Rooting in Tai Chi is not something developed fast. There are some stages you need to go through. Then, even if you think that you have passed the first stages and that your progress have come to an end, rooting can always be further developed, deepened, stronger, better controlled, better used in movement etc. Rooting is not only static, it can be dynamic, moving. Rooting is sinking the strength down to the foot. It’s also about storing strength in the legs, like pressing a steel spring together. In a year or two, the roots should be good. In five years or so, the understanding and use of rooting should be much better. But maybe it’s only after ten or more years of practice, rooting will be fully understood.
In the beginning of our Tai Chi Journey, maybe after a few month of practice, a half year or a year, many of us experience our legs uncomfortable, hard to be stable, like wobbling or even shaking. It can be discomforting, the self confidence might slag. But this is a very normal part of our progress. It means that we are developing more awareness in our legs and using the muscles in them in a different way than earlier. This is the stage many of us goes through in order to develop roots.
Some people try to force their stances, compensate the feeling of instability by using lower, stronger stances. This is okay, but it’s important to let progress take it’s time. More important than feeling stable through artificial help, is to sink. Sink by relaxing from the face, relax through and drop the shoulders, empty the chest, soften the lower back and relax through the legs right down to the toes. Roots and balance will grow stronger after time. Don’t force yourself.
If you study a form with higher stances, like yang short forms or Sun and Hao styles, instead of practicing lower stances than your teacher suggests, you can add stance training to your schedule. Some teachers teach this, some don’t. Practicing Mabu, Xingyi Santishi, as well as ding shi, can speed up your progress, build stronger roots in a shorter amount of time. The key here is also to relax, relaxing the legs through the pain and breath deep. But you need the instructions of a good teacher for deep stance practice. If you think this is necessary for your progress in Tai Chi, find it from your own teacher or seek further. It’s hard to understand the precision of angles, and feel them by yourself, as well as it is hard to feel what is good pain and what is not.
Good, effortless rooting is paramount to good Tai Chi. A strong stance, perfect understanding of zhong ding, and the strength sunken deep into the soles of the feet. Without true understanding through your own personal experience, everything else in your Tai Chi will lack. Everything in Tai Chi starts and ends in your foot.