Producing The Central Vertical Line

by John Upshaw on 2020/09/24

The Central Vertical Line

The central vertical line (CVL) is an internal stretch that exists between the bau hui to the hui yin. I have heard Master Chen refer to this as a “rod” in the body. It should be present whether we’re doing foundations, form or push hands.
When I’m starting with students that need to strengthen the CVL, I have them do a guided imagery drill. The guided imagery was taught to me by Richard Johnson when I attended a week long workshop with Master Chen in 2011.  I adopted the guided imagery and added a partner component as a means of enhancing the physical understanding and strengthening the central vertical line.

The Drill
Initially, I explain where the bai hui and hui yin points are located in the body so when I’m giving instructions they are clear with what I’m talking about.  I have the student start in a wuji stance.  I instruct them to have their feet shoulder width apart. I inform them that their head should be straight and as if suspended in the air. I remind them that their shoulders should be above their hips/kuas and their torso should be straight and buttocks slightly tucked. I also inform them to have their knees slightly bent.
I have the student closed their eyes while they are in the wuji stance. I have them imagine that there is a beam of bright white light between there bai hui and hui yin, this is a stretch that is felt.  I have them imagine this bright beam of light extends through their head, goes into the sky, through the clouds and out into space.  I then say that this beam of bright white light goes from their head , down their spine , through their hui yin, through the ground down into the middle of the earth.  Then I inform them that either myself or their training partner will slightly push on either their left or right shoulder.   I instruct them their job is to maintain that beam of light.   Then the partner pushes on either shoulder.  What I have continuously seen is the CVL doesn’t move and the sides rotate around the CVL.  Repeat this process several time with eyes closed to get the feeling.  Then repeat this with eyes open. The goal is to physically feel the presence of the CVL.


Once one has the physical understanding of the stretch that is required to create this rod in the body, have that the only thing in mind when training the yilu and doing the foundations.  I had the very bad habit of leaning.  I trained only focusing on the central vertical line for an entire summer.  At the end of that summer we had the practical method Workshop in Iowa City.  Master Chen told one of my Taiji brothers, Hugo, I was getting the rod in my body.  Henceforth, training something consistently produced a change in my body.  I noticed during the sword forms the CVL isn’t consistently present, which lets me know I again need to train with this one stretch in mind.  I hope this proves helpful for those seeking to obtain or strengthen their CVL.



{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Moore September 24, 2020 at 12:23 pm

Nice explanation and exercise, thank you!


John Upshaw September 24, 2020 at 1:15 pm

Most welcomed


Richard Johnson September 24, 2020 at 10:10 pm

John, That’s a really nice explanation. Most acupuncture charts draw a round head and put the Baihui at the very top. This is not the point we want. I suspect acupuncturists have specific instructions on finding the Baihui. Regardless, the point we want is easy to find.

Use the flat of your hand and find the highest point on your head.
Put the tip of your middle finger on it. That is NOT the point we want.
Put your index finger down next to it. That’s the point.
As you pull up or follow up from this point, your head will lift up and back over until your ears are over your shoulders, your nose and chin will drop, but only slightly. If your nose and chin drop a lot, your point is probably too far back. If your nose and chin lift, you’re probably too far forward.

For the imagery, white light is a great for most people, but it doesn’t always work for everyone. Anything that will elicit the feeling of flow or being stretched will work, so light, lasers, streams of water, fire, air, lightning, elastic bands, a cable attached to a blimp, helicopter, or star, or trying to touch a ceiling that is just out of reach with the top-back of your head have all worked for students. The key long-term, however, is shifting from visualizing to a “feeling” of suspension, stretch, flow, or hanging.

For the pelvic floor, imagine a weight pulling down your tailbone, or a flow or stretch attached to the tailbone. For this training, you want to be in neutral position. In taijiquan, we use our pelvis and tailbone a lot, so it is good to find neutral, neither sticking out nor tucked.

This is engages a certain kind of contraction in your postural muscles that is paradoxical to the way muscles usually work, so I call this “relaxed strength”, or “paradoxical contraction”. But, because it is paradoxical, you do not feel your muscles tighten, but they are at maximum strength. The literature calls this “stiffness”, however your joints are totally free to move at will without delay.

This is why the partner work is essential; to see if you’re doing it right and to see if you can keep from tensing up in response to the push. If your partner pushes you really hard, you may slide, or even topple over, but you’ll do it as an integrated unit, a block rather than collapsing. Think of yourself as Chen Changxing, “Mr. Stone tablet”.

Also, think of this like the “home row” on a keyboard. Taijiquan, or even life, may require you to move out of this position. That’s fine, but always come back to it.


Chen Zhonghua September 25, 2020 at 8:30 am

The literature calls this “stiffness”

Richard, can you give more details on what “Literature” means here? Literature in general? In medical terms, or with PM?


Richard Johnson September 27, 2020 at 6:17 am

This is the seminal article. There has been more published since.

Loram, I. D., Maganaris, C. N., & Lakie, M. (2004). Paradoxical muscle movement in human standing. The Journal of physiology, 556(Pt 3), 683–689.


Chen Zhonghua September 27, 2020 at 7:04 am
Paul Pryce September 6, 2021 at 4:46 am

Thanks John, your article is very helpful in explaining practically how you got the rod, and hopefully I can apply this to.


John Upshaw September 9, 2021 at 5:17 pm

Most welcomed!


Randi Smith September 9, 2021 at 5:30 pm

Thank you for this article, John. It was really helpful for reiterating what we were talking about in our session today. We should try the drill in our session next week. I also found that I have a problem with leaning during parts of the yilu as well. This will be one of the focuses of my training for awhile so I can start to develop the rod as well.


Paddy Hanratty September 13, 2021 at 10:49 am

Many thanks to both John and Richard for this very useful information.


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