How to Keep Your Lower Back Straight

As I wrote in my last post, it is very important for Tai Chi practice to keep your back straight. In fact, it’s foundational to many other aspects of the art.

Unfortunately one of the most common problems I see in Tai Chi players who have more than 15 years in the art is incorrect alignment in the lower back.

A Quick Fix

Here’s a quick way to straighten your lower back.

Put your heels against the wall and then put your back up against it. Now straighten your back against the wall until there is no space between your back and the wall. Reach around and try to put your hand or your fingers between your back and the wall.

If there is space there, even if you can only get a finger in there, it means your back is not completely straight.

Make adjustments until your back is straight. Then step away from the wall. Learn what this feels like and practice until you can maintain this alignment throughout your set.

Quick Fix #2

Another way to help straighten out the lower back is to lay down on a flat floor and put your feet up on a chair so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor.

This will straighten out the lower back like in the last exercise. Pay close attention to what this feels like and then use your Tai Chi set to practice this alignment.

There are a number of ways to achieve this correct alignment

Many people have this curve in their back. As a result, over the years, various styles of Tai Chi have developed methods for helping beginners to straighten their lower backs.

Kung Fu

As they were devloping Kung Fu, Shaolin monks simply had students tuck in their pelvis. This created the needed posture.

However, it didn’t work well with other aspects of Tai Chi because it was often done in a very hard and stiff way rather than soft and relaxed the way that Tai Chi is supposed to be practiced. Tucking your pelvis will certainly help you get your back straight, but you’ll need to work on relaxation as well.

Chen Style

Chen style has practitioners keeping their thighs almost parallel to the ground. Try it out. You will notice that this produces similar results to the second exercise above.

However, unless you have thighs with a lot of strength and endurance, this will be very difficult to practice for long periods of time. You can build up this endurance, but at first you’re going to have sore legs a lot.

Wu Style

Another way to achieve this correct alignment is the slight forward lean seen in Wu style. By leaning forward slightly the Wu style practitioner is bring the lower back into alignment and creating this correct spinal alignment.

Yang Style

Yang style relies heavily on deep relaxation. Yang practitioners let the lower back relax, unhinge & hang. This lets gravity do the work pulling the lower back gently into alignment.

Other methods

If you have a different method of straightening your back, or other ways to help beginners learn to maintain this alignment please post them below.

Best of wishes on your Tai Chi practice.

Comments

  1. Geoff Lister says:

    Although all of the above are helpful, adding the upward pull through the top of the head through the front of the spine–not the back of the spine–helps as well. Standing chi gung can also help–standing in the wu chi posture, open up the back side of the collarbones, allowing blood to flow down from the brain and head. As you do this on the outbreath, let the head curve slightly forward. Then on the inbreath, feel the pull through the top of the head and up the front of the spine.

  2. One way that we suggest fixing this problem in Cheng Man-ch’ing lineage is simply to “drop (not tuck!) the lower back and lift the head top.” By doing this, the spine naturally elongates thereby straightening out the entire back. Simple to say the words; patience and practice to actually achieve this! Life is short! Art (of Taiji) long! Apologies to originator of this quote for my adaptation. 🙂

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