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Tai Chi and Balance, Western Style

28 May 2014
As a young student I mistakenly believed that centering was a mental-spiritual idea and nothing more. As a result one of my earliest important "light bulb" moments came when I realized that balance is first physical. From physical balance can arise mental balance, and from mental balance can emerge spiritual balance. I say "can" because more work is needed after achieving physical balance, but by taking the first step you make the later steps possible.

Today I wish to explore balance as a scientific concept. All objects naturally seek balance according to their center of gravity. When I speak of center, I mean center of gravity. The center of gravity in an object is the spot where an equal amount of mass can be found in each direction of each dimension. In a perfect sphere or cube of uniform density, for instance, the center is easy to find: just go halfway in from the surface. In a pyramid the center sits lower than the midpoint, because most mass is at the bottom. In a non-symmetric object like the human body, the location of the center is a more complex matter. You can change it simply by tensing or relaxing muscles or joints.

If your center of gravity is seriously out of whack, your body may seek balance by making you fall down. In a martial arts context, if you do not keep your center under strict control, it will be easy to knock you down; it will also be difficult for you to launch an attack.

If your body is trying to make you fall down in order to achieve balance, it is common to tense up your muscles as you try to fight the call of nature. When you create tension in your body you throw your center further away from its ideal local in your abdomen, making it even easier to defeat you.

So the answer is to use directed effort to relax and maintain your center in its ideal area, the center of your lower abdomen, inside your body, between the navel and sexual center. Now let's explore center of gravity a little more closely.

feet parallel
Stand with your feet parallel, shoulder width apart. Your center side-to-side should be exactly in the middle between your feet. Your center front-to-back should be on a line between the middle of your feet. This means stay off your toes and stay off your heels: Connect to the ground through this middle spot we sometimes call the Bubble Spring or Bubbling Well.

You may be asking yourself, why isn't the Bubble Spring, the perfect center, exactly in the middle between the heel and toe extents? The answer is that the center of gravity is not the midpoint if the short side has greater density than longer side, which is the case with the foot. However, a complete answer is much more complicated, concerning a method of maintaining center by flexing the ankles, knees, and hips. For a discussion of that method we will have to wait until the next time.


You may also like this related article: Tai Chi Essential #1: Crown Up (195)
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