Today I did five golden coins, the form, and the eight pieces of silk. Yet, I didn’t do the form just as a flow. No, I did it as a series of postures. In theory, doing the form again and again helps your body align itself with the postures of tai chi clearly and correctly. If my friend Cheryl does her dance routines every day, in theory her body will gradually conform itself to the postures and grace of a dancer.
There’s limitations to this, of course: if you’re an endomorph like me with large bones and a predisposition to pack on pounds, you’re never going to be the graceful runner type, tall and lean. The best you’ll ever do is cut your weight and transfer body mass from fat to muscle.
But ideally, when you’re doing tai chi or any other workout regimen that has a series of poses or postures (for example, yoga), paying attention to the shape your body should be in on each posture helps your body relax some muscles, and tense others, so that your body gradually aligns with the form that’s right for your body type.
There’s no need to overdo this. The goal isn’t to make a mess of yourself, the way some yoga practitioners and even instructors have done. There is a need to pay attention to what the goal of each posture in the form is, and to conform your body to the goal of the posture.
This morning, during tai chi in my mother’s garden, I pushed my hands out to the south in the Press posture. I caught my reflection in the glass window of the laundry room. “My feet are too close together,” I thought. I widened my stance, so if I were attacked from the left or right side, I would not immediately fall over. “My left foot is executing the pressure of this action,” I thought, “and so the left leg has to be straight… but the right hand has do be delivering the force through the tan tien, just above and behind my navel… So the energy has to travel up the left leg, cross the body through the tan tien, and then pass out the right shoulder and down the right arm…” and so I changed my posture yet again.
It didn’t take very long to make all these changes. Some of them didn’t require much dedicated thought at all, more along the lines of: “Is this posture right? No? What’s wrong?” and an elbow would crook upwards a bit, or I’d scooch my right foot out a bit more, or adjust the position of my hips.
But a form well formed is really a lot more useful to your overall progress than just sliding through the form to get it done. It takes a fair bit longer to do — a full half-hour for the form, 15 minutes each for Five Gold Coins and Eight Pieces of Silk — but the results are usually worth it. And you’re not likely to injure yourself trying to do a full spine twist.