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I constantly remind my students that real tai chi chuan practice is not about being fixated on memorizing the postures of the form.  Sadly, a lot of people will never understand this fact of traditional tai chi. But the ones that do, soar like eagles. Their skills and energy development accelerates exponentially. My teacher, Master Jou Tsung Hwa, always emphasized that the highest form of taijiquan was if you were able to blend it into your daily life. The secret, he said, was in practicing the principles more than the form. The memorized form, while also important, is just a container for expressing the principles.  If you have no principles to express, all you have is an empty container. Good luck with that…

So, tai chi enthusiasts: Here’s some tips that can give you a lot of progress for your fitness, longevity, mood, and physical and psychic self-defense skills:

Posture. It’s not just about standing up straight. No sir! It’s all about when you are straight, what internal tai chi principles are you practicing and how are you vectoring gravity’s energy through your body? Instead of pulling your shoulders back in military fashion, let them hang down – NOT slouching forward, but just letting them hang straight down. Imagine your shoulders are like the steep roof of a Swiss chalet. Such a roof was designed this way to allow heavy snow to fall off.  In likewise manner, doing this with your shoulders will let all that unnecessary tension fall off of you. As you do this, be certain to  pull the top back area of your head skyward. Imagine the weight of the world – all the stress and bad memories you carry around – to melt off your shoulders and drop into the earth. If you are sitting at a desk, make sure your chair is high up enough so that your shoulders can hang down instead of being hunched up.  If your chair is not adjustable, get an extra chair cushion or flat pillow and sit on that. Now, gently “push” the tension in your neck and shoulders down and out of your fingers. This will also clear your qi meridians.

Head. Retract your chin a bit and keep the bottom of your chin level with the ground. Avoid tilting up your chin as this will jam your vertebrae. Imagine that the top back of your head is being pulled up to the sky by a large helium balloon. Your shoulders should be in line with your ears. Internally, relax your mind. Are you full of concerns, worry, gossip, and opinions? What are they doing for you now, at this very moment? They’re not helping you, are they? They are extra baggage and need to be dropped immediately.

Breath. Folks hold their breath waaaaaaaay more than they realize. Most people who think they are fully relaxed and breathing deeply still hold a modicum of breath. Inhale, and then with a well-voiced sigh of relief, let it all out in a generous exhale. That will clear your breath. Make your sternum feel like it’s dropping a bit inward and melting down. But refuse to slouch.  Just let all your ribs sink down.  This takes a lot of pressure off the heart and lungs.  Can you imagine what that can do for your health and longevity?

Abdomen. If you gently tuck your low back – especially while standing or walking, you will lightly firm up your lower abdominal wall without holing your breath. Here’s a little trick to doing this well:  Slightly pull up your pubic bone (it’s the thin horizontal bone on the lowest border of your abdomen, just above the pubic area) and slightly tuck it inward. This will also protect you from hernias and organ prolapse, as it seats your organs back into proper position. If you know advanced tai chi or qigong techniques, like dantian compression and expansions, practice this with the abdomen.

Just these few things will help you feel much better and regenerate your energy throughout the day instead of letting it get depleted. Think about it -you can do these things literally anywhere, right? It’s the best way to spend your time while in long boring meetings, waiting in line, sitting in bad traffic, on the subway or bus, etc. The more you do it, the more it becomes habit. And you know, 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 your tai chi form? Do it when you don’t have time to do your form so that when you do practice form, the habit will be there on autopilot! If you put your mind to it, you’ll discover more and more things you can practice throughout the day when you don’t have a chance to practice your form. Give it some thought right now. That will also develop your mind.  Get out of the habit of “can’t” to “can.” Look for a unique solution instead.  That’s the way of Taoist thinking and real, traditional tai chi chuan (taijiquan).