Get a Tucking Clue: Tai Chi and Your Tailbone

Practiced properly, Tai Chi is among the most beneficial activities for improving one’s health. Unfortunately, some students misunderstand one fundamental alignment principle, resulting in collapsed and contorted postures that are more likely to injure health than restore it. The principle: tucking the tailbone.

A straightened spine is required for most Tai Chi postures, and the proper way to accomplish this is explained the Tai Chi classics. The top end of the spine should be lifted, from the head; the bottom end of the spine should be relaxed and allowed to drop.

Over time, the combined forces of intentional expansion and natural contraction (supplied by gravity) will pull the spine taut, as if suspended in the air. The musculature will automatically adjust to support this straightening—unless it is prevented from doing so.

Tucking is a Dirty Word

Like an impatient farmer who pulls on his crops to speed their growth, some Tai Chi practitioners attempt to force their spine straight by rolling their coccyx to its forward extremity. Although this action does reduce the lumbar curve, it also precludes the benefits that accrue with natural spinal expansion.

Holding the tailbone forward introduces tension in the lower body, disrupts natural circulation, interferes with good alignment and reduces mobility. Tucking the tail bone is no substitute for releasing it; on the contrary, this “pushing the string” prevents the tailbone from dropping into its optimal position.

Mr. Burns
Mr. Burns’ limp-wristed Tai Chi

Tim Cartmell jokingly refers to the feeble product of this habit as “Mr. Burns’ Tai Chi”. Other experts are less charitable. Pete Egoscue identifies this tucked position as the worst of all postural dysfunctions:

The other characteristics [of the tucked coccyx posture] are rounded, slumping shoulders and a head that juts forward until it seems like a miracle that the whole body doesn’t topple over. You probably recognize what I am describing. It’s the posture of despair and dejection, depression and defeat. We see it in photographs of prisoners of war, the homeless, drug addicts, and inmates on death row.

…and, regrettably, in certain schools of Taiji.

The health impact of this maladjusted posture may include: back, shoulder, and neck pain; poor balance; sore feet and ankles; hemorrhoids and varicose veins; shortness of breath, lack of energy, carpal tunnel, migraine headaches, TMJ pain in the jaw, anxiety attacks, dizziness, and constipation.

Conclusion: Don’t Tuck Yourself

If tucking is the wrong approach to straightening the spine, then what is correct? Actually, it’s quite simple: always keep your head up, never stick your butt out, and wait patiently for results.

References:

  1. Song of the Thirteen Postures
  2. The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion: A Revolutionary Program That Lets You Rediscover the Body’s Power to Rejuvenate Itself by Pete Egoscue

10 comments on “Get a Tucking Clue: Tai Chi and Your Tailbone”

  1. I don’t know anything about you, but when I constantly search for important questions regarding martial arts — I always end up here.

    Thank you for providing a wonderful resource for both the novice and seasoned martial artist. Your site is excellent at clearing up misconceptions and in aiding to illuminate some of the truth.

  2. Simpler method-keep the sphincter loose at all times, taught to me by TT Liang 35 years ago.

  3. Are you aware of any of the “hard”ma styles that would not aggravte varicose veins? I walk regularly and practice yoga and Tai Chi…but I still have enough juice for karate…but karate seems to aggravate the condition.Thanks for a great site and the opportunity to ask a question..Dennis

  4. Excellent article, and fortunately I found it at the time I was getting already pretty depressed about this “tuck your tailbone” advice since I have now studied Tai Chi for a year. Immediately I started to feel better on mind and body, after I stopped trying to tuck it in by force. On contraverse, giving more attention to the right position of neck and head, having more feeling of my head being high and straight, letting the body drop naturally and feeling my legs light and relaxed have given me my hopes back for Tai Chi. Thank you!

  5. I am in complete agreement here. People who just say tuck the tailbone under haven’t had the right training.

    I simply tell my students to “sit” into their legs … i.e. imagine sitting poised on a chair with spine naturally erect and then just bend the knees.

  6. Thank you so much. I have had a pelvic pain condition for 10 years and I now believe one of the factors contributing to it is taiji practice. Please, please, do something to get this information out, before more women end up like me. I suspect that men can get away with misaligned pelvises (is that the plural?), but they create serious health problems for women. The pubic bone is intended to be under the pelvic organs, not in front of them–which is where Western women tend to carry it anyway. All we needed was taiji to make this problem even worse. Teachers need to say, explicitly, that the sacrum “drops”, but the pelvis actually needs to shift back. How could a martial art based on observation of animals recommend walking around with your tail between your legs???

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