A class in taijiquan usually begins with how to walk. It seems odd, given that walking is something we’ve been doing since well, we first learned how. But the reason that taiji goes back to that most basic of actions is to cultivate a new relationship with our feet and, by extension, between our feet and the earth.
It turns out that how our feet touch the earth, how mindful we are of that connection, affects all sorts of things. Balance. Mood. Mental clarity. Resilience.
That’s useful information in times of crisis.
Change is stressful, even when we seek it out. When it comes unasked and in overwhelming forms, it creates anxiety and tension that reverberate through our body and behavior. Our breath shortens, our muscles tighten, our nerves grate. We get worked up easily.
That term “worked up” is telling. In taiji, it’s called becoming uprooted. When we’re anxious and tense, our mind starts spinning, our blood pressure rises, our stomach churns—all of which raises our center of gravity.
On the other hand, the expression, “She really has her feet on the ground,” points to someone who remains calm and stable in the midst of uncertainty. Similarly, taiji calls the feet our foundation and teaches how to build on that foundation by using a few simple guidelines and exercises.
There’s a root line that runs from the center of each heel forward between the first two toes. Where that root line crosses the back edge of the ball of the foot, there is an acupuncture point called yong chuan, or “Bubbling Spring.”
When you sit, if you place your feet so they fully touch the ground, and you focus your attention on that root line, your energy starts to reorganize. If you do this regularly, you begin to cultivate a strong, stabilizing root.
When you stand and walk, simply by focusing your attention on the root line of each foot you can dramatically increase your balance. You can boost this effect even further by aligning your weight along the root line, and by preventing your weight from going farther forward than the Bubbling Spring point at the back edge of the ball of your foot.
One of the simplest taiji root exercises requires no movement, only a focusing of attention. It cultivates awareness and connection and has a deep, calming effect. It’s called Connecting Roots.
Sit with your feet fully contacting the floor, shoulder-width apart.
Keep your joints soft and loose, muscles relaxed and resting on your bones, spine erect.
Place your tongue at the roof of your mouth, with the tip of your tongue touching the back of your upper front teeth.
Focus your attention in the soles of your feet. Feel them touching the ground.
Fine-tune that focus in the root line of each foot running from the center of your heel forward between your first two toes.
Fine-tune your focus even further in the Bubbling Spring point, where the root line crosses the back edge of the ball of your foot.
Sit quietly for several moments, breathing easily, observing what your feet feel like.
While focusing in your feet, think of all the people whose feet are, at this moment, touching the earth.
While focusing in your feet, think of all living things—animals, plants, and minerals—whose feet or roots or forms are, at this moment, touching the earth.
Sit quietly for several moments, breathing easily, observing what you experience.
When you stand, feel your feet.
Connecting Roots can be practiced in just a minute or two and can even be practiced just by thought, without mechanically going through every step. If you find yourself getting “worked up,” feeling anxious, or in any other way feeling uprooted, you can start to change that energy by thinking of your feet, their connection to the earth, and to the root line of each foot.
It doesn’t eliminate stress, anxiety, or uncertainty. But it offers an antidote and, with practice, an alternative path that’s much easier to walk.