Taiji and the London Commuter

Rush hour in London, the crammed tube journey so many of us face day after day. Struggling through the crowd, only to find yourself smack in the middle of the carriage with nothing to hang onto other than some other tired commuter in a suit. Unless you’re tall enough to be able to reach over everybody’s heads to reach that elusive bar, you’d better force your way through to one that you can reach or face a really embarrassing plunge face first into a bunch of strangers. A good place to crowd surf, this isn’t!

But what if you could just stay where you are and relax? Just… train surf. Sometimes you see them, those hardcore commuters with super balance, often glued to their phones. But for the rest of us it probably requires a lot more concentration…


So anyway, how does this tie in to taiji (or tai chi, if you prefer)? Because this is a taiji site, so you’re probably here for some wisdom on martial arts , or how taiji can improve your health, rather than tales of London commuter woe.

Any good martial artist will tell you that good posture is a must – for health, for strength and balance. Relaxing the lower back, straightening the spine, relaxing the shoulders and lifting the crown of the head so that the back of the neck opens. Letting your weight fall into your legs and down to your feet, giving you an ease of balance.

These are all things we’re introduced to in our first days of learning taiji, but it can take a while to learn it properly – let alone maintain it. Modern life encourages a lot of bad habits (non-modern life probably did too, but I’ll stick to my area of experience for now.). You only have to stop and study the examples of Homo Laptopicus slouching around – head thrust forward, shoulders lifted up to the ears, back forming a nice s-shape – for the muscles in your neck and lower back to scrunch up in sympathy.

Good taiji posture is a basic foundation, allowing your upper body to relax but still poised. It joins the upper and lower body, enabling good flow of qi (energy.) It makes you appear taller and more confident (stop looking at the ground!) and more stable. It can help ease back pain – and you know that nagging headache you’ve probably stopped noticing you have? That could also be bad posture (It could be other things too, of course. I’m not a doctor!).

Good taiji posture is vital for the practice of pushing hands (watch this video if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and makes you pretty amazing in a shoving match.

Anyway, back to our commuter hell. So there you are, stuck in the middle of a tin can full of people, facing imminent face-plant. And then you relax. Widen your stance just slightly, tilt your pelvis so that your back straightens comfortably and settle into your hips. Maybe put your bag between your feet so it doesn’t put you off-balance (and let’s face it, nobody likes a rucksack in the face or a laptop bag in the back.) Loosen your waist and shift your weight with the movement of the train. And you know what? You may not be ready to take on those crazy 88 guys, but you can tube-surf like a boss.