Relieve pain with subtle shifts in tai chi movement

If you experience recurring pain while practicing, a slight shift in your tai chi practice method may be all you need to affect a big change. For example, a closer alignment to the center may be all you need to relieve, or dissolve, pain.

Many have knee pain, which is often a sign of incorrect posture or incorrect usage. Chronic or acute, it doesn’t matter. Either we seem unable to track the hurt back to its origin (chronic), or it is (relatively) recent injury (acute).

Sometimes it is caused by practice itself. We don’t realize we are kinking the knee too far out (bow-legged), or too far in (knock-kneed). The arches may be too flat or too stretched up, as well; which suggests uneven foot pressure toward one side or another. These positions cause alignment to go out and often result in pain during and after practice.

Sometimes we just work too hard. In aerobic or resistance training, people often push themselves. While this has its value, doing tai chi that way may aggravate chronic issues that you want to alleviate.

Master Ching Manching
standing in Wuji

The issue might be merely postural in origin, whether it be in muscle, tendon, ligament, or joint. If your structure is off just a little, you could over work and over strain that area.

Working to improve skills at detecting subtle postural changes while in motion—something more difficult to do in fast movements—could really help to discover new training possibilities. Sometimes you need to go easy on yourself to give yourself a chance to detect subtle changes. You may have to move more slowly and pay closer attention to finer degrees of movement.

Moving while being mindful of central equilibrium, or zhong ding, can highlight where your structure is out of balance. The solution could simply be a mere shifting one way or another. While practicing, you can ask yourself where you tend to pivot from—perhaps, feet, knee, thigh, hip—and see what subtle changes you can affect.

Picture a fulcrum at the core of your balance and movement. Dr. Susan Matthews has referred to this as a teeter-totter, or see-saw, idea; whereby a part of the body lies at the center point of a motion. You essentially move from or through that point, and return to it. Then to get a sense of alignment, or equilibrium, picture a line of such points moving in relation to each other.

This kind of attention to alignment may be just what you need to help find and fix those little spots that catch and hurt.

You can find lots of info on alignment in general on the Web from other disciplines and authors. I would just add the idea that many practitioners are unaware of how a greater depth of awareness and a simple, subtle shift in alignment can lead to relief from common hindrances in training like pain.

For other aspects of this subject, see the following posts.

—“Zhong Ding
—“Standing in Wu Ji
—“Zhong Ding: A Fundamental Part of Tai Chi Practice

Also, view a video demonstration by Wu Tai Ji Grandmaster Wang Hao Da. His zhong ding training is superb.

For more in-depth training, you might be interested in visiting Susan Matthews’ Spiral Anatomy™ Training Course (Module #2).

Hold that (tai chi) thought

Tai chi teachers hold a place for other learners who are unable to put in the time to maintain a regular practice. They hold the thought for when they return to practice and pick up where they left off.

Hold Up Sky

Speaking of holding the thought, to build awareness in the practice of tai chi, look for something to work on or improve every time you do form. Remember to be aware of this each time you stand in wuji. Example: watch for a particular tension in body that you carry with you through the form. It may be a discomfort or even pain – in the knee, for example. Or maybe it’s a tension in the nape of the neck from leaning too far forward.

The next time you do form pay more attention to that issue and try to alleviate it. You could straighten the angle of the leg or raise the shen by elongating the spine and opening the solar plexus a little more than usual.

This is a zhong ding concept. Internal practice requires focus on the center line (zhong ding). Getting essential and beneficial alignment is key to free movement in the structure of the body. Proprioception will improve gradually, then exponentially.

Movement begins with mental focus. Place attention upon the space of interest and connect the dots.

Knees bend softly, never locked, flexible, changeable, not torqued, not tensed, not stressed or weighted upon. You must watch for these things, these states of being in motion and in stillness.

Sounds complex? Maybe it is, but with immersion it becomes less so. I am always amazed at how much awareness I can muster and how many activities of which I can stay cognizant while in motion.

At first, it is only one thing at a time. Beginners will focus on that. Then it is an ease of shifting focus from one thing, or even two things, at a time and maintain that focus. Maybe intermediate practitioners can do this fairly well.

Then, in advanced stages your view broadens and a whole symphonic movement evolves in unison, almost as if you are a spectator and conductor simultaneously.