exploring and empowering the human possibility…

many ways to practice

Hello everyone! The subject of personal practice often comes up in Tai Chi classes. Whether we are just beginning or have years under our belt, it’s often helpful to ponder our practice and how we can make it even more beneficial and enjoyable.

I’ve written in the past about the importance of identifying your reasons for practice and to regularly keep them in your awareness: Why is Tai Chi important to you? Align yourself closely with your why and you will naturally gravitate toward more and more satisfying practice. Make sure your reasons resonate personally and continually feel into what is inspiring and uplifting to you.

It is also beneficial to have a sense of progression in our approach to Tai Chi: where are we starting from and where we are going. This came up recently in a forms class I was teaching.  The solo forms of Tai Chi are very important. They exist as a container for principles and ideas; a template for fundamental movement. They also afford us a vehicle through which we cultivate certain energies and qualities inherent in this art.

We begin with a bare hand solo form and basic choreography. This is the first golden gate to higher levels of study. Without a clear sense of choreography and the body mechanics that support it, its difficult to progress further. So we learn the basics of stance, coordination, relaxation, and what move comes after the one before. At times, this can be a challenging phase. At others, it’s an exciting exploration and it simply gets easier with practice. Push through the challenging bits. :)

Once we learn the basic solo form, whether it be a short form or the traditional Long Form, we can relax even more and dig into deeper levels of practice. Forms are not meant to be a stopping point, but rather a beginning point. They provide us a foundation upon which we can build and to which we return time and again for higher levels of mastery. Pondering the Ten Important Points of Yang, Chengfu is a great way to take your form work to a deeper place. At first, I recommend just working with one principle at a time.

Beyond the standard interpretation of form, there are many ways in which we can practice and a lot of variety we can bring to each session. Variety, if done with mindfulness and attention to core principles, can afford us higher levels of understanding and mastery in our art. We can alter speed, rhythm, frame size, and other points of emphasis. Doing so can significantly improve our coordination, balance, awareness, and more. And this can be far more pleasing than limiting ourselves to mere repetition.

Beyond adding variety, there is the level of more free-form practice. One can practice movements in the opposite direction or go more “randomly” from one posture to the next, creating logical transitions that link the movements together. This level of practice elevates our familiarity with the various techniques in Tai Chi. A good way to begin this kind of practice is to choose only two movements from the form that do not typically occur together, such as ward-off and push. Create a good transition between them and practice it in various ways – left side, right side, different angles, etc. Just let yourself explore how two movements can connect with each other.

Another whole new arena of form work opens up once a student begins two-person practice. Prior to this, form work can be somewhat abstract but once we have the feeling of connecting to another human being in controlled drills, the bare hand forms start to feel deeper and more relevant. There is suddenly a felt context in our movement.

So, I encourage you to look deeply. No matter where you are in your study of Tai Chi, think both inside and outside the box. Breath, relax, go slowly and enjoy the exploration of your own self in the process. And let us engage our Tai Chi as if we are a force of nature… for surely we are!

In upcoming form classes, we’ll be digging more deeply into core principles and creative practice in solo work. There is also a new 2-person workshop coming up on the 31st and a brand new 5-Section class beginning in June. I hope to see you there!

 

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