When the light is on in the living room, the motions of tai chi become visible to me as shadows on the north wall of my office. It becomes impossible to miss the rather large bulge below my pectorals, which never appears to get any smaller. On the other hand, this same shadow helps me correct my posture, and it helps me control the shape of my stomach bulge, by helping me find and manage the root.
I think it would be easy to mistake the root for something dirty, but it’s not the same thing. There’s a cluster of muscle and ligament down below the belly button, and tightening this cluster has interesting effects. It straightens my lower spine, for one. It makes it harder, but more effective, to do the twist postures like Bend the Bow and Bend the Bow to Shoot the Hawk (which despite their names and physical similarity, I’ve discovered are not the same posture). Holding the root flattens my belly. It doesn’t make it disappear, to be sure — this isn’t a cloak of invisibility. But it is a method for strengthening and empowering the muscles of the lower abdomen, groin and upper legs.
The thing is, you have to hold it tight. At the moment, it’s all I can do to hold it for some of the postures, some of the repetitions. Those repetitions are HARD, because the body is in tension against itself, and I’m trying to three battles: one against gravity, one against the tension of my muscles, and one against the theoretical opponent. Attending to all three energies requires trained balance, and this means not giving up on holding the root while also keeping one’s feet on the floor.
But when the root is held strongly enough — the knees have to bend more, to put more weight on the feet, to hold one’s balance and center of gravity. It’s all very tricky, and I don’t for a moment believe I’ve mastered any of this yet. I can just point to the insight, and hope that I can keep it in mind as I delve deeper.