We never think about them until they hurt! But improving your awareness and ability to flow energy through your feet is one of the best things you can do in Taichi for health, balance, and keeping the advantage in pushing hands.
There are amazing stories of Taichi masters who seemed to defy gravity by being light on their feet! Master Liao told a story of his own master once playing a trick on the local kids in his Taiwan town who paid him a visit. The old master placed a line of eggs on the ground, saying “I can walk across these eggs without breaking them!” He then walked across them without breaking them, as promised. The skeptical kids pointed and challenged him, “Hey, old man! You’re cheating. Those are hard-boiled eggs.” The old master said, “Oh really?” and to prove himself, picked up the raw eggs one by one and threw them at those kids who ran away amazed.
The goal in Taichi is to be truly “light and limber.” However, our daily battle with gravity can make it feel like we are walking heavy on our feet. As Master Waysun Liao says, “We are even in conflict with the Earth on which we stand with every step we take.”
How we use our feet in Taichi matters! Our normal ways of standing and walking are very mechanical and clumsy, creating a series of falls and impacts with the ground that put us and our joints at the mercy of gravity. In Taichi, we never want to lose our conscious sensitivity and awareness of any part of our body, especially our feet. This is why one of the first exercises we learn is how to stand and shift our weight properly, using meditation, suspension, and flow. This is very different than the unconscious clomping and stomping we do throughout the day.
Footwork and stance, and working with gravity — not in conflict or at the mercy of it — is so important. That’s why Master Waysun Liao provides a one-hour streaming video course on the right way to work with the feet in Taichi and Qigong. In this lesson recorded in 2011, Master Liao gives you exclusive instruction on how to use stance work, simple standing meditations, and a focus on points on the feet to keep yourself agile and able to move effortlessly from one position to the next. You’ll learn how to couple vertical suspension with flexibility in your knees so that you can cooperate with gravity instead of falling victim to it. You’ll develop critical sensitivity in your feet to respond to any changing conditions. You’ll benefit from what his own master taught him about defying gravity by tapping into the wisdom of the lizard, the construction of the fetus, the energy of the toddler, and more.
On a more practical level, these Taichi and Qigong exercises can also improve your overall balance and proprioception in addition to the general awareness of your feet. They can also help you learn how to relieve pressure on the joints in your lower extremities, preventing pain and overuse injury. (Did you know that Taichi has been proven to reduce falls in older adults, and improve foot sensitivity in diabetics? Here’s the research!)
The principles and exercises you’ll learn in this course can be incorporated into any Taichi style and any Taichi form. These are important principles for all Taichi students to know — at whatever level of study they may be — from beginner to professional instructor.
These practice tips can also be used throughout your day! You can work on suspension, shifting through points on your feet, and moving internally to remove pressure from your feet while standing in line at the grocery store, or anytime you find yourself needing to stand. The bonus? You’ll soon find that long periods of standing will no longer tire you out and that you’ll be standing long after everyone around you is slumping over or looking for a chair.