Skip to main content

ruminations on posture

Standing with head gently erect, eyes straight ahead.  Why is it so hard?   

Wherever you take a t’ai chi class,  from whichever teacher in whatever town or village in the world, you will hear at some point,  imagine a long thread,  stretching from the crown of your head, to the sky.    it’s almost always something I say at the beginning of each class (after all the other postural instructions, starting from the feet).     

it’s quite an image,  though,  your crown attached umbilically to the heavens,  and we may struggle a bit trying to visualize it, let alone to enact, and then to stay like this throughout the one hour class!   Don’t feel discouraged.  Almost no-one can manage it.  I tell my class that it’s probably the hardest part of the pose and the form — keeping your eyes focused ahead, your head relaxed on the stem of your neck.   

 does anyone really do it?

Here's one example of a woman found in Prospect Park, striding purposefully, with great joy, head held implausibly erect.   I marveled and asked if I could shoot some video of her walking.  Without a doubt,  seeing people like her is very unusual.   I think you'd only see a walk like this in Prospect Park  or on a dance stage.  And indeed, it turned out she's a dancer.  

Most of the time, you won't see anyone like this on the streets.  If you live in New York,  or in any older City,  you have the pretty good excuse of old, cracked and uneven sidewalks.  There are tree roots  pushing up whole sections of sidewalk and you need to look down so as not to go flying! my students tell me.  Hm, maybe,  I think to myself.     

more reasons 
Here's another reason -- a wild guess admittedly,  into an area where I probably have no business venturing.  Postural Sociology  (Yes,  I completely made that up)  

What this means is that many of us in densely populated areas look anywhere but into the eyes of a stranger when we cross paths.  Rather than holding our heads up and greeting the person who’s walking towards us  the way they do in rural parts and in smaller cities, like New Orleans,  we look down.  We look sideways.  We look through the person,  we gaze vaguely in the direction of their solar plexus.   

I know what you're thinking.  It’s considered urban courtesy to not look at the stranger facing us.   They have their reasons, those city folk.  You don't look a bear in the eye, nor a New Yorker.   

But I bemoan this custom.  I never felt happier than when walking out of my little room onto the street in New Orleans, where I lived briefly, to be greeted by someone I'd never seen before with  “hi, babe, how are you?”  accompanied with a large smile.  Wow!  I wondered, why don’t they do this in Brooklyn? 

shifting one's culture: proceed with caution!
I tried my best to import the custom, with mixed results.  Back home, when I asked my mail carrier, “Hey, how are you today?”  she eyed me suspiciously and scurried up the next flight of stairs she was obligated to climb, her mail bag tucked securely under her arm.   

But then walking in Prospect Park,  where people are more relaxed, I tossed the question to almost everyone and got some different results.  People who were foreign-born seemed more inclined to answer.  But they seemed to think I wanted to have a conversation, maybe that I was lonely.  As I was walking on the perimeter road one afternoon,  I needed to extricate myself from one of these conversations with a guy from Italy,  and was completely taken aback by what happened when I asked an elderly Hasidic man.  As we were facing one another,  stopped on the path that runs through the wooded part of the park, after I said, with what I thought was a casual   'How are you?'  he said with a plaintive tone,  “Are you happy?”  

That’s a whole different kind of answer than what’s expected!    But  I answered the Hasidic man.   “I have some problems, but I’m basically OK.  What about you?” …   “I’m not very happy,”  he said.  He then proceeded to tell me that it was his home -- It's so noisy and crowded.  There are so many people, he said.         

It was fascinating.  Here was a man who really had been wishing someone he didn’t know would ask him how he was doing.   But clearly this is impossible for every day.  Maybe we  walk with an attitude of invisibility  because there’s just too many people we pass and you never know who might actually need to talk.  Who has the time?    

out on a limb

So, going out admittedly on a very slender limb  -- maybe because of this, when we're inside the studio, our urban habits make it hard to hold our heads up and aim our eyes like daggers, fiercely , yet calmly enough to slay an opponent ( Hawkes, my erstwhile teacher, would tell us,  you can kill with your eyes!)    Instead,  within less than a minute,  as we go through our qi gong exercises,   I watch as heads begin to droop and face the floor as though there are jewels enbedded in the floor boards.   In addition to some ill-defined concerns about their t'ai foot positioning,  my students are engaging in a gesture that says don’t bother me!   

Here's the perfectly executed t'ai chi head -- it's not a lofty posture, there's a bit of relaxed neck in it, there's the tiniest downward slant, as though Master Cheng were watching a boat out on an imaginary horizon.  But you'll see -- Master Cheng's eyes are focused straight ahead.  

 Cheng Man Chi’ing  -- founder of the Yang short form 

next month, part II...


Popular posts from this blog

Maiden Post

Hello everyone,   this is my maiden post for this new blog.  What's it supposed to be or do?   I hope that we engage on some of the applied lessons of t'ai chi -- find examples and stories from our daily lives where t'ai chi can come in handy.  I will try to catch them in my web-mind to save for posting, or keep my ears peeled for others' stories and welcome you to do the same.

I'll also post my weekly class schedule, for students of mine, in and around Brooklyn.

Fall classes this month

 The week of Oct. 15,  2018

Class, Wednesday, OCT 17, class is on

            Thursday, Sept 18  at Spoke the Hub is on

Please note...Friday classes will be cancelled for the foreseeable future 

where:  spoke the Hub, 748 Union Street
              By train, the R to Union or the 2,3 to Grand Army Plaza

Hope to see you soon!  

Just posted a new entry on this blog,  "Ruminations on Posture"  Check it out!

Check out this addition  (a link to an article put out by the Harvard Gazette…

When stuff is lying around on the floor

When I started this blog, I promised to write about how to incorporate t'ai chi into every day life -- walking around,  in the house, on an icy sidewalk -- and I haven't kept my word.  I've been writing about all kinds of things --   your carrying-the-ball hands,  t'ai chi villages in China --   but not about the mundane and for that I apologize.

And I'm going to change that here, when I talk about how to deal, in a t'ai chi way, with stuff lying around on the floor.  You may have something that is always there, that you need to walk around,  occasionally pick up,  maybe curse at it a little.  Maybe you've got a small step leading into a room.

In my case, it's Violet, my catahoula leopard dog.  She was a rescue, with a sad story, and a very sensitive disposition.  How I got her.   I had had a couple of catahoulas, and knew and liked this breed, that rumor has it, was developed in Louisiana (There's a parish of Catahoula).   It's an impossible,…