Although Tai Chi is an effective treatment for stiffness and lower back pain, the complexity of its forms discourages some from learning the practice.
Fortunately for back pain sufferers, not all Tai Chi forms are long and elaborate. While some traditional forms contain more than one hundred movements, others contain less than a dozen. The short forms are easier to learn and faster to complete, but no less beneficial to the practitioner’s health.
Among the short forms, Tai Chi Ruler is the easiest to learn. The ruler, or chih, is a simple wooden dowel, approximately one inch thick and one foot long. Fundamental ruler practices consist of a single movement, repeated a few dozen or few hundred times.
Many of the Tai Chi Ruler movements do not actually require a ruler, and can be performed just as well without it. Here I will describe one such exercise, which is suitable for any age and fitness level.
How to Perform The Taiji Ruler Exercise
- Stand up straight, with both feet parallel, one fist distance apart. Let your arms hang at your sides.
- Turn your left toe outwards 45 degrees. Take a half-step forwards with your right foot, such that the heel of your right foot is in line with the ball of your left foot (on the coronal plane).
- Bring both arms slightly out from the side of the body, just enough to fit a fist in your armpit.
- Press the ruler lightly between your palms. If you don’t have a ruler, just place them one foot apart.
- Slowly shift all your weight onto your front foot. As you do so, extend your arms outward, then upward.
- Slowly shift all your weight onto the back foot. As you do so, draw your arms inward, then downward a few inches in front of your torso.
- Continue shifting your weight, and circling your arms in coordination with the shift. Each cycle should take 3-6 seconds to complete.
- Repeat for one to five minutes, then swap the positions of your feet and repeat again.
Demonstration by Dr. Michael Mayer, Bodymind Healing Institute*
As simple as it is, this movement exercises almost every joint in the body. It improves balance, promotes relaxation and cultivates body unity, all of which are necessary for peak performance in sports and martial arts.
Tai Chi Ruler also makes a pleasant intermission between sessions of zhan zhuang, or standing meditation. Used together, these two practices can cure backache and prevent its recurrence.
Taiji Ruler Qigong with Feng Zhiqiang
*As a Taiji martial training, the spine should be kept relatively straight; move naturally, but avoid leaning. Hold the head erect. You may complete the weight shift by lifting the empty leg one centimeter off the ground. The direction of the circle may be reversed to match an (the classic Taiji push movement). As a health exercise, these details are less important.