Tips on developing your tai chi home practice

Often the only thing that stops us from home practice is not knowing where to begin. The simplest thing is to start anywhere, which might be too vague, so I suggest asking yourself what do you remember from class that resonates with you? The answer is do that one thing and go from there with where it leads you. Stand in wuqi and recall a move that your body feels an affinity towards, do it, repeat it over and over if that is all you recall. The first move of form is a place to start.

Do just 20 minutes or 30 or even 10, as fully and completely as possible. Congratulate yourself for what you do accomplish; not as an excuse to stop early or to do less, but for true progress, which is measured by the completeness of the movement and an honest feeling of achievement in your heart.

The idea of where to start can also be thought of as where in the body movement is initiated. This gives you a focus of mind, which is the core of tai chi learning and achievement. Begin by moving from the dantian. Focus your mind on the dantian and move from there.

Dantian is not only a place in the body. It is also a concept that is not constrained to any particular place in the body. It can be placed anywhere. With this notion, you can begin from the center of your body, or anywhere else for that matter. Where you place your attention creates the center around which the rest moves. You can revolve around the solar plexus, or the sole of a foot, for example. I often show learners to move the feet by circulating around the bubbling well, shifting weight in circles around that point. You don’t need to think, just act. This takes concentration and may seem difficult to hold the attention on such a small point, but something about it is subtly relaxing.

Choosing a place to begin is key in helping you develop your home practice. If you need a little push, I suggest visiting www.susanamatthews.com and viewing some of the many free video clips of Sifu Matthews or other masters from China doing very useful movements. You can follow along to get started. Remember what you learn and try doing them on your own at home in the privacy of your practice place. Before you know it, you will have your practice going strong.

How tai chi can positively affect heart rate

Did you know that your posture and body position effect your heart rate? Why would you care about this little piece of knowledge? Because your heart rate determines how much oxygen in your blood reaches the cells in your body. The cells are the locus of life where energy is created through biological processes. Blood circulation is key in regenerating cells, in maintaining cellular health, and producing energy in the body. If you feel fatigued more often than you think you should, take a look at your posture and body position in a mirror. A very simple way to tell you is to check if your ears are over your shoulders, your shoulders are over your hips and your hips are over your ankles. If any of these either too far forward or too far backwards, it will give you an idea of your posture.

How do you fix it? I do tai chi. It is one of the best ways of developing a powerful awareness of alignment in the body and in the brain. It would be difficult to find anything better than tai chi to do this. Tai chi is accessible to most people and can help alleviating the effects of many health conditions.

Don’t wait too long before starting tai chi

People sometimes start tai chi almost too late. They waited too long. I started at age 46. Ten years before, I had begun yoga and had 2½ years of Shotokan karate. And for decades, I hiked the mountains and deserts and canyons. Wherever I traveled, I walked. Although, I had injuries and illness when I started, I consider myself lucky. I was still in relatively good shape.

 

Every now and then, someone comes to take tai chi as a last resort, or they finally found a place or teacher who offers it. But some are too ill, too old, or too injured. I don’t say this lightly. I have only found that if they had found it, looked for it sooner, it would be easier.

 

One reason why is because they have too little time to learn the basics, which could help them build up skills that can help treat conditions, alleviate them, and prevent further deterioration. Another reason, the main one, is that they have more difficulty changing their minds about how they move. Tai chi is really a brain exercise more than anything and the mind is where changes must occur. Healing in the body follows changes in the mind and energetic configuration. This is what I have found to a great a degree. You would need to work with someone privately everyday at great cost in order to see the most progress. It’s not impossible, but the challenge would be great.

 

 

Recently, a couple in their 70s came to a free intro class I offered one Saturday and advertised in the local newspaper. The wife brought the husband as a way to get him doing some light physical activity, I assumed. I learned during class that he had had a mild (apparently) stroke, was blind in one eye, and had part of a lung removed for whatever reasons. His mental capacity was slightly limited. He was not overweight and looked as though he had lived an active lifestyle and had been financially successful. He came to two classes.

 

 

It was clear that he had difficulty raising his arms over his head and I asked him if he was in pain. He said no, but he clearly had difficulty. A few days later his wife emailed and said they had to quit tai chi because he was in pain. Tai chi class just wasn’t what could help him, at least at the time. He really needed special, customized care.

Why they thought tai chi could help is a question I would like to ask them. I assume the group interaction and some sort of activity in the day was at least part of her reasons. I respect that they gave it a try, in any case, because that is what we all should do if we haven’t yet.

 

 

I say don’t wait too long before starting tai chi. If you can stick with it, you should try to practice tai chi whatever your circumstances, in whatever capacity you are able to.

 

Even now for myself I have to be sure and practice regularly, almost everyday really. Because it doesn’t take long to feel the effects of age and of a lifestyle defined by the work that I do; the sitting and driving in automobiles and sitting at computers.

 

 

Whatever age we are, we should be learning and practicing relaxation movement in tai chi basics, form, and qigong, and adding power stretching and other practices as we progress.

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p class=”MsoNormal”>But if you decide that you can’t do tai chi, and even if you can, I recommend walking instead. If tai chi turns out to be too difficult, walk as much as you can. If you can incorporate some tai chi principles in your walking then do it. There are many mental practices that you can do. You might need help from a partner or a pro, but it can be done.

 

Taiji at the Mystery Temple

Taiji at the Mystery Temple

Early morning practice at the Mystery Temple in Suzhou City, a couple of hours SW of Shanghai China.