As a beginner, Tai Chi can be perceived as something quite simple. Yet the emphasis on achieving the correct posture whilst relaxing the body and breathing deeply can be quite difficult at first. As soon as you concentrate on dropping your shoulders, your lower back closes. Ok, try again.... as you drop your shoulders your breathing reverts to upper chest breathing. Hmmm, try again..... Concentrate on deep belly breathing and your shoulder muscles become tense. The focus on details can be immense and a bit overwhelming. The goal is to have your body, mind and breathing as one unit, working together naturally and smoothly.
Whether you are practicing the various Tai Chi static stances used with Qi Gong breathing, or are practicing moves within the form. As a beginner try focusing on doing one thing correctly for a few minutes. An example would be in your standing practice, for 2-3 minutes focus just on your shoulders. What are they doing, how can you relax them, can adapt your posture gently, are they getting tired early, can you move them slightly to get a better connection? Use a mirror if you need to initially, until your body learns instinctively where to put itself. Over time the more training you do, these moves will become natural, meaning your body has built a memory from practice. This is how you progress in Tai Chi.
Layers in Tai Chi Stance Training
- Focus on your breathing to calm the mind and avoid mental distraction
- Become aware of sensations in the body and follow them e.g. hot, cold, pulse, tension, tingles
- Mentally scan your body from the crown to your toes for areas of tension, and mentally drop these areas of tension away.
- Concentrate the mind on the Dantian. This is located approx 2 inches below your navel, and approx 2 inches into the body, the centre of gravity. The Dantian is your energy centre, where you store energy. This practice is also known as 'sinking the mind to the Dantian.
- Muscles relaxed, using appropriate muscular contraction. This means avoiding using all of your muscles at once, which is too many muscles and will drain your energy quicker.
- Keep the joints relaxed and open, no locked joints. You want your body to be completely connected without blocking the Meridians so that energy can flow throughout from your head to your finger tips and toes.
- Head erect, chin down, feel the neck muscles engage at the back of the head
- Shoulder blades open and drop the shoulders down (avoid having your trap muscles hunched up by your ears).
- Chest relaxed down, avoid sticking the chest out (which closes the lower back), and don't slump the chest down.
- Sit into your hip crease, a mini squat and hold it. Don't stick the pelvis forward or back, keep the pelvis in the middle. Open the lower back (lumbar region) with the pelvis rounded under slightly.
- Knees bent slightly, not past the toes, nor locked straight.
- Tongue on the roof of your mouth to connect the microcosmic orbit when you breathe (this connects 2 of the major Meridian Channels in the body; Du Mai and Ren Mai), breathing through your nose.
- Concentrate the mind on the Dantian (approx 2 inches below your navel, and approx 2 inches into the body, the Dantian is your energy centre, where you store energy). Breathe into the Dantian, deep circular belly breathing.
Layers in Tai Chi Form Training
When learning the Tai Chi form, it is important to have a single point of focus. There are many layers of learning, and it is impossible to focus on them all at once. By training the layers and principles separately, over time they all start to mould together in your performance, as muscle memory develops. Noted below are a few of the examples of what your single point of focus can be in your form practice.
|Peng Jin||Expanded, rebounding, resilient, balloon-like structure.|
|Dang||Rounded, open, arched, relaxed groin and thighs.|
|Ding||Body upright, spine, neck, head.|
|Chen||Grounding and rooting. A heaviness and sinking into the ground, matched with an opposing connection to the limbs and extremities.|
|Song||Relaxed, let go, a release of muscular tension and holding. Not slouched or floppy, or slumping into the joints. None of the principles mentioned work without song.|
|Kua||The outer hip crease, internal hip socket, part of the buttock and lower back. Responsible for the Tai Chi squat, sinking and turning motion.|
Relaxed, neutral shoulders
Relaxed, lengthened lumbar
Knees that follow the foot and do not pass the toes.
Symmetry in the body
|Chan Si Gong||Silk reeling motion, spiralling of upper and lower body and torso.|
|Centre line||Wrists not passing the centre line.|
|Yao||The waist turning in the movements.|
|Dantian||Rotation of the dantian through the movements.|
|Whole body movement in flow||No detail or choreography, flowing connected movements to help train passed the wooden / awkward phase.|
|Continuity in movement||Unity between limbs moving fast and slow.|
|Connected movement through the transitions||Not dropping out at the end of each movement, keeping Peng Jin 'rolling' throughout the form.|
|Abdominal breathing||Combining diaphragmatic breathing with store/release, expand/compress, yin/yang in the movements.|
|Expansion and compression||Joint movement e.g. shoulders, hips, vertebra.|
|Store and release||Finding yin and yang in movement, and fajin.|
|Kan and Li||Lower body like water, upper body like fire.|
|Martial intent||Playing out the key martial applications in the mind through the form.|
Before you practice, set out the goal of the session, or change focus each routine or form your perform. Anytime your mind gets distracted, re-focus on the principle or goal. Bring the mind back to that single point of focus.