Tai Chi Chuan and Posture
Years ago when I was diagnosed with my balance disorder, my doctor explained to me that I should train my antigravity muscles as part of my rehabilitation. For a while I wasn't entirely sure what this meant, nor was I sure how to do it effectively, but I was assured they significantly help balance and day-to-day function.
Antigravity muscles are those muscles that hold us up against gravity. They are also referred to as tonic or postural muscles. They are often confused with 'core' muscles which surprisingly, and contrary to popular opinion, aren't actually that great in helping to improve posture very much.
If you do a search on how to improve your posture, you'll often find articles advising you to engage certain muscles, to sit up straight and to do specific exercises and stretches.
In Tai Chi there is a different approach where traditionally they don't talk about anti-gravity or postural muscles.
Everything is done standing up, so it's necessary for you to unconsciously begin to engage or re-engage your postural muscles.
We learn how to pay attention to our body alignment which is the foundation to a good posture. Good alignment puts us in the most economical position for our body to work in co-operation with gravity.
Through practise over time, we work to relax and loosen all the postural muscles in a gentle and mindful way rather than by forcing the body into what we think is the correct position. In Tai Chi you're so distracted by your focus on the movements of the form that you'll often not realise that these muscles are being engaged. Because you're not 'working' or 'engaging' them in a forceful way like in a gym class, it's not always obvious that they are being worked so effectively. It's just done quietly in the background which is the way these muscle groups work best.
Through regular practise, however, you will notice a healthy and satisfying reduction in the stiffnesses, niggles and pains that come from the bad habits of sitting too long in front of a computer, driving too many miles, carrying a young child in your arms.
These are signs that your posture is learning to stand tall like a tree once again.