Sunday 30 November 2014


Several students have recenlty said, "I can't balance", almost ignoring the fact that it takes balance to walk, which they manage perfectly well. What they really mean is they can't easily stand on one leg without wobbling or feeling unsteady. Blanket statements like, “I can't balance”, only reinforce a negative belief whether it's actually true or not. As humans we do like to think our beliefs are true and that often means a resistance to letting them go so there's no room for change. In this case it's the thought process that's in the way of finding the possibility of balance.

Taijiquan is a method of training oneself in all aspects of balance. Physically we become more stable as we feel a deeper connection through our feet and carry less tension in the upper body. Emotionally we become more centred by feeling where we over extend or are pulled by a reactive mind. Mentally we become more present by resting in the physical sensations of the body (the body is always in the present).

So our practice includes the whole person, inside and out. How we think and how we respond to our thoughts are equally important in terms of balance. One of the best pieces of advise I've ever been given is, “Don't believe everything you think!”

Mental/Emotional Balance

There are many things that cause imbalance: fear, stress, excitement, etc. All of these states are mental or emotional, you can't actually see or touch them. Of course you can see the results of them, you can see how they affect people, but they are all internal, they only exist inside a person, they are all created by thoughts. For example, when someone says they are afraid of dogs, it's not necessarily an actual dog as they can still feel some level of fear even when there are no dogs near them. The fear is caused by the thought of what a dog might do, jump up at you or bite you, even though it's not actually happening. Stress is a form of fear or anxiety. I'm not talking about big traumatic life threatening situations that trigger fight or flight survival responses, rather the day to day thought patterns that take you into either thinking what might happen in a future situation, or remembering what happened in a past situation. Neither of these are real (because they are not happening right now) but they can still set off a stress response throwing you off balance mentally and/or emotionally.

Next time you feel stressed, ask yourself if it is real or are you just thinking yourself into stress. If it is real, is there something you can do about it? If it's just your thinking, and you can recognise that, then you can choose to think differently. Simple, but not necessarily easy. It takes the practise of awareness, observation, and honesty. The results are very worthwhile.

Physical Balance

If you can walk unaided but feel unstable when trying to stand on one leg, there are many possible causes... fear of falling for example, or maybe a deeper belief that was planted in childhood that you're clumsy/unsteady on your feet. It can also be a disconnection from spacial awareness – so the more you can feel where your body is in space and its structural alignment, the more stable you will feel.
Have you ever noticed how a table or chair with four legs needs a very flat even surface to be stable, but a stool with only three legs can be stable on practically any surface? We only have two feet, but within each foot there is the stability of a tripod. Try this exercise...

While standing, bring attention down into the feet and feel how they contact the ground. This means feeling the sensations of pressure on the soles as gravity draws your body weight down into earth. Let the feet soften, gently move the body to feel the 'spot' where the weight is evenly spread between the centre of the heel, the ball of the big toe, and the ball of the little toe. William Chen, one of Cheng Man Ching's senior students, called these three points 'The Three Nails'. These three points are like a tripod and you have two of them! When this becomes familiar try it with your weight mainly on just one leg by feelng the 'tripod' in one foot, making sure the body is vertically aligned through that foot with your centre of gravity lowered, then allow the other foot to begin to float slightly off the ground. As the foot rises, make sure your body alingment (spine/central axis) stays vertical so that gravity continues to pull down through your foot and not off to one side. With practise your awareness and confidence will increase and you can let the 'empty' foot float higher and higher without disturbing your balance.