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The importance of Skeletal Structure in positive health and Taiji Qigong

Understanding, being aware of, becoming part of your structured support system begins with your Skeleton. I remember one of my teachers saying to me that I should practice as though I was just bones. It is worth, for a moment each day to pay attention to your bones, by-passing your muscles and other soft tissues. What you are looking for is an active sense of your skeleton. This idea at first seemed very strange to me, but after practice I realised that if not for this structure how would I be me?

The Skeleton is an amazing structure, naturally designed to support us effortlessly, each bone being contoured to facilitate the function it serves. Minor shifts in posture or placement can therefore make a difference in the overall system.

As we have mentioned a number of times before, it is important that you understand your joints and keep them as mobilised as possible. For the purpose of this article we will begin with the feet and ankles, then move progressively up the body.

The feet and their contact to the ground are the foundation for all aspects of our physical and emotional support for our “grounding”. Many of us only use part of our feet, often neglecting the balance, which we get from our heels, they have a direct relationship to the stability of the Ankle, Knee and Hip joints. Attention to the feet is often the most effective way of correcting walking problems and discomfort. The key is to think of the “Nine Nails” of the foot, the heels, out-step, instep the centre of the foot and all the toes, and bring your awareness to balancing your weight between them.

Developing a sense of the width of your heel is especially important, the wider your heel, the less likely your ankles are to collapse inwards (pronation) or outwards (supination). This conscious awareness of how your foot interacts with the ground is an important part of Tai Chi Chuan practice, but more importantly it takes care of one’s overall structural health.

The Knees are an important discussion point in Tai Chi Chuan, and there are a number of views, however, it is my experience that the knees become “ill” when the range of movement is reduced in the hips, ankles or feet. When the knees move in ways they are not designed to move, then you are asking for trouble.

The surface of the knee-joint is large, and the joint is stabilised by a system of strong connective tissue. The shin-bone (Tibia) is a dense weigh-bearing shaft, with a head that creates a broad platform for the Thigh-bone (Femur) to connect into. Correct alignment of the shaft and platform of the Tibia promotes healthy movement of the knee, and supports the hip and upper body. Remember the foundation of this alignment is the foot. Major circulatory vessels pass through the back of the knee. These pathways can be compressed if you lock or push your knees backwards – don’t do it! It is bad for you, look at how you use the back of the knees in any activity you undertake. Tai Chi Chuan emphasises that you should maintain a slight, soft bend in your knees which encourages circulation through these pathways.

When looking at the hips, we first need to locate the hip-joints before we can correctly mobilise this joint. In the first instance, the joints are very low and work like a hinge. To find the joints, bend your knees slightly, keep your back straight and lean forward whilst allowing your buttocks to extend behind you. Place your fingers in the crease that is created at the front, here you will find your hip-joint. When bent in this way using the hinge of your hip-joint your lower back will be protected. It is surprising how many practitioners often mistake the top of the Pelvic bones for their hip-joints, and therefore reverse the natural curve in the lower back every time they sit or lean over, through bending too high.

Its is a useful aide to remember that the hip joints are as far apart as your ears, learning to feel the central nature of your skeletal support gives a feeling of balance and connectivity which transports energy from the ground through the pelvis into the spine and makes movements that much more effective and lighter.

From the hip joints we now bring our awareness to the spine. The normal spine is made up of twenty-four separate vertebrae plus the large wedge-shaped sacrum and tailbone at the base. Each vertebra is shaped differently, slightly wedged, to create the gentle, self-supporting S-curve of the spine when viewed from the side. There are seven cervical, twelve thoracic, five lumbar, five fused sacral vertebrae and four coccygeal bones of the tail. Many neck and back problems are created when the subtle natural curves of the Spine are unnaturally straightened, reversed or exaggerated through poor postural alignment or an imbalance of strength, in the complimentary muscle groups, and inefficient movement of limbs. A healthy spine, which is free of tension, will support itself, leaving the muscles free to initiate movement. It is important that in order to have a healthy spine one must maintain a good head position which enables you to feel a natural ease and length in your spine.

The balance point of the head – known as the jade pillow – where it is supported by the neck, can be found by placing a finger on each side below your ear and directly behind your jawbone. An inch or so in from where you are touching the surfaces are the dished surfaces where your head rests, at the top neck vertebrae known as the Atlas. Many people drop their heads forward or back. These postural habits can create a variety of strains that can transfer down through the whole structure. The face and the back of the head should be in balance, as the mass of the front and back are equal. By being aware of the central pivotal position of the head you can learn to hold your head lightly, this needs constant attention for we can quickly fall into poor postural habits.

Good spinal alignment and head to neck relationship ensure that your ribs, shoulders and arms are supported. When your spine is hanging naturally, your ribs and sternum hang flexibly. There are movable joints where each rib meets the spine in the back and sternum in the front. These joints allow the expansion and contraction of your chest with each breath. Your shoulder blades ride on the back of your ribs, attached in the front by the collarbone. Your collarbone is in turn jointed with your sternum. When your shoulders are relaxed, your arm movements are not restricted and your hands become more comfortable when executing techniques. If you find you have trouble with your hands or discomfort in your wrists, then look to your shoulders for there may lay the source.

Being aware of skeletal structure can produce greater emotional sensitivity, and a deeper awareness, which comes from feeling your inner structure right down to the marrow. You create your own healing system by activating new neuro-pathways and all your body’s healing resources, until the mind and body are actually in sync.


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