Whether you practice Tai Chi or classical Kung Fu styles like Northern Shaolin, Xing Yi Quan, Lan Shou Quan, San Huang Pao Chui, or Ba Gua Zhang you will learn and practice stances. Stances are the formation of your legs when you are not stepping. Stances include your hips and waist and your legs and feet. Your stances are the foundation of your castle, make them as strong, perfect, and beautiful as you can.
Frist, for every stance you point your feet in the correct direction, line up your knees to a healthy strong position, and level your hips. Then, bend your knees to lower your center of gravity downward. Lowering your center of gravity improves your connection to the ground, steadies your balance, and makes it harder for you to fall or be thrown.
You only want to sink as low as you can without comprising the healthy position of your knees or tilting your pelvis. If your hips are tight, they will cause your knees to collapse inward straining your anterior cruciate ligament inside your knee or the lumber vertebrae of your lower back to misalign. Both of these conditions cause tension, pain, and long term negative effects if continued. The key here is to keep your knees and hips properly aligned, stretch your hip joints open, and relax all the muscles of your pelvic region. With deep breathing into your lower abdomen, you can effectively release tension in the pelvic region and open your hips. This will allow you to maintain a healthy structure and lower your stances.
Lowering your stances requires both more flexibility and strength, but also more relaxation and awareness. At first most of us have relatively stiff and inflexible bodies when we begin training. Increasing our flexibility and relaxing may be one of the main reasons we start Tai Chi or Kung Fu. Even flexing our knees and relaxing into a simple horse or bow stance can be a real challenge. The challenge can be both flexibility and strength combined with tension. Oddly, relaxing the tension at first feels great but soon actually increases the pressure on your major leg muscles. This occurs because in a stiff body much of the body’s weight is carried by the joints in a rigid position. This requires less strength and effort, but it is brittle and weaker as a structure and puts strain on the joints causing increased wear over time. Ideally, we want to relax our muscles profoundly, open our joints, rebalance our skeletal system, and then breathe deeply to circulate the blood and Qi through every nook and cranny of the body. This allows our body to heal naturally.
Creating this relaxed structure also create as a powerful and responsive frame for executing powerful combat techniques and skillfully avoiding danger. As you deeply relax your upper body your breathing naturally sinks lower in your body and your center of gravity tends lower. This feels grounding and centering, especially when combined with deep breathing into the belly. Stance training becomes strenuous when you relax your upper body, then your legs and thighs in particular are really supporting your weight. You can be in the same level of low stance and then relax your upper body, immediately your thighs will feel far greater effort and strain.
A good trick is convincing yourself this particular feeling of strain is good for you, good for your skills, good for your strength, good for mind, perhaps even good for your disposition. Then relax deeply into your stances every day and deeply experience that feeling of thigh burning strain until you banish it from your world entirely. Then, your stances will make your opponents feel like they are pushing a rock half buried in the ground and you will feel little strain while they exhaust their strength trying to move you. Your movements will also become more fluid and graceful as you find your legs have the strength and relaxed openness to support your body with an energized, balanced quality of movement. The period of strain while your legs develop and you build the foundation of your art is brief and the benefits long lasting and profound.