Cheng Man-Ch’ing the famous Tai Chi grandmaster who is among those credited with bringing this ancient martial art to the West said, ‘the only reason for the back of the chair is to hang your coat on’.
Maintaining an upright posture is extremely important when performing the Tai Chi form, an exercise sequence that looks like an effortless slow-motion dance. One of the first things a beginner learns is that the top of the head or ‘crown’ is always suspended by an imaginary cord. The head top or crown is not located in the middle of the head as one might suppose but is slightly to the rear. It can be found by drawing a line from the top of the ears straight up to the top of the head.
This originated in the martial arts as when the crown is suspended the upright head position allows the widest visual field with which to see an opponent. The neck is lengthened, and the chin tucked in slightly to protect the windpipe, the ribcage is lifted so that the diaphragm can work effectively, and the spine is aligned allowing the most efficient use of the body. The Chinese also believed that upright posture helped energy to circulate around the body keeping a person healthy.
In the West where people lead increasingly sedentary lives and back pain is common the ability to sit unsupported in an upright position is often lost. Practised regularly, Tai Chi can help regain this skill by re-educating posture, strengthening the deep postural muscles and relieving back pain.