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Circle, open-close, and up-down stances

This is an excerpt from Tai Chi Illustrated by Pixiang Qiu and Weimo Zhu.


Learn how to perform stances properly in
Tai Chi Illustrated.

Circle Stance

This stance is named for the shape that the arms hold, which is a circle. In this stance, you stand with your legs apart and knees bent, and you form an open circle with your arms in front of your body, with the palms facing each other or angled slightly down toward the Dan Tian. Hold this stance for 3 to 5 minutes and repeat it two to five times, with 5-minute breaks in between.

TIP Make sure your whole body feels as one. In circle stance, for example, rather than feeling your arms and legs separately, you should feel as if you were going to hug someone using your whole body.

1 Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart and keep your body weight divided equally between both legs. Your knees should be bent (slightly at first, but increase the bend as your legs get stronger). Using your arms, form a circle in front of your body. Relax your upper body, keeping it upright, and relax your shoulders. Hold your chin steady, with your eyes looking forward. Breathe naturally with the Dan Tian area relaxed.

2 Bend both knees, keeping the upper body upright in the same vertical line, and relax your shoulders (see figures for a front and side view). Keep an angle of about 45 degrees between your upper arms and upper body. Keep an angle of about 5 to 10 degrees between the forearms and upper arms.

Common mistakes in the circle stance include standing with the legs too close to each other, bending too little or too much, leaning the upper body forward or backward too much, holding the arms too high or too low, and not relaxing the shoulders. Correct these mistakes by separating your legs and distributing your body weight equally between both legs; keeping your whole body upright but relaxed, especially the shoulders; bending your knees at a comfortable angle initially; gradually increasing the bend in your knees; and breathing naturally.

Open–Close Stance

This stance is named for the variation in how the arms are held (i.e., a combination of opened and closed). During the practice, you start in the circle stance position with legs apart, knees bent, and arms in front in a circle. Open your arms slowly until they are at a 45-degree angle from the body, and then close your arms slowly, ending with your hands joined in front of the Dan Tian. Breathe in when your arms are opening and breathe out when they are closing. Breathe in a deep, slow, and relaxed manner at the same speed throughout the opening and closing phases. Repeat 8 to 12 times. The eyes can be slightly closed. Enjoy the relaxed feeling this movement provides.

1 Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart, body weight evenly distributed between both legs, and knees bent. Form a circle using both arms in front of your body, keeping an angle of about 45 degrees between your upper arms and upper body and an angle of 5 to 10 degrees between the forearms and upper arms. Relax your upper body, keeping it upright, and relax your shoulders. Hold your chin steady, with eyes looking forward (eyes can be closed after learning the movement). Breathe naturally.

2 Keep your body weight evenly distributed between both legs and bend your knees. Open both arms, with the upper arms parallel to the ground
and at an angle of 45 degrees to the front
of your body. Breathe in when your arms are opening.

3 With both knees still bent, keep the upper body upright and shoulders relaxed. Return your arms to the starting position, continuing to step 4. Breathe out when your arms are closing.

4 With the knees still bent and shoulders relaxed, move both arms back and down toward the Dan Tian. Stop with your left hand (if you are male) or right hand (if you are female) slightly touching the Dan Tian and the palm of your right hand (males) or left hand (females) touching the back of your left hand (males) or right hand (females). Breathe naturally and focus your mind on the Dan Tian, where you should feel warmth as your skill level improves.

Common mistakes in the open–close stance include standing with the legs too close to each other, bending the knees too little or too much, leaning the upper body forward or backward too much, holding the arms too high or too low, not relaxing the shoulders, straightening the knees when opening the arms, and not coordinating breathing with arm movements. Correct these mistakes by separating your legs and distributing your body weight equally between both legs; keeping your whole body upright but relaxed, especially the shoulders; bending your knees comfortably and increasing the bend gradually; keeping the same degree of bending when your arms open and close; and breathing in while your arms open and breathing out while they close.

Up–Down Stance

This stance is named for its variation in leg movements (i.e., a combination of straight and bent legs). During the practice, you stand with legs shoulder-width apart and raise both arms slowly to the same level as your shoulders. Squat down slowly as your arms move down with the wrists slightly bent, and then return to the original starting position. You breathe in when your arms move up and breathe out when they move down. Breathe in a slow and relaxed manner. Repeat 8 to 12 times. Close your eyes slightly after becoming familiar with the stance and enjoy the relaxed feeling the movement provides.

1 With your upper body upright, stand with both legs straight, about shoulder-width apart, with body weight evenly distributed between both. Raise both arms in front of your body to shoulder level. Breathe in when your arms move up.

2 Keeping your upper body upright, slowly bend your knees while moving your arms down (see figures for a front view and side view). Breathe out when your arms move down. Hold the squat position for 10 to 15 seconds (hold longer as you get stronger), and then stand up, returning to the starting position shown in step 1.

Common mistakes in the up–down stance include standing with the legs too close to each other, leaning the upper body forward or backward too much, holding the arms too high or too low, bending the knees, and not coordinating breathing with arm movements. Correct these mistakes by separating your legs and distributing your body weight evenly between both legs, keeping your whole body upright but relaxed, coordinating your arm movements, bending your knees, and breathing.


Read more from Tai Chi Illustrated by Pixiang Qiu and Weimo Zhu.



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Tai Chi Illustrated
Offers a comprehensive look at the exercise some call “moving meditation.” Full-color photo sequences demonstrate how to perform the most popular tai chi routines making it easy to learn these mind–body exercises and harness the healing power of chi.
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Offers a comprehensive look at the exercise some call “moving meditation.” Full-color photo sequences demonstrate how to perform the most popular tai chi routines and make it easy to learn these mind–body exercises and harness the healing power of chi.
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