by Mei Ying Sheng Translated by Ted W. Knecht
Late Grandmaster Yang Cheng Fu described in his book, “The Practice of Taijiquan”, that “the two legs be differentiated into yin and yang, and should raise and lower as if walking like a cat”. In the book entitled, “Essentials of Free Sparring”, Master Wu Yu Xiang wrote that “one should step like a walking cat and move like pulling (drawing) silk”. Students of later generations called the advancing steps and footwork found in Taijiquan as the “Taiji Cat Walk”, “Taiji Tiger Step”, or plainly as the “Taiji Step”. The Taiji Cat Walk appears a total of 58 times and is the most basic stepping method in the Yang style 108 posture routine.
The Taiji Classics state that “if the hands advance three percent, then the legs advance seven percent”. This demonstrates the importance of stance work and stepping in Taijiquan. There is also a saying which says that if one can perform a proper “Taiji Cat Walk”, it does not necessarily mean one’s Taijiquan is good, but in order to be very good at Taijiquan, one must have a proper “Taiji Cat Walk”. The legs move slowly and evenly under the control of the waist and spine while performing the “Taiji Cat Walk”. Close to half of the largest muscles groups found within the body are below the waist and abdomen. The “Taiji Cat Walk” will allow all the muscles, ligaments, joints, etc. to obtain maximum range of exercise with the least amount of resistance. The action which occurs in the legs is similar to the motion of twisting (draining) a wet towel. All of the fibers within the towel (legs) will receive varying degrees of twisting and pressure. This action which will naturally harmonize the body in varying degrees can produce the following physiological health benefits:
1) Benefits on the Cardiovascular System: In one’s lifetime, the legs and feet are under the pressure of the body’s weight for approximately two thirds of the time. The feet are the furthest extension of the body from the heart. Consequently, the blood which is pumped from the heart to the feet and recirculated back to the heart will have an increase in difficulty in it’s ability to circulate. This may lead to various ailments in the legs and feet. The “Taiji Cat Walk” will allow the repeated twisting and wrapping of the muscles to produce a very prominent overall pressuring action on the walls of the blood vessels in the lower extremities. The blood vessels will have more strength to contract and expand and will enhance the circulation of blood back to the heart. The heart will in turn have a greater supply of blood to nourish the body. The “massaging” effect of Taijiquan on the muscle walls of the blood vessels can prevent the deposition of cholesterol on the walls of the blood vessels. This will, therefore, increase the elasticity and strength of the blood vessel walls. Among all exercise therapies which aid in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, the “Taiji Cat Walk” is at the forefront. A few years ago the author conducted a study on the effects of practicing Yang style Taijiquan (with emphasis on the “Taiji Cat Walk”) on 220 middle-aged and elderly people. The result of the study concluded a positive decrease in blood pressure for those suffering from high blood pressure. The degree of exercise in Taijiquan is determined by the distance between the feet while in a bow stance. A wide and low stance will result in the greatest degree of exercise; while a stance which is high and narrow will result in a lower degree of exercise. After one has partaked in a round of Taijiquan using a low and wide stance, one will greatly perspire, the internal energy (Qi) will be harmonized, and the heart rate will be slightly raised as compared to normal activities. The heart rate may raise up to 100 beats per minute (athletes possibly lower). Some people may consider this quality of movement to be minimal; however, this phenomena is quite different from ordinary sporting exercise. The movements of Taijiquan are under a so-called “Qi State” which is very difficult to describe in words. The author with over 40 years of practical experience in Chinese and Western medicine has found that people who have practiced Taijiquan for many years have a lower pulse rate than those who do not participate in Taijiquan. No matter under what type of activity, either active or passive, the pulse rate is slower and more even in Taijiquan practitioners. According to scientific research of doctors in China and abroad, a pulse rate which is slow and even will allow the rest period of the heart’s muscles to increase and will also allow a greater release of blood from the heart’s chambers. A beneficial effect of this will decrease sediment built up in the blood and will also decrease the hardening of the blood vessels. Furthermore, high blood pressure will be lowered which is one the main reason for heart disease and death. Based on recent medical research, findings have shown that heart rate is inversely related to longevity in animal studies. Mice have a heart rate of approximately 900 beats per minute and live for approximately two years; on the other hand, the heart rate of elephants is approximately 30 beats per minute and they can live from 40 to 50 years. The length of life in humans which is also correlated to this inverse relationship has been know for quite some time in Chinese medical theory. Taijiquan, in general, has the perfect quality of motion to allow the heart rate and the movements of Taijiquan to be directly proportionate.
2) Benefits on the Meridians and Acu-points of the Body: The normal function of internal organs, skin, muscles, tendons, and bones rely upon the complete openness of the meridian network. Among the twelve ordinary meridians in the body, there are three yin and three yang feet meridians which ascend or descend at the toes. Moreover, there are 41 acu-points below the ankle joint of both feet which have a very direct relationship to one’s health. These 41 points are connected along channels to the top of the head and to various tissues and organs in the torso and arms. The physiological ability and pathology of the tissue and organs receive stimulation from the feet. This is related to a saying which states that “when one meridian is in disharmony, the body will not be in perfect health”. In regards to the study of meridians in traditional Chinese medicine, “Foot Reflexology” has become very popular and of interest in Europe, America, and Japan. They have been able to utilize state-of-the-art equipment to pin point 36 reflex points on the bottom of the feet. Various methods of stimulation are used on these reflex points to achieve the goal of curing illnesses and improving health. At a factory in Japan, a 75 meter long rock road has been designed in which small, sharp pebbles protrude out of the ground. The employees will walk this “road of health” twice before beginning work. This is conducted to stimulate the bottom of the feet to reach the goal of optimal health. The “Taiji Cat Walk” promotes a reflex action on the feet against the ground to massage the bottom of the feet and to stimulate the meridians and acu-points. This method is much different than ordinary walking and jogging; and it is more natural and complete than “foot reflexology” and the “road of health” methods described above. The following is a description of the reflex response of the “Taiji Cat Walk” which uses a left bow stance stepping into a right bow stance: Because the “Taiji Cat Walk” is conducted with the legs half squatted down, the body must maintain a balanced and level posture throughout the motion. When the right heel slowly and evenly leaves the ground to advance forward, the reflex action of the right foot against the ground results from lifting motion starting in the heel, then the ball, and finally in the toes. This reflex response is from weak to strong. When the toes leave the ground, the reflex response towards the toes is from strong to weak. When the right foot lowers back to the ground first on the heel, then the ball, and finally the toes, the reflex response is again from weak to strong. During the process of the right foot advancing to the front to form a right bow stance, the weight maintained on the left leg has a reflex action on the heel, ball, and toes which is from strong to weak and then from weak to strong. The reflex response on the feet against the ground evolves into a slow, gentle, and even massage from the heel down to the toes and is very beneficial to the stimulation of the 41 acu-points on the feet. The reflex response can also lead to the opening of the meridians and to the regulation of the blood and internal energy. The “Taiji Cat Walk” will cause a relatively strong person to break out into a sweat within two or three minutes of continuous practice. The quality of movement in the “Taiji Cat Walk” and it’s massaging action on the feet is, in general, an “exercise” which surpasses other forms of exercise conducted in the same amount of time.
3) Benefits to the Muscles, Bones, and Tendons Below the Waist and Abdomen: The “Taiji Cat Walk” is performed while the two legs are half squatted down and the weight of the body is continuously changing back and forth from one leg to the other. Because the movement is like a “cloud floating and water flowing” and the weight of the body is maintained on one leg during slow and even movement, all of the muscles, bones, joints, and tendons below the waist will become stronger and more agile. People who practice Taijiquan for a long time will see an increase in muscle size and strength. In Chinese medicine the saying, “the legs are the mirror of one’s health”, means the health of the legs are of prime importance to one’s overall health. Because the “Taiji Cat Walk” can harmonize and combine the blood and internal energy of the lower body together, this can aid in the prevention and/or healing of lumbar hyperplasia, heel spurs, deformed knees and various other degenerate aliments which commonly occur in old age. Some women over the age of 40, for unknown reasons, get edema (swelling) of the legs. Because of the water retention in the legs, this will chronically lead to unfavorable effects on the stimulation of the meridians and acu-points of the feet. The “Taiji Cat Walk” is one of the most ideal ways to alleviate this problem. The abdomen must correspondingly conduct circular motions in order to turn and relax the waist. This will allow the lateral, vertical, inner oblique, and outer oblique muscles to be interchangeably stretched and contracted; thereby, allowing the flexibility of the muscle layers to be increased and strengthened. Besides having a massing effect on the internal organs in the torso, it can reduce excess fatty deposits on the abdomen wall and also heal ailments such as a “collapsed stomach”. Consequently, the “Taiji Cat Walk” is a very effective prescription for one’s overall well being.
Dr. Mei Ying Sheng has been researching Yang style Taijiquan and practicing both Western and traditional Chinese medicine for the past 40 years. He was a physician and surgeon for many high ranking Buddhist monks and lay people in Tibet for 20 years. Through the healing benefits of Taijiquan, Dr. Mei was able to help cure a high ranking government official from Si Chuan Province of a cancerous stomach tumor. Doctors could not operate due to the size of the tumor. Consequently, the man came to Dr. Mei Ying Sheng for traditional Chinese medical treatment. Dr. Mei assessed the condition of the patient and by isolating and then teaching various movements found within Taijiquan, as a supplement to the form, the tumor gradually reduced in size and finally disappeared. To this day, the man goes into the Emei Mountains every morning and performs Taijiquan. Since retiring from a professional medical career, Dr. Mei and his family have recently moved to the city of Shen Zhen located in Guang Dong Province, China where he teaches Yang style Taijiquan, straight sword, broadsword, push hands, and qi gong with his youngest daughter. Dr. Mei is also utilizing his abilities in medicine and Taijiquan to help patients in a more quicker recovery from drug addiction at various drug rehabilitation center in southern China.