The ABC Mind-Body System and the Art of Tai Chi Chu’an

By Alex Japit, SPT, Tai Chi Practitioner

For me, the best moments of teaching are those “A-HA” moments when someone learns to perform a skill that they didn’t know they could perform, or when someone reaches a goal they’ve been striving for.

In the martial art of Tai Chi Chu’an, this often takes the form of learning to execute a new technique or polishing a movement pattern in a way that is novel to the practitioner.

To an outside observer, the difference between executing a new martial arts technique – or polishing a movement pattern from the Tai Chi form, might be night and day.  One may represent actual combat, while the other would be more akin to a smooth dance move. For the practitioner, both the martial arts and combat side of Tai Chi, and the form and movement side of Tai Chi share a common foundation: They all benefit from the understanding and application of The ABC system developed by C. Vicki Gold, PT, MA:  Alignment, Breathing, and Centering.  This system was created to enable improved mind-body awareness and function.  It is relevant to all aspects of motor function.

Alignment, Breathing and Centering for Improved Function

Let’s take a look at how Ms. Gold’s ABC System applies to the practice of Tai Chi.

Alignment: The positioning of body segments, particularly the spine, in a way that is conducive to energy flow, pain-free and effortless movement.  The cue, “lengthen-open,” which Ms. Gold uses, facilitates engagement of our stabilizing (core) musculature, while simultaneously suggesting “letting go” or relaxing accessory muscles in the neck and shoulders.  They have a negligible roll in achieving good postural alignment and should be left free to move.

Breathing: The fundamental process that all living humans need to perform, either consciously or subconsciously to maintain life.  In Tai Chi, it is important to consciously sync our breath with movement.  Exhaling when we do an extended, or outward reaching movement, and inhaling when we retract and pull the body back, facilitates increased effectiveness of a movement, whether the movement is done for exercise – or battle.

Centering: Graceful, balanced movement begins by moving from our center of gravity, just below the belly button, or the “Tan Tien” area as it is called in Tai Chi.  This allows the body to move more efficiently as a unified structure, with greater access to power generation as movements are executed.

Tai Chi for Improved Mind-Body Function

There is a saying that “there are no arms in Tai Chi.”  This alludes to the fact that all power generated in the techniques comes from connecting the grounded lower body through to the hands.  For example, a simple push starts from the legs, passes through the “center,” and is expressed through the arms.  This magnifies the range of the movement beyond what would be possible had it been performed through just the upper body.

Finally, combining Alignment, Breathing, and Centering with S-l-o-w—M-o-t-i-o-n, as Ms. Gold presents it in her full ABCs System, makes up a large part of the foundation for Tai Chi, and I would say many of the movement arts that incorporate mind and the body.

Sometimes, all it takes to reach the next A-HA moment is to learn The ABCs, and make them part of the ways you move through life, whether or not you do Tai Chi.

Alexander Japit, SPT

Edited by C. Vicki Gold, PT, MA