5 minute read

Inspiration for Rooting and Lengthening in Chicago

On November 9, I'll be teaching a seminar for my friend Chris Cinnamon at Enso Tai Chi (registration details here).

This year we'll continue the "Put More Chi in Your Tai Chi" theme that we started last year by focusing on Tai Chi Rooting, Sinking Chi, Dissolving, and more.

The goal is to give everyone a clear sense of how nourishing it can be to find your root and feed it through solo exercises and interactive partner practice. Basically, you learn to continuously release and dissolve tension, stress, and pain, but more than just shedding uncomfortable feelings, you actually tap into a restorative wellspring of energy that keeps bubbling up the more you go down into it.

If you're in the area, come join us for a great day of training!

For background on the seminar, it helps to understand the different facets of Tai Chi Rooting.

Two Kinds of Tai Chi Rooting

My Push Hands teacher Don Miller explains that there are two kind of "root" in Tai Chi: intrinsic root and situational root.

Intrinsic root is the degree of root you are either born with, or have developed through practice over time, that spills into everything you do. Think of the most grounded person you know. They exude a high degree of intrinsic root, either physically or emotionally.

Many of the fruits of Tai Chi practice have to do with increasing your intrinsic root and this is often why we see people mellow or soften as their practice matures.

Cultivating Intrinsic Root

The most common way to build intrinsic root in Tai Chi is through standing practices, either holding qigong postures or postures drawn directly from the Tai Chi form.

Of course, you're not just "standing around." You have to go through several stages to get to rooting.

  • First, you have to land the mind inside the body, or at least on, and begin to become present to sensations other than pain and discomfort.
  • Then, you have to let the mind soak deeper and deeper into the body, transforming the tissues, making them wetter, heavier, and denser. This will happen naturally, like water soaking into a sponge, as circulation of fluids and chi increases.
  • Finally, as you refine your posture and alignments, the heavy feeling will move through you, instead of just weighing you down (which is a sign of internal collapse). You start to feel lighter and more open, but someone lifting up your arms or legs would still perceive the heaviness.

In some standing qigong methods, like Opening the Energy Gates, there is also a method for refining your sense of blocked internal energy, so that you begin to "dissolve" blocked chi. While dissolving is a healthy practice to undertake for its own sake, in this context, it gives you an extra advantage: as you become more aware of your internal energy, you start to feel the "chi of ____." In other words, you feel the chi of your leg or your kidneys or your feet.

In the context of rooting, you begin to notice that your mind, and therefore your chi, has jumped up into your head, and is no longer feeding your root through your legs....and you notice this right before you go flying away!

Rooting as a Response

In the following video, I show how situational root, or rooting as a response to another person, has to do with finding just the right amount of sinking and grounding, not fighting or running away.

Here again, Lee I-Yu's advice from The Essentials of the Practice of the Form and Push Hands is very helpful:

Desiring to attract to emptiness and deflect a thousand pounds, first you must know yourself and others. If you want to know yourself and others, you must give up yourself and follow others. If you give up yourself and follow others, first you must have the correct timing and position. To obtain the correct timing and position, you must first make your body one unit. Desiring to make the body one unit, you must first eliminate hollows and protuberances. To make the whole body without breaks or holes, you must first have the shen [spirit of vitality] and ch'i [vital life energy] excited and expanded. If you want the shen and ch'i activated and expanded, you must first raise the spirit (pay attention) and the shen should not be unfocussed. To have your shen not unfocussed, you must first have the shen and ch'i gather and penetrate the bones. Desiring the shen and ch'i to penetrate the bones, first you must strengthen the two thighs and loosen the two shoulders and let the ch'i sink down.

In other words, what makes situational root work is listening to the other person and responding to them at the right time, with the right sensitivity, with unified energy and an open body.

What that will look like in your practice, over time, is something like:

  • Learn to feel your body
  • Sink your chi
  • Open your energy field and correct alignments so that the physical body helps the energy become as full as possible
  • Add more complex movements that challenge your ability to stay present to your own internal state
  • Learn interactive practices that teach you to tune into someone else's movement and energy
  • and finally, practice being grounded in the face of challenging interactions

Of course, like all Taoist learning processes, this one is circular. So while there are stages of skills to master here, you will also find that every time you go back to something earlier on the list, you will get more and more depth and richness out of it.

In the November 9 workshop, we will try to touch on as much of this as possible, including techniques for unifying the body and energy, sinking and dissolving chi, feeding the root through interactive practices, and also exploring how to use the solo Tai Chi form as a vessel for integrating as much of this as possible. Learn more here.