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The Tai Chi Netguide 
a full and comprehensive online step-by-step guides to the Yang Forms and warm-ups

Practice hints & tips

Learning tai chi is not a quick process. You can't learn it in a short time and reap the benefits immediately. You can reap some benefits in the early stages, but as Chen Man Ching said, it will be a long time before you begin to 'get it'. Don't be put off, however. The learning process is fascinating. Learning the form is about repetition: learn a move, practice it until you get the hang of it, then add a move a few days later. Practice the two moves together, then learn the next move, and so on, gradually building up. The more the repetition, the more your body becomes in tune, and it (as well as your mind) remembers the movements.

You will always spend most of your initial time concentrating on the mechanics - once the repetition has allowed you to free your mind from this, you can concentrate on the breathing, and on allowing your mind to become clearer. You can then analyse your movements, and fine tune and perfect your moves.

head straightAlways keep your head straight while you are doing tai chi. Focus into the middle distance, at eye level, and as long as you are doing this, your head will not lower or fall forward. This aids balance, and if you imagine your head 'hanging' from a string attached to your crown like a puppet, then it becomes easier. The chi node at the top of your head is a central meeting point of nearly all the chi meridien lines in the body, and is where chi is released upwards into the atmosphere.

back straightKeep your back straight - obviously except for some of the moves, such as fan through the back, that require the back bent. If your back is straight all the time, you will form a vertical 'plumb line' from the top of your head to your tan tien - your centre of gravity and of your chi (about two inches below your navel). Apart from helping the flow of chi, the physical upshot of this is that is with your back straight all the time, it is very difficult to move your body so that it is overbalanced.

bubbling springThink about the 'Bubbling Spring'. The Bubbling Spring is the chi node under the foot, just behind the pads, that is the entry point of chi flowing up through the ground. The Chinese place enormous importance upon this, hence the idea of a 'bubbling spring' of energy welling up through the ground into your body. If you make yourself aware of this as you practice, and conceive of it, by 'rooting' your feet via this point (almost as if you are pushing your feet into the ground just behind the pads) you will find that balancing becomes very easy.

Splay your toes slightly. Doing this in conjunction with the Bubbling Spring really does make a difference to the way that you balance - especially at the times when you are one leg.

Always practice in fluidic, constant motion. You don't do one move, then another, as separate things, 'stopping' between each: the end of one move should flow seamlessly into another - while you are finishing one, a part of your body should be beginning the next.

pushTai chi moves are circular: as you get more experienced with the moves, make hand movements more circular in motion, eg: in grasp the sparrows tail, rather than move your arm down to your opposite hip in a straight line, 'scoop' it in a circular movement instead. This increases the fluidity of the motion, and brings expression into the form.

Any form is not rigid: as you become more experienced, bring your own expression into the moves.

Think about yin and yang as you practice: inward motions are yin, or passive, so 'suck' into them, and outward motions are aggressive - yang, so 'push' them out. Breathe out as you push out, and breathe in as you bring your movements in.

An important aspect of tai chi is the breathing. Once you have got the movements to the point where they are automatic and you don't have to think about them, concentrate on your breathing. Slow down you breaths, and take longer inhalations and exhalations. As stated above, breathe in as you bring your arms into your body - yin - and breathe out as you push away from the body - yang.

Always be relaxed: especially in your arms. Your hands are never rigid, but always 'limp' or relaxed, even for yang moves. Once you are able to do this, you will find an increase in your chi and your relaxation.

The form should really be done as slowly as possible, but essentially do it at the pace that suits you. Later on, you can begin to slow down.

Some of the moves, normally the ones where the leg is raised, such as lift hands or the kicks, are not always easy for those with rheumatic or arthritic problems, or those with collapsed arches - just adapt the move, and raise your leg to the level that is comfortable, even if this is only just off the floor. Be wary of pains, especially in your knees - ease off a bit. Often if you are experiencing pains then you may not be doing the move in balance - adapt.

Sometimes it is difficult to get into doing some tai chi - your mind may be buzzing ('monkey mind', unfocussed and all over the place), and you just can't concentrate properly. Try making a practice of spending a few minutes doing some (even just a couple) of chi kung excersises before you start. As chi kung is essentially about breathing and slowing your breaths, this really helps to calm everything down.

When doing tai chi at home, create an environment that helps: bring the lighting down - candles strategically placed instead of normal lights; perhaps some quiet soothing background music: this is especially helpful when there are distracting noises like traffic outside.

One of the problems of doing tai chi at home is that your room is not always big enough to allow you to do the form without running out of space. It is no good breaking the flow by stopping, and then moving back in order to carry on - rather adapt your movements. Until I recently moved, I had been doing the full Long Yang form in an area six foot by seven foot, by simply shortening my steps, and compensating when I go too far forwards by taking larger steps back - the classic example is in the first section, when you do a brush knee left, then play guitar, then brush knee left, then right, then left, then play guitar, then forward parry and punch. This takes you a long way in one direction, so shorten the forward steps, and do a longer step back for each play guitar to help bring you back again. And so on. With a little practice you will know when to adjust - in fact if you generally keep your steps shorter, you will only have to adapt a very few other moves.

The fundamental tip for doing tai chi is to do it often. Once a week will give you absolutely no benefit whatsoever, so make a practice of doing it every day, or at least four to five times a week. Set a little quality time aside each day, and know that this is the time that you will be doing it. Just allow your circumstances to provide you with the time. When I get home from work each day, I sit down for a cup of tea (if you are not english, this is a trait peculiar to us Brits) for half an hour to unwind, and then do tai chi before my partner comes home: my little quality time.

Always practice in fluidic, constant motion. You don't do one move, then another, as separate things, 'stopping' between each: the end of one move should flow seamlessly into another - while you are finishing one, a part of your body should be beginning the next.
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