Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2010
Written by  Andrew Mertens

The 4th Tai Chi principle: Turn the waist

Over the past few months I have been attempting to explain the five basic principles of the Chinese martial art and health exercise Tai Chi Chaun. I have already covered (1) relax (2) body upright and (3) separate yin and yang. This brings us to the fourth: Turn the waist. All of these principles are to be practiced together. The Tai Chi player is asked to be totally relaxed everywhere while moving through the form with the head floating upward, avoiding leaning and taking empty steps. All of the movements are directed by the waist; the arms and legs never move without propulsion from the center. This is the fourth principle, but it is also so much more.

The main reason I began learning Tai Chi was for its healing aspects and one of the most powerful “tricks” that I always pass on to my students and QE clients has to do with this fourth principle. So many of us keep our attention and power in the head and the shoulders; if we can’t hear someone, our heads lean forward. If we can’t see something, we crane the neck for a closer look. The intellectual rubs his temples or rests his head in his hands while thinking through some existential dilemma. Chinese medicine speaks of a host of troubles from too much chi being stuck in the head. The fix is easy: Move the chi down. How to do it may not be so easy.

We start with the acupuncture point Tan tien: Three of your fingers below your belly button, with your first finger in your umbilicus, directly under your third finger on your center line is Tan tien. It is said that the actual location is three units toward the front of the body and seven units from the back. It is about a fist-sized area that is an energy plexus. This is the place to put your attention. This is the place to put your mind. By moving from this point, we can gain great balance and awareness of the things in our environment. Before we were born, we were connected to our mother’s body through the umbilicus and all of our nutrition and excretion came through that point. Although we are no longer connected to our mothers, the energetics of that connection is still there. It is very common for us to hear that someone had a “gut” feeling about something or an athlete who performed so much better when he was able to get out of his head and play from his gut. This is that fourth principal.

An exercise to try: Find acupuncture point Lao Gung, directly in the center of your palm. Tap the center of each palm a few times and feel the location of that point. Locate acupuncture point Tan Tien, three fingers below the belly button. Tap that location a few times and feel the location of that point. Take the right hand and place the palm center directly over Tan Tein. Then take the left hand and place it directly over the palm center of the left hand. You will have the two palm centers lined up with the Tan Tien. You may do this standing or lying down; sitting is a little more difficult. Spend five to 10 minutes feeling the warmth of your hands on your belly while you breathe into your hands. On the inhale, the belly should rise pushing into the hands and on the exhale the belly should fall, bringing the hands down. Relax and see if you can put your mind in that area. This can help with a host of physical and mental maladies if done correctly. My great grand teacher, Cheng Man Cheng, said that this was the great secret of Tai Chi and the reason for his martial and healing abilities. If you find you are having trouble or success with the exercise feel free to call, e-mail or come to one of my classes. I have found that even when I give detailed instructions to students or clients they will do some variation where things are not quite lined up. This is not a big deal if you have a teacher to correct mistakes, but a student learning from a book or a video may not get the great benefits that are available to the practitioner of this art.

Andrew Mertens is the director of the Oshkosh Tai Chi Center and a certified Quantum Energetics practitioner. He will be teaching a 4-week Tai chi stretching class at 12 p.m. starting Thursday, Jan. 5 at the Oshkosh Senior Center. Cost is $40. Mertens holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Lawrence University and a Bachelor of Science degree from the New Physiology Institute. He is also a professional bassist and founding member of The Jazz Orgy. For questions about Tai chi, e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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