Tai Chi - Learning The Form

Learning the Form

Rhythm and tempo are in fact the keys to fluent tai chi technique. The rhythm is one we are all very familiar with: the rhythm of the breath. When we are very relaxed and calm our breathing becomes long and regularly spaced: conversely when we are excited or angry our breathing becomes rapid and irregular. In tai chi we cultivate regular breathing coupled with slow carefully measured movements so that, in time, we become more internally balanced and harmonized with the natural world.

Following the Form

Once you are familiar with the basic stances and principles you are ready to begin learning the form itself. All the movements are clearly illustrated with photographs showing both the Yin phase (the "yielding" aspect that accompanies the in breath) and the yang phase (the "thrust" of the movement that accompanies the out-breath). The main thing is to feel relaxed with what you are doing, and bear in mind that extreme slowness can introduce more tension than it removes. Find your own pace and let this take you wherever you need to go.

Breathing

Each movement is accompanied by instructions for breathing: do not force yourself to follow these if you feel at all uncomfortable. Begin by finding your own rhythm of inhalation and exhalation: you will gradually begin to tune into the breathing patterns given. Remember that in tai chi the learning process should always be one of discovery and fun. Relax and enjoy it!

Deeper Level

Tai chi has a strong mental and even spiritual aspect. It is not essential for you to explore these areas in order to obtain the wonderful benefits that tai chi can bring in terms of physical health relaxation, but they will help you find satisfaction and enjoyment in what you are doing.
It all comes down to understanding the original concept of the universal "Tai Chi" the supreme ultimate energy often depicted as a circle divided by a graceful curve (the Tai Chi Tu the yin-yang symbol), suggesting movement and change. "Change" is the key word. The light half of the circle is yang, the dark half yin: these two forces the positive and negative forces of nature, balance and complement each other perfectly in a state of continual harmony. Each one nourishes and supports the other in a perpetual rhythm of change.
Translated into physical movement, this gives us the tai chi form, which alternates constantly between negative and positive forces, accompanied by the in-breath (yin) and the out-breath (yang), so that the changes take place at a very deep level.
For now be aware that your tai chi is a reflection and celebration of nature, of great universal forces and rhythms with which we can work in harmony to benefit ourselves, not only physically but mentally as well.

A Healthy Lifestyle

That daily practice of tai chi is good for us is beyond dispute. Even if the numerous statistical studies done in both China and the West are set aside, anyone who has ever done tai chi over any length of time will know how well they feel because of it. So how does it work? How can the simple practice of performing a set of slow-motion movements contribute so significantly to our health and well-being?
Consider the nature of tai chi movements: you work slowly and calmly with the spine upright encouraging the neck to sit in the correct position and reduce tension. Gradually, with the knees slightly bent, your body weight shifts to and fro, the leg muscles working to help pump blood up to the heart. The arms and shoulders are in constant motion, opening and closing in graceful rotational movements, helping to stimulate the lymphatic system and improve lung capacity. You maintain the central equilibrium around the area of the Tan Tien - the point just beneath the navel where so much of our natural energy is gathered. The concentration and mental focus that this entails produce clarity and stability, your breathing is relaxed and constant, your metabolic rate increases, and your digestive process improves.
With the upright posture there is room for the internal organs to "breathe" and function properly. Air and vital fluids circulate freely, and the mind becomes clearer - refreshed and able to soar contemplating the great universal forces of flow, light and shade. And you realize that if you can be centered and happy like this in your body, you can apply this newfound belief in yourself to everything else that you do.