1.d.-initial-loosening-exercises Section

Beginners Taiji (Tai Chi) Class Initial Loosening Exercises

In my taiji (tai chi) classes the loosening exercises are there primarily to do that: loosen the body. Loosening involves relaxing the joints and bring some awareness to problem or potential problem areas of the body. Initially some exercises may be used to mechanically loosen stiff joints. This needs to be done before more ‘internal’ type activity can be practised. These exercises teach some elemental leg and torso conditioning and improve basic co-ordination and balance. Some of the exercises are based around postures to be found in the form. All of the exercises work to improve awareness in specific joints using particular movements. Try to focus on that one thing in that exercise.

The exercises start with the stiffest parts of most peoples’ body, the back/waist, chest, hips and shoulders. Try and learn how and where to move them so that they remain loose at all times. Try not to loosen one joint at the expense of stiffening another. As a beginner, at first it may be difficult to see what is going on. Ask questions. If one exercise is particularly troublesome try asking your instructor to watch you or help you personally. Try then to practice it in your own time. As a general rule practice what is difficult not what is easy.

The Loosening Exercises

1. Turning the Waist horizontally – initially keep your hips relatively immobile, turn your waist from side to side. (This is trying to loosen the waist relative to the hips.) Do not mistake turning the hips for turning the waist. Your tummy button should move from side to side. Try it sitting in a chair. (This will immobilise your hips.) Or you can get a partner to hold your hips still. Don’t mistake moving your head, chest or arms for moving your waist. If your navel moves and your hips don’t your are heading in the right direction.

2. Turning the Waist Vertically side to side – imagine sliding your left palm down the left side of your left thigh to touch your left knee without bending your legs or leaning. Then try on the right side. Once you have the idea, try using your waist more and your ribs less. With a little practice try doing the same motion without your head moving. Don’t lift your shoulders or your elbows.

3. Turning the Waist vertically forward / Bowing the Back - Keep your back loose as it flexes. Allow your pelvis and midsection to rotate rather than straightening and bending your legs. This exercise is to aid loosening and subsequently strengthening the lower back. Eventually rotate the waist directly by relaxing and straightening your lower back. Try it sitting down to get the idea. The problem to be overcome is that most people stiffen their pelvis and lower back when they stand up. (Please note this is a mechanism for loosening a stiff part of the body, not a way of moving in taijiquan.)

4. Loosening the Upper Spine (Open and Closing your Chest): without shifting forwards or backwards, flex your upper spine so that you push out with the middle of your chest and then push back with the upper-middle of your back. Don’t move your shoulders to do this. Let your shoulders rotate because your spine is flexing.

5. Loosening the Hips and Shoulders – rotate your arms and legs to loosen your shoulders and hips. This can be done in many ways. For the hips : i) Turning the toes in and out keeping the knees and toes moving together, ii) Moving the hips from Side to side and iii) Circling the Hips - these are designed to loosen your hips and get you used to using your legs and hips rather than stiffening your back muscles to move your weight. Using what you have learned in standing (Zhan Zhuang) practice; keep your body straight and relaxed and move in a circle facing forward in the second.exercise and from side to side in the third exercise. For the shoulders, rotating the arm in a very large vertical circle to the side of your body without your shoulder rising or stiffening, (forearm past the ear,) in both forward and backward rotations, on left and right side. Relax your shoulder as you do these slowly.

Generally speaking try to keep the body as relaxed as possible. Identify where the body is stiff and work to loosen it. These exercises are designed to highlight and help loosen the stiffest parts of the body.