I performed my tai chi in the yard outside today, under the huge maple tree that shades most of the yard. It’s a sugar maple, the sort that gives maple syrup, although to tap this tree would likely yield only enough sap to produce a teaspoon or two of syrup. Very expensive syrup, in that quantity, I imagine.
I started with qi gong, as I usually do, and particularly with Five Golden Coins. The last action in Five Golden Coins is Carry Milk to Heaven, which involves sinking down by squatting or bending one’s knees, bending at the waist, reaching behind, and then rising again with the visualization that one is carrying two large and sloshing pails of milk upwards as your hands rise to maximum extent over your head. I’m not sure this explanation made any sense at all, but there you go. Maybe my Thirty Days of Making project will be a picture for you all. Probably not.
Any way, during this movement I had a lot of difficulty keeping my feet on the floor. This is fairly typical, I realized, as I finished this first qi gong series and entered the second, called Eight Pieces of Silk. Here, a portion of the exercise, the squat, stands alone without all the fancy arm movements. Guess what? Feet rising off the floor, becoming unbalanced, losing my dance with gravity.
Houston, we have a problem. I love problems like this, though, because they require me to think deeply about body dynamics, gravity, and movement.
Let’s think this through. First of all, I’m supposed to keep my knee no farther forward than the tips of my toes. That’s to prevent damage to the ligaments attached to my knee and ankle. So the calf, the portion of the leg between ankle and knee, is supposed to remain fairly rigid during this exercise. The really critical movement of this exercise, then, is the squat — the lowering of body weight toward the floor relative to that knee. In effect, I’m cantilevering the weight of my whole body relative to those parts below the knee.
Curiously enough, of course, it’s my toes and the ball of my foot that pop off the earth first. Which means that what I’m failing at is finding the resilient balance point in my own dynamic movement — the place where the weight of my cantilevered body is supported; and my knees are not further forward than the tips of my toes. I’m sinking too low in my squat.