Once you have learnt the movements of your form you have the option to develop it. Undeveloped tai chi is just a physical exercise, more like slow dancing and you will get similar health benefits from it. To get the real benefits from your tai chi practice you will need to make your form internal, it is here that the real benefits come from and also where it gets endlessly interesting. Your form going internal will not happen automatically instead you need to practice intentionally to develop it in that direction. If you don’t it is possible for you to train all your life, develop a beautiful form on the outside but that is all it will ever be. For the form to develop internally, for you to really get to understand first hand what the classics are pointing towards; you need to move from the physical to the internal, by engaging your mind. It is at this point that your tai chi will enter the realm of meditation. The most efficient way to do this is by focussing step by step on the cause of your internal develop, the causes of the form to develop internally as well as externally. There are seven steps that I use to do this and if you follow and develop them in this order you will meet with success. Take care not to rush ahead but instead make solid each step to make sure you create strong foundations.
Once we have learnt the physical movements of our slow form the next step is to learn how to combine these movements. This means making all parts of our body move as one, when one part moves everything moves. Improper movement means that any part of the body is moving separately from the others, an example of this is whilst performing Grasping Birds Tail, are your arms moving separately from your body or is it all combined?
The proper way of practicing this is that our waist and legs should move our arms throughout the whole of the posture; it is an illusion that the arms are moving. This is true throughout the tai chi form; we need to be aware of where the movement comes from and where the energy is going.
Proper movement means that when one part of the body moves all parts move, no part of the body moves independent of the rest. All aspects of the body are in a relationship with each other and to move one part independent is to break this relationship causing imbalance. Understanding and being aware of our body mechanics will help develop this.
Observe your forms, feel them, and check if any movement is separate and not combined. All movements must be combined, moving as one, from the beginning of the form to the end, combined for all 108 movements. Filming yourself and studying the video footage can help with this if you do not have someone to correct you.
In the Key to the Thirteen Kinetic Movements it says: “Be attentive at all time. Deeply remember that one single movement suffices to effect the whole body movement, and there is no isolated stillness without enveloping the whole being.”
In the Treatise of Tai chi chuan it says: “At the start of any movement all parts of the body are called upon to move and act agilely. They should be functionally and sequentially linked throughout the body”
In the Song of the Strike Hands it says: “With all parts of the body coordinated”
Every time we shift weight, every time we finish a posture there are many yin / yang change, we need to develop awareness of these changes. Whilst sinking down, don’t only sink down physically but internally also. When moving into a yang position such as the end of the Brush Knee posture we need to make sure that we bring the movement right to the end until we feel the expanding force moving through our body and right to the tip of the fingers.
A common mistake with finishing in a posture like Brush Knee, for example, is that the yin part of the posture is glided over. If you see someone doing this you will notice that they move from one yang posture to the next, not giving proper respect to the yin part of the posture; not sinking down during the transition step.
Another common mistake is improper finishing at the end of the yang movement, either leaving the hand limp or pushing so that the wrist bends at a ninety degree angle creating a straight, flat palm. The limp wrist will not encourage the chi to come to the end of the movement and straight palm causes a blockage at the wrist. A forty five degree angle in-between these two, so that slight stretching starts to appear on the palm is the middle way, this encourages the chi to travel to the end of the movement whilst being relaxed enough to let it flow.
Be careful not to overextend your arm and lock your elbow, also the same can be said for not extending the arm enough, we are looking for the middle balance here. Pay attention to the finishing within in all postures, the transitions of yin and yang, study them and come to understand. Be aware of what it feels like for your posture to be finished and what it feels like when it is not.
The Treatise of Tai chi chuan says: “There should be no deficiency nor pitfalls; no concavity nor convexity: no disconnection nor extension.” Also “The changing of void and solid must be distinct. There is solid and void in any movement, and any movement consists of void and solid.”
For every force there must be an opposite force otherwise the function of our body will be out of balance. For example: one hand pushing forward on one side of the body, if it is not balanced out by opposite force on the other side, will cause an imbalance. With the slightest touch our body will start to spin, this is because the energy we are creating is pulling us forward and causing it to happen. Try it out now, lift up your right arm and push it forward without doing anything with your left, notice that the more your arm pushes forward the more your body starts to turn.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you