These training tips for Tai-chi practice are the result of over 45 years of training and teaching. My students at the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan in Sound Beach, N. Y. have told me these are the tips that are the most useful.
1. The first thing you are taught is to relax. Relaxation though, is not as easy as it sounds. After many years of being tense most people have not only forgotten how to relax, they have forgotten that they are tense. The key is to understand that to relax any part of the body, there needs to be “space” under that part of the body to sink into. If your chest and ribs are tense and you try to relax your shoulders, the shoulders have no place to sink into. First relax the muscles of the feet so they sink into the earth like wet clay. Then relax the knees, hips, ribs, etc. Allow each part of the body to sink like sand sinks into a hole you dig in the beach. The sand sinks into the hole from the bottom up.
2. When you shift weight from one foot into another, don’t push yourself into the front with your back foot. Allow the weight to sink into the front foot as though sand was sinking into the front foot from the back foot. This releases the back leg, making it “empty”.
3. When you step, don’t use the muscles of the stepping leg. Use your sinking and turning to move out the stepping leg. You can slightly straighten out the stepping foot to make the heel land first. Keeping the stepping leg off the ground is done by relaxing the rear of the pelvis so that it tilts slightly forward, slightly raising the stepping leg.
4. Keep the eyes gazing forward or at a slightly raised angle. Never look down. Imagine you are a waterfall and the water comes towards you, flowing down your eyes into your belly and then your root. You are receiving energy and NOT grabbing with the eyes.
5. Each movement starts from your center and NOT from the top of the body, head, arms or legs. Make sure that at the beginning of each movement, the middle moves first as if someone were pulling your belt. Then each joint of the body follows in sequence.
6. “Whole body movement” does not mean you keep all your joints locked. Even if you move your whole, stiff body smoothly, this is still not Tai-chi. Each joint should move, in sequence, from the bottom up and each should relax in sequence from the bottom up. Watch the way animals move. We have joints for a reason.
7. When you breathe in, your diaphragm pulls downward. So the initiation of an in-breath feels like breathing down into the ground. The bottom of the belly (below the navel) expands downwards. When the maximum downward breathing pressure is reached, then the breath expands forward and the upper belly expands (above the navel). Finally the breath then fills the upper lungs. So breathing in also begins at the bottom (at the root). When you breathe out, you relax the bottom of the lungs first, then middle and upper lungs.
8. The arms, legs and head move as a result of the breathing and the sequential expansion and relaxation of the joints. They don’t move by their own muscular power. But of course, you have to hold the arms and legs in particular positions according to your postures. You use the minimum energy possible to hold the arms in their positions, just enough so that if you used just a little less, the arms would fall down.
9. If your front expands, the back relaxes. If the right expands, the left relaxes. If the bottom energizes downwards, the top floats upwards. Each part of the body counter-balances its other side. This gives rise to the expression “power is a directed relaxation”. This means that relaxing releases power, but that power does not just dissipate. The breath directs the power. If you breathe downward and forward, for example, the power roots and from that root, moves forward. If you breathe into the right side of your lungs, the energy moves right. But if you first breath into the upper part of the lungs, the energy pulls you up out of your root.
10. Imagine you are sitting on a diner stool with wheels. You can move forward and back, left and right, but you are still sitting on the stool. To stand up you press your foot down, energizing your Achilles tendon and quadriceps, relax your back and breathe in. Try sitting down and standing up in a chair and keep your chest and back straight. Don’t bend forward. This requires that you stand up from the bottom up and you don’t pull yourself up from the top.
I will provide more if these tips in the future if you are interested. Hundreds of such ideas are in the dvd series “How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi” available at: