The goal of basic exercises and tai chi overall is actually simple. It’s natural movement. Easy, natural movement. That’s it. It’s just unbelievable that so few of us have this. If life were as simple as just achieving natural movement, easy flowing natural movement, there wouldn’t be wars. There would be hardly any kind of arguments so common these days. There would be difficulties, there would be challenges, but it would be a different world. People would be different. This world would be different because people would have changed.
Natural movement is rhythmic, synchronous movement. Even the most basic move—front/back, up/down, left/right—can be challenging to perform with precision. Think Dance.
Another goal: visualize and internalize the motion in the body.
At the beginner level, and even higher levels, you need to learn how to get out of muscle and reduce reliance on muscle. Become aware of which muscles are tensing up as you move.
Not to use muscle is part of finding the core of your being and letting the rest of it go and retraining it to cooperate with the center. So you send messages to the external of the body from the inside, from the deepest core you can perceive. It’s a matter of perception. When you let the muscles go you’re really investing in loss as Chen Man Qing said a long time ago. He was one of the first internal martial artists to come to the United States and introduce these concepts in the martial arts world.
There are different levels to move to once you have begun letting go of the muscles. One is called bone power. Sit on your bones. Let one bone sit on the other and let the connective tissue move. It takes a mental awareness to do that. This is associated with moving in gravity.
A key to reducing your reliance on muscle is to use your senses to detect tension. Different moves highlight different parts of the body giving you a chance to keep an eye out for misalignment of BOJOLTs (bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons), no alignment, or reliance on any single part more than any other.
As you gradually grow more aware of the alignment (“zhong ding”), you become more capable of discerning the flow of energy that results from aligning the body more precisely. BOJOLTs together in a single unit in which the parts communicate with each other in such a way that each is playing a natural role towards perfection, cooperation, harmony and coordination which creates a whole that the parts don’t achieve on their own.
Another goal is to get connected, which is actually a result of alignment. This means to know how to move the whole body, all of its parts, synchronously. If one part moves then the whole body should move harmoniously with it. If one part is not moving then the whole body should be still in oneness, not moving at all. This is the first thing you read in the Taijiquan Jing classic.
It’s easy to see that it takes time to reach a level at which all parts are unified in movement. That’s why regular practice over time is the best way to learn.