacrum while keeping a steady pressure on it to maintain your connection with the ground. I call this “weighted-in-gravity.”

Eventually, with practice, mind-energy-physical integration, or “harmony,” is a key outcome of these two visualizations to help develop zhong ding awareness in movement. To accomplish this, use mind intention to focus on directing of the flow of energy. Move in circles and figure eights. No hard corners and continual focus on movement. Look for the sensation of motion or flow. Enjoy the feeling.

Placing yourself in a position of learning is a main goal of tai chi training, and learning about third leg and backwards bicycle can make it rather fun. To learn more about incorporating them in your practice, visit the MastersFromChina video store. Sifu Matthews’ talks about zhong ding in Volume 1 of her Brain Workshop™ series, and Master Xu describes it in his Complete Practice video. Of course, attending one of their workshops is a nice way to experience learning in person.


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