Sung, Sung, Sung…
You may think it’s the past tense of sing but it’s not. Pronounced “soong”, it seems to have at least two interpretations. Sung is a Chinese word. Some interpret the word to mean “sink”, others say it means “root”. I have also heard it to mean “relax”.
Relaxing is key in tai chi but I think it is impossible to totally relax while standing. Some muscles must be engaged to keep the skeleton aligned, so I think the goal is to reduce the amount of tension as much as possible. In that respect, sung is the goal.
We know the physics of keeping a low center of gravity and that it requires use of the kinetic chain of the body, starting by flexing the ankles, which then bends the knees and therefore drops the hips. This would be sung in the sense of sinking.
However, one can sink but not root. Rooting requires one to relax, sink and attach oneself to the earth as if you had suction cups on your feet. You meet the earth at the bubbling well point behind the balls of the feet. The mental picture is of having roots like a tree, reaching down into the earth. Some trees have deep roots and others have wide roots. We’re looking for deep.
All this requires proper body alignment; head-top suspended, spine straight, tailbone tucked, sternum depressed and Six Harmonies in place. (Six Harmonies are fingers/toes, elbows/knees and shoulder/hip.) Breathing from the diaphragm, draining tension down out of the body and quieting the mind.
Tension leads to stiffness, stiffness leads reduced freedom of movement and makes it easy to be unbalanced. Mental tension, a double-weighted condition of the mind, also contributes to movement that does not flow.
You’ll hear your teacher remind you to relax and sink. Professor Cheng told a story that his teacher told him over and over to sung. He said, “I thank God my teacher loved me or he would not have kept reminding me.” Learning sung is a work-in-progress, keep at it.