I try to remind my students that real tai chi chuan (taijiquan) practice is not about fixating on memorizing the form. A lot of people will never understand this. But the ones that do, soar like eagles. My teacher, Master Jou Tsung Hwa, always emphasized that the highest form of tai chi practice was if you could meld it with your daily life. The secret, he said, was in putting your focus on practicing the principles more than the form. The memorized form, while also important, is just a container to express the principles.
So, tai chi beginners and advanced players, here’s some thing you CAN do that will easily bring you much progress into your fitness, longevity, mood, and tai chi skills:
Posture. This is not just about standing up straight. No way. It’s about when you are straight, what internal aspects are you practicing and how are you vectoring gravity’s energy through your body? Instead of pulling your shoulders back in an almost military fashion, let them hang down. Not slouching forward, but just let them hang straight down. Imagine your shoulders are like the steep roof of a Swiss chalet. The chalet roof is sloped to allow the heavy snow to fall off. As you emulate this, you must pull the top back area of your head skyward. Imagine the weight of the world – all the stresses and worries that you carry – to just slip off your shoulders and drop into the earth. If you are sitting at a desk, make sure that your chair is high up enough so that your shoulders can hang down. If your chair is not adjustable, place an extra chair cushion or flat pillows on the seat and sit on that. Now, gently “push” the tension in your neck and shoulders down and out your hands. This will also clear your qi meridians and unblock arthritic energy.
Head. Retract your chin a bit and keep the bottom of your chin level with the ground instead of tilting it up. Tilting it up can jam up the vertebrae. Imagine that the top back area of your head is being pulled up into the sky by a huge helium balloon. Internally, relax your mind. Are you full of worry, gossip, or concerns? What are they doing for you now, at this moment? If they’re not helping you, then they surely are extra baggage and need to be dropped immediately.
Breath. People hold their breath more than they realize. Even if just a little bit. Inhale, and with a pronounced sigh of relief, let it all out in a generous exhale. Make your chest feel like it’s dropping inward a bit and melting down. But refuse to slouch. Say a loud “hahhh” as you exhale and feel the sense of relief and ease setting in.
Abdomen. If you gently tuck your low back – especially while standing or walking, you will gently firm up your lower abdominal wall without holding your breath. A little trick to this is to slightly pull up your pubic bone (on the lowest border of your abdomen) and slightly tuck it inward. This will also protect you from hernias and organ prolapse if you are picking up a heavy object or exerting force. Always, always, always allow your breath to be free when exerting. If you know more advanced traditional tai chi techniques, like dantian compression/expansion, you can also practice this with the abdomen.
Everyday Movements. My teacher said he would always ask himself, “How is this like tai chi chuan?” When you are vacuuming, moving, picking cans off the grocery shelf, reaching down to pet your dog, playing with your cat, rocking your baby to sleep, washing dishes… how can you “convert” those movements into tai chi type of movements? How can you meditate on the activity and be fully in the present, while relaxing your breath and body? This approaches the way of doing as exemplified by enlightened Zen monks and Taoist adepts. You can use these techniques in your everyday life? This way, your chores and distractions are transformed into qi-amplifying and spirit-cultivating practices! Try it and see how much more at peace you will feel and how much more healthier you will become.
Make it a point to approach your daily activities this way and it will help you feel better and regenerate your energy throughout the day instead of depleting you. You can do this literally anywhere. It’s a great way to spend your time while in boring meetings, waiting in line, sitting in bad traffic, on the subway, etc. The more you do it, the more it becomes habit. And guess what? This is all what you’re supposed to be doing while you are practicing your tai chi form anyway. So why not do these things when you can’t practice form, so that when you do have time to practice form, the habit will be there on autopilot!
If you put your mind to it, you will discover more and more things you can “tai chi practice” throughout the day when you don’t have a chance to practice your form. Why not give it some thought right now?