Roots run deep
The idea of rooting oneself is important in Tai Chi and Qigong. Stated simply, your root is your ability to sense your connection to the ground. It is the foundation upon which you build your practice. “You must sink your chi,” says every teacher/website/book on Tai Chi and Qigong. Developing root is one way to accomplish just that!
Imagine for a moment that you’re a tree. You stand straight and tall. Your trunk is firm, but not rigid. Your branches extend from your truck, pushing lightly upward and outward. From the bottom of your feet strong roots nestle firmly and deeply into the packed ground, essentially making you an integrated part of the Earth.
Having a strong root means that your body is aligned in such a way that allows your muscles to relax, which in turn allows your attention to extend down into the Earth, giving you a greater awareness of balance and strength.
Here are the 3 components in a little more depth:
1. Align the body – This is your stance. All of joints are stacked in a natural fashion, allowing it to stand comfortably upright, almost by itself. A stacked stance allows the muscles to relax. Specifically, the knees are directly over the toes, the hips are tucked, the upper body is tilted slightly forward, the spine is long, the neck is lightly tucked, and the shoulders and chest are dropped.
2. Relax the muscles – Let your bones and tendons do most of the work. Try to use the minimal amount of energy needed to maintain the stance. This is contrary to our natural habit of pushing upward, off of the ground. A tense muscle causes electrical interference, making it difficult to read beyond that point. When your muscles are relaxed, your attention is free to move down through the body.
3. Sink your attention – When you’re sufficiently relaxed, you’ll be able to feel gravity pulling you downward. Hold that feeling and let it take your attention down through your body, out your feet, and into the ground. The deeper into the ground, the better. Also, spread outward. Imagine a network of roots penetrating into the Earth, holding you firmly to the ground.
What’s a root for anyway?
Developing root can increase your energy level. The process of relaxing your body may reveal that you tend to hold a lot of tension in specific places, such as your shoulders, lower back, etc. That tension requires energy to maintain. Once you’ve released those muscles, you’ll discover a well of energy that was previously being taken up by habitual and superfluous tensions.
When you send your attention into the ground, you are pushing your limits to sense the world around you. The ground beneath your feet is an excellent resource in this regard because it is always right there, underneath you, immediately available at all times. And your sense of it is always changing. Your weight subtly shifts from one leg to the other, making it a challenge for your mind to follow, keeping you alert.
Of course, the intimate knowledge you gain by paying attention to the ground helps you immensely with your sense of balance. Through continued practice, that ground-sense will be more readily available to you. This can help with a variety of other activities — preventing accidents and improving performance.
Root in action
Here’s a video of Grandmaster Sam Tam applying root in a pushing application.
Do you have any experiences with root? Find any instances in which your practice has helped? Have any questions? Leave a comment below.