Shanti School of Taijiquan

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Get the Ultimate Training in Mind-Body Integration

Practicing Spiral Anatomy - Biomechanics for Tai Chi and Sports
Susan A. Matthews, MS, ND © 2002-2013

Susan Matthews and Shanti School offer Spiral Anatomy™ training, a specialized form of spiral training found in Chen style taijiquan and internal martial arts, in general.

Spiral Anatomy™- Advanced Biomechanics and Mind-Movement Integration Training. Physical biomechanical movement, visualization of movement of internal energy, and mental or spiritual intent--all of these components must be integrated with each other to create effective, relaxed, whole-body movement. Power and stamina can be obtained that strengthens bones and joints, rather than producing wear and tear, as has the potential for healing the body and promoting spiritual development.

"My skiing had plateaued for about three years, and after only 7 weeks of taijiquan, I rip. The change is awesome, like night and day. Now I move with more relaxation and efficiency—it’s effortless, like water." —Extreme skier, Todd Swanson

The principles of mind, energy movement, and biomechanics used in Tai Chi can be applied to skiing and other sports, and can enhance performance of both novices and veterans. Many levels of integration can be developed over time. Indeed, these principles have value in every aspect of life, in every movement we make, and in every breath of energy we take. Regardless of the level of internal energy development one practices, there are certain movement patterns, strength, use of force, and whole and integrated body mechanics which can be understood and utilized more immediately. This is especially true with Tai Chi practitioners or with athletes who have already developed a level of proficiency in their field.

In the dvd Mind and Movement in Taijiquan with Susan Matthews presents instruction ranging from detailed techniques to overarching concepts on the biomechanics of key movement principles of taijiquan, such as zhong ding, dantian, open and close, and spiral anatomy. She describes and demonstrates techniques, and leads workshop participants in simple, single movements common in taiji practice.

In her unique trademark approach, Shifu Matthews integrates neuroscience and her extensive knowledge of anatomy with using mind intention and energetic awareness to move the body. This is the essence of which distinguishes taijiquan from other forms of martial arts, as well as other forms of exercise. She also incorporates pieces in her training from other Chinese internal martial arts styles, including xing-yi quan and lan shou quan. She also brings into the equation her practice of medical qigong as well as a section of guided visualization and meditation practice.

This video contains information useful for beginners and beyond. More advanced practitioners will hear new information as well as familiar concepts presented in a fresh and unique manner. Higher level practitioners will be pleased with the fresh approach her unique teaching approach brings.

She details each concept then leads the group to incorporate them in simple exercises. This 90-minute DVD (plus 25 min. extras) filmed in Telluride, Colorado in August 2010 comes with an additional several minutes of extras adding to the wealth of information Matthews has shared in several previous DVD releases.
Mind and Energy Movement in Taijiquan $39.95.

mind and energy

Hello Susan, I was one of the fortunate people to have participated in your Spiral Energy class in Mission Viejo, CA...Thank you for sharing your knowledge with me.  I regard this as a turning point in my life.  I feel that my eyes have been opened to a new way of living and getting more out of life.  Thank you again. 
Kind Regards, Kathleen Black 11/20/01

My approach in teaching these principles is unique because it has has provided a model and a language for understanding this universal mechanical and energetic movement: a pattern, which generates efficient, relaxed, effortless movement, using less muscle and more spiraling bone strength. By universal I mean it is based on spirals (and later waves) which are found in all living, growing things in nature including the way fish swim, snakes slither, birds fly, and even inherent in why trees and seashells grow in spirals.

"Hi Susan. I just went skiing for the first time today since taking your class. I mean I figured it would help my skiing, but I can’t even believe how much this has helped my skiing. It’s another world. The whole time I was skiing I was just imagining the line of qi all the way from the central sun (all the way down) into the earth, through the middle of the earth, and it’s all I had to think about. I didn’t have to think about anything else. It was just perfect, it was just perfect. I can’t believe it. My friend that I ski with is blown away. He can’t even believe it either. It was just amazing. I was going faster than him for the first time ever. He didn’t know where I was because I was always in front. So thank you, thank you, thank you. And I’ll see you soon. And I think I’ve talked him to taking your class too." Sue Tilley

By universal movement, I mean it is based on spirals found in all living, growing things in nature. If you twist or rotate, need balance, strength, endurance, focus or speed, then you can improve that motion through spiral training and the other elements in internal martial arts. 

In the Four Corners Region, where the mountains and canyons meet, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, we love outdoor recreation. I have taught and tested the following elements of Tai Chi training with skiers, mountain bikers, equestrians, hikers, rock climbers, golfers, tennis players, kayakers, runners, a ski jumper/aerialist, and skate boarders. These students report getting better, having more fun, and having fewer injuries. Training for superior strength and power in Tai Chi does not include training for the biggest muscles but does include:

Biomechanics of Rooting: Strength and balance, a strong root, is obtained with understanding postural alignment in gravity, lowering the center of balance, and the mechanics of transferring weightedness and other forces to the feet.

Susan, Great Lecture! I enjoyed your lecture on the Energetics of Rooting that you gave at Saddleback College on Nov. 18. I am a beginning Tai Chi student and found your talk very helpful and interesting. Thanks again,  Willa Valdez 11/23/01

Biomechanics of Spiraling Bones: "Chan SSu Chin" practice strengthens and connects all the joints and tendons into one continuous "snake." When one part moves, all parts move. Physical strength with plasticity, fluidity, and relaxation can be increased through the use of integrated "bone" power rather than through reliance on muscular strength. Later, spiraling contains and generates a "jin/chin/jing" or force which can be used. Spiral training is commonly taught in Chen Style tai chi basic exercises. The exact Spiral Anatomy biomechanics can be trained as a backwards bicycling motion that starts in the sacrum and moves through every vertebra, joint, and muscle. Susan Matthews considers this her signature contribution to the body of tai chi knowledge. This motion allows beautiful integration around the zhong ding (central equilibrium line) and energetically around a complex and sophisticated dantien. Physical stress, muscle tension, pain, compression in the joints, compression of internal organs, reduced blood and lymph circulation can all be alleviated by understanding how the physical structure can spiral out of shape from tension. With education, time and practice the structure can be spiraled open and into balance. This open, relaxed structure is required for maximum relaxation and qi flow.

I have been fortunate to train with Master George Xu for the last 20 years. George gives us most of this internal information that I have blended with Western biomedical sciences. Several dvds are available for further study. Complete Practice is a popular one.

Tai Chi Video George XuMaster George Xu Complete Practice: Dantien Gong, Power Stretching, and Spiral Training is the perfect training set to practice every day with George. Follow along as he demonstrates and discusses four essential components of taijiquan and all internal arts: Dantian Gong, Power Stretching, Spiral Training and Shrink/Expand. Dantian gong (8 moves), shrinking-expanding moves (8), power stretching postures (8), and Chan-shi-jing (10 spiraling postures). These are crucial practices to be aware of whether utilized for longevity or martial application.

Master Xu is true to the authentic ancient knowledge that has been passed down through the ages. He is both traditional and modern in his practice and perspectives. Listen to him elucidate his unique perspective on the art of internal movement and the importance of understanding being connected as a single unit, moving the dantian like a predator, and spiraling for power and ability.

Spiral Anatomy training includes mind training for moving energy. Training the mind to build and direct energy to move to accomplish any action, added to the mechanical spiral, enhances strength even more. Intent, energy and physical can be integrated to release maximum power. Mental practice and visualization (for example, straight central equilibrium line, dantien rotation, spiraling kinetics, perfect yin yang, expanded energy awareness into the space) allows the brain to control the whole body in integrated spirals. See more information about the applications of spiral training with Subtle Body Energy training.

Energetics of True Grounding: Energetically grounding/filling/connecting the physical body and energy body with the energy outside the body helps establish a relationship with earth and sky energy in order to flow with it naturally. Later, this becomes an infinite source of power which can be borrowed. Advanced mind-energy-physical integration in tai chi and qigong allow one to develop the Subtle Energy Body. Visualizations and mind focus practices are described on this page.

Waist/Hip Mechanics: Stable, rotational hip mechanics and using sacrum and tailbone function in transmitting movement through the spine.

Dantien Energy Power: Dantien (abdominal region) energy rotation creates fluidity in movement, and movement in which the body or torso moving at the center generates all movement of the extremities. Dantien training can be found on Blood Circulation and Energy Gathering Qigong dvd by Susan Matthews. A higher level of dantien training can be experienced with Grand Master Wang Hao Da Neijing Training dvds.

Yin Yang: Spiral Anatomy physical and energetic movement allows for perfect yin yang physical and energetic balance in all directions across the body: left/right, front/ back, up/down, in/out, empty full, expand/contract. This is a requirement for fluidity and softness in push hands practice. Separation of Yin-Yang along the centerline into right-left, front-back, in-out, and up-down has several benefits that combine to create a fluid center and release a stiff core. Up-down separation of yin-yang along the centerline loosens and stretches the spine. Energetic fire rises up, is light, empty, loose and alive. Energetic water sinks down, maintains a dynamic root, and generates the fire up. Left-right yin-yang is required for a flexible spine and loose-open shoulders. Left-right also is required for perfect balance. Yielding, or yin action, must create the corresponding yang force in order to remain light, to be comfortable, to remain undisturbed and in control of your center. Front-back balance keeps the spine vertical and upright. Front-back separates the energy so that in partnership a common center is experienced as a heart-mind connection. In-out separation focuses on awareness of the space and also allows a beautiful heart-mind connection. Expansion and contraction adds a communication with one's own heart and the heartbeat of the earth/universe.

The new 2-DVD Set by Master George Xu titled Universal Principle of Yin-Yang in the Practice of Taiji, Bagua and Xing-Yi is dedicated to describing applications of this universal principle.

Back Power: Back power is generated out of the waist and includes connecting the dantien in front to the ming men in the low back. Sinking the shoulders into the low back and opening (flattening) the low back transfers shoulder power to the more powerful hips and legs. Power stretch, a form of isometric stretching, connects the upper and lower spine.

Tui shou: Push hands sensitivity exercises train the practitioner to yield to the forces directed at them, gathering, redirecting and releasing power. Thinking about dealing with the complex forces at play in skiing and other sports deal in a similar way is useful. The advantages of "flowing with" rather than "fighting against" are obvious.

Structure and Biomechanics of the Spine: The position of the hips and sacrum, dictated by specific muscle tension in the pelvis, dramatically effects the position, function and tension of the neck and every other piece the body. Getting better means changing structure and teaching each part of the body how to perform unified and energetically integrated movement directed by singular focus on the core. 

Energy in the Spine: Zhong Ding Jin, central equilibrium force or line, suspends the spine between Heaven and Earth, unifies yin and yang and allows cultivation of spiritual intent. Wang Hao Da was a master of zhong ding.

Energy transmission from heaven and earth through the heart is an expression of the creative spirit of the individual, beautiful, wise and full of love.

"Better body mechanics, along with postural corrections which improved my hip joint mobility, have had a phenomenal impact on my skiing and other sports. The most direct application, however, has been in skiing. I have skied since I was a kid. My dad was a ski instructor. I skied most every weekend in high school then took a good many years off while living in Austin, TX . I got back on skis and started tai chi with Susan Matthews last year. After one season I have reached a whole new level by incorporating the ‘backwards bicycle’ and ‘spiraling’ throughout the entire body. Instead of using a great deal of energy and strength, I can easily relax into my skiing groove with solid carving turns." Tracy Henderson

Tracy is 36 years old, has 25 years experience as a skier, eight years as a martial artist, and is a mountain bike enthusiast. Tai Chi, like all-internal martial arts, can be described in terms of physical biomechanical movement, visualization of movement of internal energy, and mental or spiritual intent. All of these components, must be integrated with each other to create effective, relaxed, whole-body movement. Done properly, this movement is full of power, which can be gathered and released, and also contain the potential for healing the body and for promoting spiritual development.


Susan Matthews is a scientist who teaches taiji. She approaches the study and practice of this ancient Chinese martial art form as a scholar who has trained extensively in neuroscience, biomechanics and anatomy. She does taiji for her own health, self-defense, and strength training and teaches what she knows to students who approach their own professional and personal lives with equal vigor.

Susan Matthews is available for seminars to private groups and businesses. Design your own or choose from the following programs: Cultivating a Daily Practice Qigong for Blood Circulation, Women’s Health, Rejuvenation and Longevity, Arthritis and Chronic Illnesses, Tai Chi in the Workplace, Advanced Biomechanics and Mind Control for Superior Athleticism, Advanced Biomechanics and Orthopedic Integration for Medical Professionals.

Taijiquan and qigong strengthen and tune the body so that it becomes like a violin string.
When plucked by the mind, it is able to transmit energy with vigor:
for health, for healing, for spiritual wisdom.