Go Straight!

Lately, in my Taijiquan practice, I’ve been thinking a lot about the principle of verticality. One of the five fundamental principles of Zheng Manqing-style Taijiquan (and numerous other branches) is to maintain verticality in all movement. This means, keep the back straight — and very importantly — keep the eyes looking ahead on eye-level. This last part about the eyes is often neglected unless folks practice wholeheartedly and on a daily basis.

Verticality is important if you do Buddhist or Taoist meditation practices too (and probably other branches, i.e. Hindu stuff, but I really don’t know and can’t say). Of course, in seated meditation, when it is done with the eyes open the eyes are not straight ahead, but must fall a few feet in front of where you are sitting. The exact spot will vary from person to person, depending on their height, torso size, etc. and must be determined by the individual through consistently practicing and discovering which position allows for good posture with minimal tension.

But the point in either case, is that the eyes are directly related to posture, even though we commonly associate the idea of verticality only with the spine. When the eyes drop below the normal eyeline of the head/body, the body slumps and begins to lean forward. In a combative situation, one will lean on or into the opponent, or overextend the limbs and let them become handles by which to manipulate the body. This can also be related to — or an exaggeration of — sloth, torpor or laziness. It is usually an extension of bodily tension and chronic poor posture, further cyclically exacerbated by this eye scenario.

The other possibility, that the eyes extend too far above the relaxed, default position, reflects tension and excitability or irritability. It’s less common that people have this problem, rather than the previous one of slumping. If people are overly upright in posture, they typically are carrying a lot of tension in the shoulders because they’re using too much muscle mass and are disconnecting from their dantien or hara — their bodily center below the navel.

It seems pretty obvious, but the eyes are a subtle part of our posture. Most people walking down the street are looking at the ground, only glancing up at noises or approaching people. By looking at the ground, their posture is already beginning to suffer — and they’re revealing themselves to be a more viable target for predators seeking people lost in their own thought-worlds. In fact, the drooping of the eyes and the slumping of one’s neck and back is directly tied to thoughts — the more lost in our thoughts we are, the more our posture will suffer.

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