Document 188841

Tips on how to develop a home taiji practice ©Paul Tim Richard
Monday, June 9, 2014
Many writers on tai chi refer to home practice in their texts. They speak of it as a given, an
essential aspect that is assumed and is central to the overall practice of tai chi. In this article, I
outline basic steps for developing a home practice that stem from my own practice. I focus on
why, what and how to practice. I believe that people go to their first tai chi class because they are
seeking change. Why. Our motivations are unique to each of us. How. Once we do attend their
first few classes, some of us have to consciously seek further motivation to continue, or we give
up. We don’t know how to proceed, I think. What. Just do the moves. Learn them, remember
them and do them.
As soon as you begin learning tai chi you should practice at home. Developing a home practice is
really a matter of getting and utilizing information that helps us to shift our habits towards
treating ourselves better. Tai chi itself provides that information. It nurtures positive change. I
hope that you find something useful in this text and that it helps you along the way. If you’re
ready to accept the change tai chi offers, then you’re already on your way.
This essay is a work in progress, like tai chi is. Join to stay up to date on
future additions and other opportunities for learning
I show other learners basic, fundamental principles and techniques for practicing tai chi and
qigong. While tai chi is something many people have made into a lifelong pursuit of knowledge,
they are still employing universal, fundamental concepts and principles in their movements.
Once you have a working understanding of the fundamentals and as long as you incorporate
them in any movement you do (not just tai chi), you can say you’re doing tai chi—the supreme
ultimate expression of whatever you may be doing at any moment. So I say, learn the basics first
and learn them from a good teacher, someone who is passionate, humble, experienced, welltraveled, seeks simplicity, and teaches with kindness. Look for a teacher who is a good student,
because only a good student can be a good teacher, not only of others, but of one’s own self.
Why do beginning tai chi practitioners often find it difficult to establish a home practice? Why do people attend tai chi class and still not develop a home practice? All excuses aside—too
busy, too lazy, no time, lack of confidence, or some other form of resistance—there is a reason
that lies deeper below the surface of the usual excuses. We are challenged at some level of
awareness. If we can understand why this happens, then we might be better able to overcome
this common obstacle … this opponent. Your own resistance is an opponent, faking you, coming
after you, throwing you off balance.
Tai chi is something you do yourself for yourself. It is not a pill you take then sit back and let it
do its thing. You have to be engaged. Memory, repetition, study … go into it. In order for taiji to
work best you must go into it.
“Change your mind to change your body.
Practice gongfu to understand your body and your life.”
—a common saying—
The New Coming of Age
With the Baby Boomers aging and seeking alternatives to healthy living, or supplemental
activities for building health and well-being, this is a good time to provide educational and
informational tips and examples for getting the best from tai chi. As taijiquan becomes more
popular as a tool for personal, preventative, health care, greater demand for information on
developing a home practice that takes the best advantage of it is stimulating new avenues of
learning, such as this article.
Here are some thoughts for getting up out of that chair and doing a few moves that feel good
without feeling like work. This kind of work is good for you and that other work, well … it
drains you. We’re so habituated to it, that it hinders us from developing an exercise practice or
even to take responsibility for our own health. !
Most of us have become complacent in our discomfort or mental fatigue. “Better the devil we
know, than the devil we don’t know,” as the saying goes. Well, that’s not acceptable anymore
when you give yourself over to learning something like tai chi. It was an enlightened moment
when we took the initiative to try tai chi. Keep that in mind when you feel resistance.
Often there is a distinct difference between the motivation that regular tai chi class participants
feel in class and the lack of motivation at home. Getting motivated in class is not the same as
motivating yourself at home. At home you might begin a routine, but wear out before you reach a
new level of attainment in your practice. If that comes up, just recall that moment that you first
decided to give it a try. In that moment rests a nugget of motivation that will keep you going. !
Rationale—Tai chi and qigong help you gather the will and energy to achieve your goals for
your life. You’re teaching your body to do things that it doesn’t normally do. But tai chi and
qigong are natural movements, as opposed to what has become habitual movement. Same with
your mind. You’re stretching it beyond its usual limits. As a child you moved naturally, your
body was new and unimpeded. But now as an adult you’ve learned to move incorrectly. This is
especially brought on by neglect to the inner workings of our bodies, both the material and
mechanical, and the more ethereal—the energetic. But it’s also true that we all know how to do
this. We just need to be exposed to it again.
“You cannot change nature, only yourself.”
What is a “Practice”?
Think of tai chi as a “practice”—a process of doing and learning over time. It’s a dedication to
learning. No one starts out knowing all there is to know. No one is perfect from the beginning, at
least in the perfect execution of the moves and postures. The allure of tai chi is to refine and
perfect. !
“It is better to do a single move perfectly, than to do a hundred mediocre moves.”
—Old taiji saying—
Perhaps our perfection resides in the notion that we do try to do better, that we have a desire to
be better. The desire is a sign, proof, that we are capable of perfection; thus in that sense we are
perfect already. Unless we neglect our responsibility, we are assured success by virtue of our
purest desires. Desire transforms into intention, perception transforms into awareness. We
perceive the obscure. This is tai chi practice.
Developing a Daily Practice
Developing a home practice is key, but it also is difficult to do these days when so many of us
must juggle a practice with the demands of modern lives, work, family, providing ourselves with
comfortable and fulfilling lives. Tai chi requires dedication to daily practice in order to receive its
greatest benefits. Fortunately, the benefits are cumulative. Our bodies store the information
indefinitely. Many people start and stop practice and when they start back up, thinking they have
forgotten and will have to start from scratch. But even after not practicing for a while, you pick it
up again. Your body remembers and it’s like you’re right back where you left off only yesterday.
The more you do the moves the more your overall being benefits, but even a little bit now and
again adds up. Starting over is an unnecessary concept. This stops people from continuing. More
precisely, they think they have to get it all at once and it seems like much too big of a challenge,
so they don’t try at all. A true practice is incremental, steady, regular, consistent.
What to Practice
One challenge is to learn form. At first, most of us have trouble remembering the sequence steps
and postures. We give up and I would say many give up too soon. They don’t give themselves
enough credit to learn, which isn’t fair to themselves. Maybe you forget the sequence of moves
in a form, but if you practice even the simplest of moves that you do remember, your body will
feel the difference from trying. It will want more. My approach is to do basic, fundamental
moves out of which the more complex movement comes.
Here are my thoughts and some tips to begin practice. !
Where do you begin?
Be clear on where to begin in your practice. Standing in wuqi is the most natural place to begin.
If you have taken a class with me, then you will have been introduced to the various techniques
of standing in wuqi available to you.
Do something at least a few minutes everyday
The beginning is probably the most difficult for learners. Serious tai chi is full of information and
thresholds to pass through. However, you are rewarded for every sincere effort you make. But it
takes less effort than you think. Of course, you won’t know unless you try.
Don’t find time for tai chi … make time
Scheduling time for home practice is the number one reason why people don’t practice. I don’t
accept this reason anymore. Tai chi for me is as necessary as brushing my teeth, or eating and
sleeping. The cool thing is that it replaces a lot of exercise that you’re not getting. !
Whether it’s a daily practice or every other day, don’t let it go to long before you do practice
because you will forget more than you wish. To facilitate memory, practice regularly with not too
much time between practices.
Attend a class weekly (of course!)
Simple. You need to work with others I also strongly recommend a weekend workshop at least
once or twice a year. Your learning will skyrocket.
Read my blog, the Dragon Journal of Taijiquan for all kinds of tips and thoughts for practice.
When to do Tai Chi
Do tai chi minutes after returning home from class. Don’t slip into old habits so quickly. Don’t
watch TV for a bit and practice one or two things you remember.
Do tai chi when your body calls for it. When you feel the urge, you should respond. Sooner or
later, you will feel the urge. Do tai chi when the urge to do it comes to you of its own accord. The
most important time to do it is when you think of it out of the course of daily life. Do it when
you think about doing it. Don’t just continue to think about it, don’t even talk about it—with
yourself or someone else. Just move with it.
Do tai chi even when you are least likely to remember tai chi. Trying to remember could help
you through. For me those times of resistance, and of opportunity, are usually in the office in
front of a computer, or on the phone, trying to meet a deadline with so much still to be done.
Tension builds up in the neck and lower back. My shoulders hunch. My eyes weary of staring at
the monitor. By the end of the day I’m too tired to look at even wonderful things in life, birds in
the trees, the way the sunlight casts a golden glow on the piñon and juniper forest blanketing the
hillsides around my cabin. If I had remembered I would have stopped to do a little tai chi. The
residual effect of the tai chi you did last week helps a little bit during those times. But you need
to water your self like you water your flowers.
Practice tip
Do tai chi with music. Listen to Beethoven’s 29th piano sonata, the 3rd movement, an adagio of
emotion, both deep and soaring. It is a graceful expression of life’s journey. Tai chi is like a
journey—one of discovery, amazement and feelings of accomplishment. !
At first, class is to learn the basics, then it should be viewed as a time to gauge progress in the
home practice. Test your solo practice outcomes in class with others. What you learn in tai chi
class accumulates into an overwhelming mass of information, little of which you are clear about .
. . unless you practice sufficiently. You see what the teacher does and try to emulate without
having gone through the basics, or learning them and forgetting them. A syntax is needed, a
systematic arrangement of moves. You see the practice of the teacher and think that is what you
need to be doing. But you don’t see how you can do that so you become apprehensive. You don’t
develop a home practice. You don’t see how to begin. !
It is simple to alter this state. Learn one thing, practice it well, then use it as a launch pad to learn
another thing well and another and another. Then you learn how to do new things well more
A teacher is sensitive to subtle effects of teaching methods. If I am open
to new paths of learning for myself I am able to show new paths to others.
How to Remember Better
Simplicity is essential. The simpler the better, because it facilitates memory. Something is easier
to remember when it is simple to do. The caveat is if it is too simple the learner’s interest is lost.
But no matter what, you must seek to focus to receive the beneficial effects. I once saw a video
of a man who upon contemplating suicide in a park was approached by an elderly Chinese man
who asked him what was his problem. He answered, “I can’t sleep.” The Chinese man, who
turned out to be the taiji master, T.T. Liang, said, “If I could show you how to sleep, would you
be interested in learning?” The man said yes, so Master Liang taught him one move, the first
move of the form, for 90 minutes. The man was so tired and sore from what Master Liang
showed him that he slept like a baby that night and forgot all about killing himself. That was 47
years ago and he is still practicing and teaching others “how to sleep,” as he says.
My reason for telling this story is that this man knew his motivation and you should know yours.
It should be clear and you should not falter. Otherwise, give up now, because you will later
anyway. Or never give up and see where it takes you. You see, for me taiji is more important than
many other things in life. Period. Develop your private practice and see what I mean.
Learn to appreciate the empty spaces within your being. Move from emptiness, return to emptiness.
Knowing Where and How to Begin is Key
You need something to focus on at home; for example, moving the sacrum or the dantian in
specific shapes and patterns; circles, figure 8s, diagonally, spirals. Read more on my Dragon
Journal blog at !
At first you imagine actual physical things, parts of the body that you need to move more.
Structural. Later, maybe years, but probably not is you attend weekly classes, you use this to
cultivate ability to visualize and perceive things that are not so corporeal, but are potentially even
more powerful than the bones and ligaments. Ultimately, they all complement each other when
they align all together in unity, synchronicity. As my teachers Susan A. Matthews and George Xu
say and do. You move the space around you and ultimately everything in that space..
Getting started
Check out videos on my website or Susan Matthews’ for follow along practice footage. Some are
free. More in-depth study requires a streaming fee or dvd purchase. Eight Pieces of Brocade with
Susan A. Matthews is a good start for an absolute beginner with no previous practice. The idea is
to have something to practice with at home.
The No-Option Option
I think a lot of people discontinue tai chi practice because they think it would be too much of a
full-time job learning tai chi. They’re right. It is a full-time job for those who choose to make it
one. It doesn’t have to be so involved for everyone. You can do tai chi at whatever regularity that
feels good. You can do more or you can do less. What is not an option to not to do tai chi at all. !
What everyone should consider, however, is to put in enough time when you first begin learning
in order to get the basics. I teach basics and I am accessible to everyone, which not always the
case elsewhere. !
Want to Read More?
How about this one: Common Excuses Not To Do Tai Chi