Are you in Canada? Click here to proceed to the HK Canada website.

For all other locations, click here to continue to the HK US website.

Human Kinetics Logo

Purchase Courses or Access Digital Products

If you are looking to purchase online videos, online courses or to access previously purchased digital products please press continue.

Mare Nostrum Logo

Purchase Print Products or eBooks

Human Kinetics print books and eBooks are now distributed by Mare Nostrum, throughout the UK, Europe, Africa and Middle East, delivered to you from their warehouse. Please visit our new UK website to purchase Human Kinetics printed or eBooks.

Feedback Icon Feedback Get $15 Off

Human Kinetics is moving to summer hours. Starting May 31 – August 2, our hours will be Mon – Thurs, 7am – 5pm CDT. Orders placed on Friday with digital products/online courses will be processed immediately. Orders with physical products will be processed on the next business day.

Maintain correct positions during tai chi practice

This is an excerpt from Tai Chi Illustrated by Master Pixiang Qiu & Weimo Zhu.


During tai chi practice, the head should remain straight and upright with the neck straight, and the head should not incline in any direction. This position should be held in a natural, straight manner rather than in an exaggerated, extended position. The eyes look naturally forward in tai chi positions and head movement is coordinated with hand movements. See figure 2.1a for an illustration of head position from a front view and figure 2.1b for this position from a side view.

Common mistakes of the head position are inclining the head to the front or back too much (see figure 2.2, a and b) and tilting it to the left or right (see figure 2.2c). To correct the head when it is inclined back too far, return the head to an upright position with the chin held down. In contrast, if the head is inclined forward too much, return the head to an upright position by lifting the chin. If the head is tilted to the left or right, correct it by returning the head to the center. One easy way to avoid mistakes with the head position is to experience various head positions in front of a mirror and try to remember how it feels when the head is in the upright position. Getting feedback from other practitioners may also be helpful.

Figure 2.2 Incorrect head positions: (a) forward, (b) back, and (c) to the side.

Tai Chi Saying: Xu Ling Ding Jing

Meaning: Most Chinese sayings consist of four characters. In this saying, xu means “empty” or “lightly,”lingmeans “to lead,” ding means “top,” andjing means “strength.” Together, this saying means to imagine a string is holding your head up. In other words, you should have the feeling that there is a string coming from the top of your head that is slightly pulling so as to keep your head up and straight. This is one of the fundamental technical aspects of tai chi practice: The head is to be held upright, but not on a stiff neck. In addition, head movement is to be coordinated with the movements of other parts of the body.

Shoulders and Elbows

Shoulders should remain even with each other and should be naturally down or relaxed (see figure 2.3a). Relaxed shoulder joints and muscles are the key to keeping the shoulders in a low, naturally relaxed position. The elbows should also be held in a low, natural, and relaxed manner (see figure 2.3b). There should be a distance of about one to one and half fists between your elbow and your body so that your elbows can move comfortably (recall that tai chi evolved from boxing, and elbows that are raised too high could expose your ribs for your opponent to attack). Relaxed shoulders are a must for relaxed elbows. Also, a relaxed mind is important because people tend to shrug or tighten their shoulders when nervous or agitated.

Common mistakes of the shoulder position include holding the shoulders too tightly (see figure 2.4a) and not keeping them even (see figure 2.4b). When the shoulders are held too tightly, they are up close to the ears. To correct this, relax the shoulder joints and surrounding muscles. It is helpful to shrug or tighten the shoulders and then relax them several times to learn and remember how relaxed shoulders feel. When the shoulders are uneven, relax the front and back muscles of the shoulders. Practice in front of a mirror several times to make sure the shoulders are even. A common mistake with the elbow position is holding them too tightly to the body (see figure 2.5a) or holding them too high (see figure 2.5b). To correct these mistakes, relax the shoulders and elbows.

Tai Chi Saying: Che Jian Zhui Zhou

Meaning: Chen means “down,”jian means “shoulder,” zhui means “dropping,” and zhou means “elbow.” Together, this means to sink the shoulders and drop the elbows with a relaxed mind. Relaxed shoulders are crucial.

Read more from Tai Chi Illustrated by Pixiang Qiu and Weimo Zhu.

More Excerpts From Tai Chi Illustrated