The best way to practice Tai Chi

How to build a Tai Chi practice that lasts a lifetime

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If you know some Tai Chi moves and you want to practice at home you probably have some questions, like where, when and how?

Firstly, the when. The best answer is ‘whenever’! There’s an old saying that the best time to plan a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is right now. Just get on an do your Tai Chi practice whenever you have time. While there are some good reasons to practice first thing in the morning (it’s quiet, your brain hasn’t started to worry about the 20 things you have to do that day yet, etc) there’s no medical reason why practice in the early morning is better than midday, for example.

Secondly where should you practice? The traditional way is outside. I like this idea as we don’t spend enough time outside these days feeling the wind, or the sun, on our faces. Time in the elements and away from unnatural lighting and computer screens is actually very important to our health. Just ask Katy Bowman. If you’re going to practice Tai Chi then why not make use of that time to kill two birds with one stone and get some fresh air as well? If it’s cold outside just put on a coat and some gloves. And practicing Tai Chi in the snow is very cool- just ask that Panda in the picture!

Finally, let’s look at how you should practice, if you want to progress, that is. My teacher always advised doing the Tai Chi form a minimum of 3 times. Once to get it out of your system, then a few times (just once or as many times as you like) to work on something, then finally, once through again just to enjoy it. One of my students described this routine as “Once to notice the mistakes, then the next time to work on them”, which is a good way of looking at it. The ‘working on them’ bit can be frustrating, so the final ‘just enjoy it’ rendition is essential if you want to make this a life-long practice. Remember why you wanted to do Tai Chi in the first place – to enjoy it! Performing slow movements in the peace and quiet (or with relaxing music on) is very calming, so just enjoy yourself in movement. In the last run through you should try to be completely uncritical of your performance. It might be helpful to imagine that you have already attained mastery of the art!

I like this approach because ‘3 times minimum’ is something you can realistically fit into a morning routine and it encourages you to practice daily. Because, guess what? It turns out that you need to practice Tai Chi every day to get anywhere. Yes, sadly, daily practice is essential. Tai Chi is weird like that. I remember when I learned the Beng Chuan punch of XingYiQuan it was very hard, almost impossible, to get it right in terms of delivering structure and power together with perfect timing. But once I got it I realised I would never forget how I did it. To me it was like riding a bike. Sure, you can get rusty if you haven’t practiced for a while, but you don’t every really forget.

Tai Chi is different. At least to me it is, anyway. I feel like every time I do the Tai Chi form I’m learning to ride a bike again from scratch. After 3 run-throughs I’m pretty much back on the bike and riding, but it seems to wear off pretty quick, and by tomorrow you need to learn all over again.

C’est la vie.

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