Basic Requirements for Body Posture
The following article written by T.K. Shih for “Qi – The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness” does a wonderful job of explaining the importance of proper body alignment, and how to achieve it. No matter what style of Qigong or Tai Chi you practice this article should be useful to you.
The body is the basis of life and is dependent on the Qi and the mind. If the body is not correct, then the Qi does not circulate smoothly. And if the Qi does not circulate smoothly, then the mind is not at peace. When practicing Qigong, it is necessary to maintain the correctness of the body and to meet the requirements for posture so that one may practice Qigong well.
The body posture is mainly guided by the four principles (including the twenty-four requirements) of keeping the head erect, the body straight, the feet flat and the upper arms rounded. It also integrates the five pairs, three bows and one circle to make the body into one organic whole. The following article, although it certainly could stand by itself, is the continuation of the article by the same title that was printed in the Autumn 1996 (Volume 6, Number 3) issue of our quarterly journal.
The Upper Arms are Rounded
The arms form an arc when the back is raised, shoulders relaxed, elbows suspended and wrists opened out. No matter what movement is done it is necessary to pay attention that there is a rounded arc formed between the middle fingers of the hands so that the two arms form a circular shape. Whatever the posture, one must always have the middle fingers facing each other and think of the outside of the two arms joining towards the inside and the insides supporting the outside so that the energies of the two hands are joined firmly and the upper arms are rounded. The head is then protected above, the feet are protected below and the spine is protected in back. One can then naturally feel full of “stretching energy.” (the middle fingers face each other and the qi goes to the dan-tian)
If the upper arms can be rounded, then the arms form a bow and the movements of the upper limbs form an organic whole along with the trunk of the body. The top part of the body brings along the bottom and the bottom pushes the top. This better coordinates the movements of the entire body and also plays a role in defense and offense in technique. It is necessary to raise the back, relax the shoulders, hang the elbows, open out the wrists and have the middle fingers face each other to be able to make the upper arms rounded. There are eight requirements for making the upper arms rounded.
1. When Raising the Back-Make it Rounded
It is necessary to raise open the area of the spine between the two arms towards the hands but the shoulder blades cannot be made to jut out. In this way, the back is raised to accord with the size of the arc of the bent and stretched out arms so that the arms make an arch. The two arms cannot be stretched out straight nor can they be formed into an inverse bow shape (when straight, the back is not raised). Whether the arms are bent, opened or closed, one must always keep the back raised open on the left and right and have a rounded feeling in the middle fingers. In this way, the arms can be formed into one line, the movements can be integrated and one can issue forth “rounded stretching power.”
2. When Relaxing the Shoulders-Make them Level
If the shoulders are raised up, the qi floats and there is no power in the entire body. When the shoulders are pressed down, the internal power contracts and cannot reach the hands. The shoulders must be relaxed and force cannot be used to press them down or raise them up.
In making the shoulders level when relaxing them, it is necessary to pay attention to maintain the jian-jing (GB21 on the shoulders) and da-zhui points (DU14 on the middle upper back) on a level line. Relax the shoulders down while making them level (do not use force). This not only opens the armpits and brings life to the arms but it also causes one to feel that the internal power is rising up through the crown of the head, sinking to the middles of the soles and connecting to the hands. The shoulders cannot be raised regardless of what position is being done. This is called “locking the shoulders”
3. When Hanging the Elbows-Bring Them Together
When the shoulders are relaxed, the power of the qi goes to the elbows and by hanging the elbows the power of the qi goes to the hands. If one is able to hang the elbows, one can naturally relax the shoulders. Therefore, hanging the elbows and opening out the wrists are key
elements for issuing internal power.
Regardless of the posture, the elbow joints should never be make straight and after maintaining this arc, pay attention to mentally concentrating the internal power from the qu-chi points Li11 along the arms to the wrists (do not use force to concentrate on the tips of the elbows so as to avoid contracting the internal power and causing tenseness in the elbows). In this way, the internal power can reach the fingers and be issued from there.
Hanging the elbows should not affect the opening of the armpits, nor should one raise the elbows in order to open the armpits and thus make it impossible for the elbows to protect the ribs. The elbows must be brought together slightly so that the vertical line of the point of force of the elbows is maintained at all timed towards the knees. They are also brought together slightly towards the dan-tian so as to join the upper and lower parts of the body and have the qi go the dan-tian.
4. When Opening the Wrists-Make Them Unobstructed
If the wrists are not opened up the internal power contracts and if the wrists are not unhindered the internal power is impeded and cannot connect to the fingers. It is necessary to maintain the arc of the hanging elbows unchanged and use the mind to extend out and relax. Open the wrist joints so that the internal power is not blocked at the wrists but rather can reach the fingers.
5. The Bases of the Fingers Must Be Caved In
The bases of the four fingers cannot protrude out. The base joints of the bones (phalanx) of the four fingers must be level and unimpeded so that the hands and arms can be stretched, the middles of the hands made empty and the internal power reaches the fingers.
6. The Fingertips Must Be Bent
The five fingers must not be made straight but must be separated naturally and bent slightly so that the internal power can reach the insides of the fingers. One will then have the feeling that the internal power is extended out and the qi is retained within. If the internal power reaches the fingertips, then the qi is dispelled (when making a fist, although the five fingers are joined together and bent forward it is also necessary that the internal power reach the insides of the fingers).
7. The Hu-Kou Must Be Rounded
The hu-kou (tiger’s mouth) is located between the thumb and index finger and the changes of the internal power mainly arise from the hu-kou. If the thumb points forward, then the internal power is weak but if the index finger points forward the internal power is strong (when pointing forward along the direction of the finger, do not raise the finger up). When the hu-kou is joined together, the internal energy is contracted, the qi is blocked and there is no power. Each joint of the thumb and index finger must be arched and brought together and, by making the hu-kou round and open, we can produce internal power wherein the hard and soft benefit each other.
The size to which the hu-kou is made round and open can be determined based on the movements of the different postures. For example, it must be made smaller when stationary standing (the wu-ji form) than when doing moving forms; when doing moving postures, the hu-kou of the ‘standing palm’ must be larger than that of the hanging wrist. When the palm faces in, the thumb is curved outward so that inverse winding power reaches the index finger and produces strong internal power; when the palm faces out, the thumb is brought in so that the direct winding power is in the thumb and produces soft internal power. Whether the hu-kou is large or small, hard or soft, it must always be kept rounded. In this way, we can have joining internal power wherein the hard and soft benefit each other. Therefore, the hu-kou is the key to using internal power.
8. Make the Palms Hollow and Contained
If the palms are made hollow then the qi does not disperse out and one will not have stiff force. If one can contain the palms, they will then be able to bring into play ‘drawing transformation power.” When the palms are slightly hollowed, are far apart and face each other and have drawing power, the internal power is naturally stored within. Then one consciously joins the top and bottom together, that is the centers of the feet and the crown of the head. The ‘five centers’ of the head, hands and feet are joined. In this way, one will feel full and that the qi is penetrating through the entire body.
The above mentioned four principles and twenty-four requirements appear to be complicated and rigorous yet all of these requirements are merely designed to enable the body to reach a natural physiological state. There are no additional movements. If one understands that it can be spontaneously accomplished through relaxation and quietude, it can then be said to be simple and easy.
If these twenty-four requirements are applied to each posture and daily activities, then one can always and everywhere correct body form, make the mind clear and quiet and have the qi move naturally.
THE FIVE PAIRS
A “pair” refers to the mutual relationship between one place and another. It is also the connection between points and lines. The five pairs include the nose pointing at the navel, the wei-lu point being opposite the heel, the kneecap pointing at the tip of the foot, the elbow facing the knee and the mental connection of the middle fingers. By using these five pairs, we can enable the movements of the body to be unified and the upper and lower parts of the body to be joined into an organic whole.
1. The Nose and the Navel
A vertical line is made from the tip of the nose to the navel but this is not accomplished by lowering the head and pointing the nose. Rather, there is slight pulling of the two points after they are aligned. In this way the chin and throat are tucked in and the energy at the crown of the head is light and sensitive so that the head and body are connected. This can then cause the “head to be erect” at all times when moving the body forwards and backwards or turning it.
2. The Wei-Lu point Faces the Heel
A vertical line is made from the coccyx to the heels (it faces the middle point between the two heels when one is in the horse stance and faces the rear heel when doing the horse or sitting stance). However, when these points face each other, it is necessary to pay attention that the heel, wei-lu point and occipital bone in the back of the head connect into one line.When the body is in a sitting posture these points form a straight line, when doing a bow stance they form an oblique straight line and when the body is bent forwards they form an arched line. When the wei-lu is made to face the heels one must tuck in the hips and buttocks, raise the knees and sit with the body. The head, trunk, lower limbs, the upper and lower parts of the body, will be connected and one will be able to keep the “body straight.”
3. The Knees FacE the Tips of the Feet
This refers to having the force point of the vertical line from the middle of the kneecaps (bi-du points (ST35)) face the tips of the large toes (the yin-bai (SP1) points on the insides of the toe nails). The kneecaps must always face the tips of the feet whether one is doing a bow stance, empty stance or horse stance. When the tip of the foot is raised up it is hooked up and faces the kneecap. When the tip of the foot is turned the force point of the kneecap faces the tip of the foot. If one is able to have the knees face the tips of the feet, this can make the feet flat and the steps stable.
4. Mentally Connect the Middle Fingers
This involves connecting the middle line of the two arms. Regardless of the distance of the two hands or whether they are in front, in back, above or below, use the mind to connect the force points of the middle fingers (there is slight pulling). As a result of this, one will feel that the whole body is full and connected with the qi of the dan-tian. The mental connection of the middle fingers is the key to keeping the “two upper arms rounded.”
5. The Elbows and Knees Face Each Other
The elbows are the centers of the arms while the knees are the centers of the legs. If one is able to pay attention to make the upper and lower connections of the elbows and knees whatever the movement is, then the arms and legs will not become stiff and straight. One can also then make the upper and lower parts of the body correspond each other, protect the ribs on both sides and integrate the head being erect, the body being straight, the feet being flat and the upper arms being rounded so as to cause the body posture to be connected into one organic whole.
THE THREE BOWS
A “bow” has stretching power and when practicing keeping the posture in a bow form is the basis for producing internal power. When there is force, one can have “positioning power” and thus the bow form is the key to practicing positioning power. In postures, there is the relationship of the arch shape of the full side and the force point of the empty side. The bow has a yin side as well as a yang side. With a reverse bow the internal power is lost. Therefore, the body must embrace the outside (yang) and support the inside (yin) to be able to produce stretching power. It cannot be the opposite. All parts of the body must be arched. Although there are many bow forms, there are three major ones: the body bow, thighs bow and upper arms bow.
1. The Body Bow
The “body bow” is formed by joining the head and the trunk of the body. The head and back are yang while the face and chest are yin. By suspending the crown of the head, making the spine straight, relaxing the waist and pulling in the buttocks, the back assumes as lightly tucked in arch shape. Paying attention to bringing in the lower chin, straightening the neck, tucking in the hips and relaxing the chest causes the back to embrace towards the inside, the chest to support the outside and the internal power of the neck and hips to be joined. Like a bow pulled tight with a string we can naturally produce the positional power of straightening and pulling up the trunk of the body and there being expansion in the relaxation.
2. The Upper Arms Bow
This is connecting the arms into a bow shape. No matter what the movement, it is always necessary to raise the back, drop the elbows and open out the wrists. The arms are brought in slightly as if embracing something like the back of a bow. The outer support force points of the wrists are joined together like the string of a bow and this forms the upper arms bow. The arms can then produce stretching internal power and this form has positional power to protect the entire body.
3. The Thighs Bow
This is joining the legs into a bow shape and mainly entails sitting with the body, rounding the crotch, opening the thighs and bringing the knees together (the knees face the tips of the feet). The two legs are like a bow with the string joining at the ankles. If there is the stretching internal power of the external support and the thighs bow is formed, then the lower body is stable and one naturally produces unwavering positional power.
The circle is the integral element of the body posture. When the body accords with the four principles and twenty-four requirements and the posture accomplishes the five pairs and three bows, one can produce the feeling of the whole body being round and full. The twenty-four requirements are those for each local point and the “five pairs” and “three bows” are the unification of opposites of the points and lines. However, the “one circle” embodies overall coordinated balance and the “circle” is not only the shape but the function of “positional power.” The mind can be calm and the spirit clear when there is the positional power of the circle.The “circle” is a major secret for practicing body posture. If one is able to be conscious of the “circle” when practicing, then the body will be automatically corrected. If one truly comprehends the “circle”, they will be able to enter the sublimity of the “empty spirit.”
By T.K. Shih, © Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness
T.K. Shih is a founding member of the Qigong Association of Beijing and is also one of its Honorary Directors, a title granted to only one hundred doctors in all of China. Since 1982, Master Shih has been living in the US with his wife, Dr. Deying Huang, also a well-known practitioner of Chinese Traditional Medicine, and his two daughters, Melanie and Wendy. Together they direct the Chinese Healing Arts Center in Danbury, CT and Kingston, NY, where Traditional Oriental Medicine treatments are offered on an individual basis, and classes are given in various forms of Qigong and Taijiquan, as well as the extremely popular Qi Healing Workshops.