Sitting While Standing
“Sit!” I have heard my teacher, William Ting say it a million times, and I have said it to my students a million times. Sitting while standing is at the heart of every tai chi posture, and, in fact, just about all sports. I asked my students, “Can you think of any sport where we are not sitting while standing?” One student quipped, “Swimming?” Yup!!! Sitting while standing is so important that to have the proper tai chi posture, you must learn to sit while standing. With practice and experience you will do all the movements of your form while feeling as if you are sitting in a chair. Your legs will become stronger, and they will be solidly rooted into the floor.
Sitting in a Chair
In everyday life, when we lower our body into a chair, we relax and let everything go down as we settle into the chair. The hip joints bend inward as the knees bend forward. When
lowering into a chair we just let our trunk and knees go where they feel comfortable because the chair supports us. This is how we want to feel when we are standing. And even though there is no chair or stool under us, we feel as if there is one under us that supports us as we settle into it. To refine it even more, we really want our SIT BONES (see picture at right) to settle into that supporting chair or stool. To find them in your body, sit at the edge of a chair with your back straight. Your sit bones are what contacts the chair. Here is a good video about the sit bones: (Where are your hip joints and sit-bones? EXPLAINED). The following article explains how we use the sit bones in our tai chi postures, whether standing or shifting our weight.
Properly Shifting the Weight in Tai Chi
Just about every martial art uses the Horse-Riding stance as a foundational posture. In fact, most tai chi styles begin and end their form in a variation of a high horse stance. To do
a proper horse stance, lower yourself as if unto a stool (see image). Your trunk goes slightly back, and your knees go slightly forward, depending on how low you go. In the picture, the practitioner is sitting in a low stance and his quas (hip joints) are deeply bent. If you can sit this low, that is excellent, but this may be too hard for most people, so only go as low as is comfortable for you. However, I encourage my students to challenge themselves and sit a little lower because it strengthens the legs, and it allows them to feel things they would not if they were standing in a higher stance. But whether you sit low or you are almost standing, you want to feel as if there is a stool under you that is supporting your weight. Let go of the hip joints so that they sink down and your sit bones are sinking into a chair. Because your quas are sinking, your knees feel as if they are moving forward and slightly up. The more you sink your quas, the more you will feel your knees go up.
The Horse Stance is the foundation of all the stances. In fact, when you shift your weight forward into a Bow stance or shift back into a Back Stance, in essence, what you are doing is keeping the horse stance but changing the weight distribution from 50-50 to a different proportion. But your legs are basically doing what they did in the horse stance. In other words, to change from a 50-50 weight distribution, you either shift forward or backward. And, as you transfer the weight, you maintain the sinking of the hips, quas and sit bones. You don’t just simply shift forward or back; you must maintain the sinking of the sit bone and the bending of your qua.
The point that I am making is that shifting weight from leg to leg is done by sinking the sit bone, and not by simply moving forward or back. Most players shift their weight forward to
bring their spine closer to the knee to give them support. When you do that, you shorten the distance between the hip and the knee which is not what you want because you lessen your rooting, your balance is compromised, and you lack power. Just shifting your weight will work to a point, but it should only be for beginners because it is not as stable or rooted as when you do it by sinking. Not only that, when you are sitting, you are sinking which “opens” your spine to create power and energy pathway between your legs and arms. As your weight moves either forward or backward toward the supporting leg, you feel your sit bones sink.
For example, when stepping into Brush Knee or any Bow stance, as your weight begins to fill the front leg, you let go of the bottom of the thigh, and feel as if the sit bone is lowering into a chair. Do it by sinking rather than shifting. It is the difference between sitting ON your hips and sitting IN your hips. When you sit ON your hips your feet are on the surface. When you sit IN your hips, you are solidly rooted. You will find that because your leg is relaxing and letting go, it settles into the floor and feels rooted. Your qua will bend deeper, and you will be more stable and have more power. The more your quas “open”, the more power can be generated in the upper body.
Activity: Bow and Arrow Stance
From a back stance or horse stance start shifting into a bow and arrow stance with your left leg forward. As you shift, feel your left qua bending to allow your sit bone to sink onto an imaginary stool. As the qua bends and sinks, the knee moves away from the qua and feels as if it is rising. At the same time, you right knee feels as if it is moving away from your hip and feeling as if it is slightly going down.
Activity: Back Stance
When in a Back Stance, feel as if the rear leg is sinking into an imaginary stool that is supporting you. Again, notice the bend in the hip and the bend in the knee and how the hip moves away from the knee. Also note that the front leg is sinking into the floor.
The reverse is also true. When shifting into a back stance, as the back leg is getting the weight, the sit bone begins to sink into the imaginary chair.
Of course, we have two legs, so the other leg sinks as well. You feel it go deep into the ground to balance the back leg. That is rooting.
As was mentioned above, it is important to feel as if the hip and knee are moving in opposite directions (2). To feel this, your qua (hip joint) must sink (1). To be even more precise, it is
the sit bone sinking that opens the qua. As the sit bone sinks, the knee will feel as if it is trying to rise (3). If you do not feel these three things (the qua bending, the knee moving away from the hip, and the knee slightly lifting) then take another look at how you are moving. Also, to feel these things, the head must be lifted. If the head is not lifted, the lower part of the body becomes too heavy and places too much weight on the knees, which then closes the qua and the spine. If your hip is sinking, it needs the lifting of the head to act as a counterbalance.
Sitting while standing is paramount for a correct tai chi posture. When you sink the sit bones, the quas open more, the hips tuck under by themselves, the ming-men (lower back) opens more, and your stance is much more rooted.