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What is poise?

Poise is about how you stand, sit and move. Good poise reflects balance, alertness, comfortable body use and presence.

What is important about poise?

Your poise has a significant effect upon your health and wellbeing. Comfortable, healthy natural poise allows the joints of the body to move freely and easily. The body is upright and stable.
By contrast, poor poise reflects notable mobility problems, bad habits of body use and tension throughout the body.


Most people never think about poise. They simply do whatever it is they have always done. This is regarded as being 'natural' when in reality it is merely familiar.


Animals tend to have great poise. How come humans do not? The answer is simple. We operate in an artificially constructed environment that is not fundamentally healthy.
We do things that are unnatural; such as sitting for long periods of time, slouching and slumping. Humans no longer need to move around as much in their everyday lives. The outcome is deterioration.

A trained body

Usually, poise is developed through deliberate, conscious training. It can also be a by-product of working towards a specific physical activity or skill e.g. figure skating.
An athlete, martial artist, dancer or actor must become aware of how they are using their body. They must shed old habits and acquire new ones. Usually, poise is affected.
Random, haphazard body use will not lead to good performance. Habits must be identified and corrected.

Consider this: Most people live lives that are not particularly physically challenging. They sit at a desk, or if they move around, it's not a lot. They aren't performing manoeuvres that require tremendous balance and coordination. Thus they settle into a low level of physical capabilities - enough for day-to-day activities or maybe even hiking or biking or playing golf or tennis on the weekends, but far from the level of physical capabilities that a highly trained athlete possesses.

The reason that most people don't possess extraordinary physical capabilities isn't because they don't have the capacity for them, but rather because they're satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it.

The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in. We learn enough to get by but once we reach that point we seldom push to go beyond.

(Anders Ericsson)

Untrained body

An untrained body is seldom operating in a skilful way
. Often people are off-balance, their shoulders may be lifted through the shortening of the trapezius muscle or they stoop.
Poor poise is tiring for body. Imbalances must be compensated for. This is unhealthy. An untrained body will struggle with coordination, dexterity, nimbleness and mobility.


Not all forms of physical training are healthy nor will they lead to good poise. Quite often people exercise without being mindful. They essentially 'space out' or they are too goal oriented.
In order to use the body well, you need to be present at all times. Each movement must be felt. Imbalances must be identified and removed.
e.g. watch how runners use their bodies... How many truly show good poise?


Often, poise is an artifice. It is designed to convey a fashionable aesthetic e.g. the gym body, the yoga body, a dancer's body. This is a foolish way to address body use.
The body should be used in accordance with its nature not a trend/fashion/aesthetic.

Good poise

Good poise looks graceful. It looks elegant, relaxed, smooth and agile. There is a sense of ease. Good poise cannot be faked.


It is not uncommon to see people sitting (or standing) bolt upright in a military-style pose. This may look healthy but it isn't because it is forced/contrived. It is the by-product of tension.
Poise is not something that you hold. It is not a yoga posture. Poise is your bearing...

Poise affects your emotions

In a tai chi class you might be invited to adopt a variety of unhealthy poises such as 'gym shoulders', a fighter's defensive stance or a mobile phone user's stoop...
Then you will consider how these positions make you feel emotionally. Students are often surprised to discover that they feel awful.
Yet, these very same poises are the ones they started class with... No wonder people feel anxious, stressed, tired or annoyed.


A youthful body has a sense of ease. No struggling, grunting or groaning, no pain in the back or the knees. The body responds instantly to the dictates of the mind
. A young person is spontaneous and free.
Their poise is comfortable and natural. They can squat, kneel down, sit on the floor and stand without any problems.

How we move conveys energy and youth not how buff we are.

(Anne Elliott)


An authentic tai chi form teaches poise. It trains the individual to move continuously through shapes that exhibit good poise. Each movement feels vital, alert and free.
Over time, and with extensive corrections, refinement and development, the individual becomes more graceful. They understand how to move in a healthy way. Good poise is cultivated.

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Page created 18 April 2005
Last updated 04 October 2019