Have you ever seen a murmuration of starlings – those little black birds that gather by the hundreds in flocks that swirl, expand, contract, and flow like a living cloud? Scientists who have studied this beautiful and strange dance have come up with various theories to explain it.
Sinking and Looseness
Sinking creates a state of body-being that draws intrinsic strength from the earth through the body’s structure: a process called rooting. This state is naturally resilient to force and has a quality of springiness.
Relaxation, Sinking and Rooting
Once you’ve aligned your centers of mass along your vertical axis and the center of your base of support, the next step toward stability and balance is rooting.
Structural alignment is one of the most fundamental elements of postural health, as well as functional movement. It is absolutely essential for martial arts and self-defense training.
As the year comes to a close, it’s an excellent opportunity to spend some time in quiet meditation. Standing, sitting or laying, make your body still and focus on your breath. In and out, in and out, with long smooth breaths. Relax into your chosen pose and scan your whole body with your internal awareness. Let yourself really feel your body and adjust your position until it is comfortable and self-supportive. Take your time.
Next, bring your attention to your mind. Quietly observe the flow of your thoughts and feelings without actively engaging with them.
With all our technology and sophistication of culture it’s easy to forget that we’re part of the animal kingdom. The development and health of our minds and bodies is just as dependent upon variety and quality of movement as it is for other animals. As children we know this instinctively. We roll around on the floor, see how many times we can spin before falling, challenge ourselves to daring feats of balance, rough-house with siblings and friends, swing our arms around as fast as we possibly can, and hang upside-down on the couch. We explore our capacity for movement the same way other animals do and for the same reason, to prepare our bodies and minds (via the nervous system) to be able to do all the things we need to do to survive.
In his writings compiled under the title “The Unfettered Mind,” Takuan Soho talks about the mind that does not fixate on anything—not it’s own thoughts or intentions, not on any action of the body, nor on anything happening in one’s external environment. He says about this state “When this No-Mind has been well developed, the mind does not stop with one thing nor does it lack any one thing. It is like water overflowing and exists within itself. It appears appropriately when facing a time of need. The mind that becomes fixed and stops in one place does not function freely.”
In taiji, we practice standing post in the wuji posture. The goal of this exercise is just like that of Takuan’s “No-Mind,” but applied to the body as well.
One of the most misunderstood issues of martial arts is context. Among martial artists of different styles, you can hear endless arguments about which style is better. Practitioners will argue which knuckles to strike with, the merits of stand-up vs ground fighting skills, and traditional methods of training vs modern ones. What they often fail to look at is context.
Many people begin Tai Chi training with an interest in improving their balance. Balance, however, can often seem an elusive attribute. I often have students say to me, “I don’t have good balance.” To such students I explain that there’s no need to worry about balance, nor is there such a thing as good balance or bad balance. Balance is the result of aligning your skeletal structure, and “relaxing” down through it. So balance is not something you have or don’t have. Balance is a state you’re in or out of. If you want to improve your balance, correct your structural alignment. It’s all about the relationship between weight and structure. Weight is gravity’s downward pull on the center of your body masses.
Most of us begin learning an art form eager to demonstrate its highest levels of skill with ease. When our first attempts don’t manifest a master’s skill, we become discouraged. We begin to think we may not have whatever the mysterious thing is that makes some people good at the art. Unable to realize our desires, we succumb to frustration and waning motivation. This thought that we are missing some essential ingredient for success becomes a self-defeating belief that stops us before we can really get started. At the first sign of imperfect performance we say, “I guess I’m just not good at this.” This all-too-common downward spiral is based on a false perception of the normal process of learning a new skill.