I have already referred to T’ai Chi’s principles in my early blog posts – but what are these? Here’s my guide to T’ai Chi principles for beginners:
So often beginners rush into the class with their mind still on what has already happened that day and half an eye on what’s still to be done that week… I advise all students to slow down – just bring the mind quietly into the present moment. Try to stop the mind from chattering – if a thought does come into your mind, just acknowledge it and then dismiss it. At the end of the meditative walking section of my class I encourage students to be aware of the stillness around them and to relax into this. Believe me, it’s wonderful!
Relax into the movements
Try to release any tension you may be holding in your body. Take time at the beginning of your practice to run checks through your body to ensure that you are relaxed into all of your joints. Pay special attention to the shoulders – these should be relaxed and down; but not forced.
Curves, not straight lines
Curve your elbows gently; bend slightly into the legs. When you push forwards from the shoulders, do so with slightly curved arms. We never lock the joints.
Be aware of shifting your weight between left and right; be aware of outward stretching movements, and their opposing retracting moves. In general, breathe in with an inward movement, and out with an outward movement. Also, as your arms rise, this usually indicates a slow inward breath. T’ai Chi requires and encourages co-ordination. Feel how your moves co-ordinate (between left and right; also between arms and legs; also between opposite arm and leg). Be aware of creating a full leg before you lift your empty leg. Always place the foot firmly before you bring any weight into it.
Use the meditative walking part of the class to develop an awareness of opposites, and benefit from a heightened sense of co-ordination and control.
In T’ai Chi we practise the moves as if they are one continuous movement. Feel your weight shift between R and L legs. This is where you will become much stronger, and improve your overall balance (great for preventing trips and falls). It will also allow your body to start predicting which movement comes next (the whole Form when practised from start to finish takes around 20 minutes).
Internalise your movements
Bring your mind into the movement; don’t worry about what’s happened before the class; if a thought does come into your mind – acknowledge it – and then dismiss it. Be mindful of what you’re doing and live in the moment. Also concentrate on your lower tantien as an energy centre.
Keeping a short T’ai Chi diary on how you feel at the end of each class will confirm your progress on mindful movement.
Feel a good connection with the ground
Feel your weight going under the ground. Sink your weight into the legs. You should feel strong to the middle, then quite fluid in the upper half of your body.
Think about energy flowing through your body; also feel your palms collecting energy. Energy is more than just “heat.”
Ease off – the “less is more” principle
Be happy with giving less effort; let it go. This is a difficult concept for new beginners! The early warm-up exercises are so often practised way to fast – use these to slow yourself down. It might feel a little unnatural at first – but give it a go. Once you accept it’s ok to ease off, there’s a whole new world out there!
In T’ai Chi we never stretch more than 70%. We always work within the limits of our own bodies.
Go With the Flow
You will have heard this phrase used in many day-to-day situations. As a martial art, T’ai Chi can be used to yield the forces of an opponent. The theory is that in T’ai Chi you don’t meet force with force. As your opponent comes towards you, in T’ai Chi you yield before countering with an approach. In Part II students will come across “Monkey Steps” in which you will yield, walking backwards but still remaining strong in yourself. This is a wonderful feeling – a very powerful movement.
If you apply this to your learning – giving 110% attention to acquiring the moves is less likely to net you your ultimate goal of learning T’ai Chi. This is often difficult for beginners to grasp. Understandably beginners are keen to learn and often seek out too much of the detail. Try a “Go with the flow” approach, and if you want to feel that you are “doing your best”, concentrate on getting the general direction right first. Prioritise the legs. The arms don’t lead.
Through clarity, you can build confidence. As a learning technique, using strong clarity in your moves will help your body to understand the moves, and will in time allow you to “remember” next steps. If you have been shy in pulling in your right toes when taking up the Birds Beak stance, for example, your body can be forgiven for not knowing that its next move should be to turn the right foot to north (because it will already be pointing north). Over-exaggerating moves is not to be encouraged either – T’ai Chi does not encourage this (think of the other principles under Go with the flow and ease off). T’ai Chi is all about finding a balanced approach. This is something which we could all benefit from in our everyday lives.
Simplicity & and using less effort
With practice, and with the technique described in “Clarity”, keeping your moves simple will ensure you get the most benefit from your T’ai Chi. Try not to over-complicate; readjust your body if on occasions a movement doesn’t feel right (e.g. if you have stepped into a stance with is too wide).
Wishing you all improved, relaxed practice!
For more info on T’ai Chi beginners’ classes, please see www.thetaichiroom.co.uk
Or for a T’ai Chi “taster” session – see Retreat Days, featuring T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates at www.thetaichiroom.co.uk/Retreat_Days.aspx