Tai Cheese: A Case Study
What do tai chi and dairy farming have to do with each other? Normally nothing, but in the case of Rob Taverner, tai chi helps keep him and his dairy cows happy. I applaud Rob Taverner for his organic dairy farming and his dabbling with tai chi to soothe his cows. I however can't say that his movements (as far as I can tell from the still photo) adhere to tai chi principles.
While Mr. Taverner may achieve a degree of relaxation and calmness, he does not appear to have the same relaxed physical grace associated with tai chi practice. Why is that? If we do some postural analysis, we can see where his movements do not match tai chi principles and why the picture does not look like an example of relaxed body movement. Mr. Taverner is going to serve as our subject for a case study in body mechanics, balance, and relaxation.
The first thing to notice is that the body weight is not dropping through the structure to the center of the feet. The knees are pushed well past the toes. The positioning of the knees that far in front of the toes results in the knee joints bearing more load than necessary (i.e. bearing weight that should be passing through the joint down to the lower leg and feet). The quads are firing like mad to compensate for the knees being at a suboptimal load bearing angle. Also because the knees are too far forward, the heels are lifting off the ground so that the body weight is falling to the balls of the feet. The muscles of the lower legs and the feet are engaging just to maintain weight support on the forefoot.
We can also see that Mr. Taverner has a distinct forward lean in his stance. With the balance skewed forward, the back muscles will fire in an attempt to pull the body back and prevent falling forward. Likely, most of the posterior chain muscles (neck, upper and lower back, glutes, and hamstrings) are engaging to counteract the forward leaning posture. With so many muscles engaged just to remain standing, we can safely conclude that Mr. Taverner is not rockin' the relaxation.
Examining the arms and torso, we can observe another departure from tai chi principles. Harmonizing the yin and yang in terms of the body can be roughly understood as coordinating the flexors and extensors to balance the structure of the body. For the torso, this translates to harmonizing the muscles on the front (yin) and the back (yang) of the arms and body. Ideally, the front of the body should be slightly closed, and the back expanding open. To borrow a common tai chi phrase, Mr. Taverner needs to "hollow the chest and pull the [lower] back." Or, to put it in I-Liq Chuan terms, there's no suction at the dantian and sternum, and the mingmen (acupuncture point in the middle of the lower back) is not expanding open. What we see in the picture above is an overemphasis of the yang: the wrists are overextended (too dorsiflexed), the elbows are nearly locked out, and the chest is opening and floating up.
As a farmer, Mr. Taverner is likely significantly stronger than the average bloke. That may be why he doesn't notice the amount of muscular effort needed to maintain an off-centered stance. Fixing the misalignments of his structure would bring physical relaxation in addition to the mental relaxation.
My apologies to Mr. Taverner for being chosen as a case study for my body mechanics analysis.
Johnny Kuo is an I-Liq Chuan martial arts instructor and a health and fitness enthusiast. Originally trained as a biologist and then a biomedical engineer, he has been a medical imaging researcher, tai chi teacher, software developer, research engineer, and freelance web developer.