Balance has been a problem for me through all the years I have practiced taiji. I simply am not good at sitting the kicks.
When I first started, I thought the problem was my feet, and if I could only get the proper shoes, or the proper arch supports, I’d be fine.
Eventually I realized that the problem wasn’t just my feet. It was pretty much my entire body. It was the way I’d adapted to the curve in my spine. It was the way I’d allowed my head and neck to give in to gravity. It is very difficult to sit a kick when your body parts aren’t aligned.
But now I have a new pathway to balance.
In my last two posts I’ve talked about taking classes at the Yang Chengfu Tai Chi Chuan Center in Redmond. One of these classes is a taiji basics class taught by Master Yang Jun’s wife, Fang Hong. Laoshi (teacher) Hong is patient and kind. She also clearly knows her stuff.
So when she told us at the first class that standing on one leg for 5 minutes per leg per day would give us good balance, I decided to believe her, no ifs, ands or buts, and I made a commitment to myself to do it.
The deal is, you let your support foot toe out a bit, and then you lift the knee of your non-support leg so that your thigh is parallel to the floor, and you stand there. It’s simple, it’s clear—and best of all, it’s time-limited. It’s also very hard, even painful. So much so that the first time I tried it, I modified my commitment to 3 minutes per leg per day—but I have been doing those 3 minutes for several weeks now.
I set a timer and position myself between a counter and a chair. I try to do all the things I know I should do, like sinking my tailbone and relaxing into gravity, instead of muscle-ing my way through. But, still, I wobble, and from time to time I have to right myself with a little finger-push from counter or chair.
When I told my 8-year-old grandson that I had to learn to stand on one leg for 5 minutes, he said, “I want to challenge myself,” and he walked over to his mother’s microwave, set the timer and proceeded to stand on one leg for 5 minutes.
Damn! Yes, age matters. A friend sent me a link to an article about how the vestibular system within the inner ear—the mechanism responsible for balance—deteriorates with age. The hair cells that can tell us which end is up begin to die, and once they’re dead, they’re dead.
But I am persevering. Fang Hong says standing on one leg will work, and I believe her, even though I may only be running on two or three hair cells. And although progress has been glacial, the 3 minutes are becoming a bit easier, so much so that I am now beginning to contemplate that I might someday consider moving up to 4 minutes per day. (Notice all the wiggle room I’m giving myself.)
I’m also finding it a bit easier to do the kicks in the form without periodically having to abort one to keep from falling, which makes me very happy.
Over the years, I’ve learned to get back into the energy groove fairly quickly after losing my balance. But it is still jarring.
And, if anybody might be looking, so not cool….