Taking a low stance is a good way to strengthen the legs, but a mid-stance can provide even greater benefit, as it teaches some important lessons that are otherwise a challenge to learn and provides unique benefits beyond merely strengthening the legs, which a mid-level stance can do quite well.
Here are 4 benefits of a mid-level stance:
1) Easier to attain a true 70/30 stance. We all know of the importance of standing in a 70/30 stance. After all, the vast majority of the postures in Tai Chi use it. But attaining a true 70/30 stance is not that easy. Think you have attained it? Try this simple test: while standing in the posture in question, lift the leg which you believe to be carrying just 30% of your weight cleanly off the floor for a moment with minimal movement of your head. Can you do it? If you can, that’s great! If not, it means you’re not quite 70/30 yet. If you practice with a mid-level stance instead of a deep stance, you will be able to achieve this much quicker, and your Tai Chi form will be better overall.
2) The development of strong, yet relaxed legs. When strength is developed gradually over time, the muscles have time to adapt. They maintain their flexibility and softness as they get stronger. Taking a low stance can hinder this process, as the muscles fatigue much more quickly and can get injured, even slightly, which then causes them to tighten as they heal. A mid-level stance helps to guard against this problem.
3) Easier to attain proper alignment. In the Cheng Man-Ch’ing form, a lot of emphasis is placed on not only keeping the spine straight, but also keeping it vertical instead of tilted. This is only possible if one is in a proper 70/30 stance and is also relaxed, as this will create a straight line down the side of the body from the armpit to the knee pit.
4) The cultivation of ch’i. This last benefit also assumes the success of the other three. Once a relaxed, 70/30 stance has been attained, with a straight line down the side of the body, the ch’i is able to rise much more easily. This is not to say that it cannot flow in other positions, but this type of stance creates an optimal flow.
Are you still wondering if a mid-stance can effectively strengthen the legs? Try standing in the posture Play Guitar for a while. Just about everyone who has held this posture for a short while can attest to the incredible leg fatigue that sets in when you do it long enough! That was the posture recommended to us by Professor Cheng at his school for leg strengthening. In order to get the maximum benefit from standing in this posture, it is helpful if you relax the front leg while hanging back on the body to strengthen the rear leg.
So, in summary, if leg strength is your main or only goal in Tai Chi, using a low stance is fine. You will probably achieve it faster that way. But if you wish to develop proper structure and alignment, leg muscles that are strong yet relaxed, and greater ch’i flow, a mid-level stance is the way to go.
In T’ai Chi,