When you start Tai Chi it’s natural to want to get better at it and then to feel slightly overwhelmed when you realize just how much there is to learn. The good news is that if you use a few simple tips, it can be much easier to manage your learning journey and that is what it really is all about!
So here are 18 expert tips on improving your tai chi practice.
Bring A Sense Of Play To Your Tai Chi
Tai Chi is not a serious business, well at least not entirely. Part of your Tai Chi practice is to learn to live in the moment and that means having fun, lots of fun. When we are distracted by our lives and thoughts of the future and thoughts of the past – we forget just how great things are right now.
When you bring your awareness in to the present and with a sense of play in your heart, you can appreciate the flow of energy all around you in nature, the warmth of the sun, the cool vitality of the rain, the smell of the breeze. These are the things which should make life worth living.
Be Aware Of Tension, So That You May Let It Go
Your awareness should not just be focused on the world around you but also on you and your body. The Yin and Yang methodology of Tai Chi means that you are looking to balance your mind with your physical environment and that means paying attention to your body.
When you seek out tension within yourself, you can give yourself permission to let it go. The more relaxed that you are, the easier it is to find balance and harmony in the forms your practice and to find joy in the world around you.
When Considering Your Forms, Your Feet Come First
Everything has to start somewhere, right? Well, when it comes to forms, they start with your feet. If you don’t understand how your feet should be placed, then you’re likely to end up off balance and that means you’re going to struggle to execute the rest of the form.
So, take the time to think about where your feet are and how they can be better placed to support all your other Tai Chi activities.
Learn When To Be Still
It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that you must be constantly in motion when practicing Tai Chi but the balance that you seek requires moments of stillness as well. It is within stillness that your Tai Chi connects with the deepest aspects of your mind and soul.
Movement should flow into stillness which should flow into movement in a vastly invigorating cycle which constantly attunes you to being aware of now.
Take Time To Master Basic Stepping Exercises
From the feet, come steps and it can pay real dividends to work your way through the stepping drills and master them. Your objective is to find a low center of gravity and maintain it while you step but without allowing your body height to diminish as you do.
This gives you a better sense of balance and stability to build on with the rest of the form. It’s also surprisingly comfortable once you get into the habit of it and then you’ll wonder why it was a little hard at first.
Remember That Your Whole Body Is Connected
When you watch someone, who has done Tai Chi for a very long period of time, you’ll notice that their forms no longer appear as a series of movements rather that their body seems to flow from one point to another in a continuous movement.
Your arms aren’t supposed to move by themselves in Tai Chi, they’re connected to the rest of your body and they should move based only on your conscious intention because when you are aware of this connectedness you can harness it in your Tai Chi practice.
Consistency Beats All, Practice Again And Again And Again
Nobody has ever mastered any martial art or, indeed, any major skill in life in an afternoon. That’s simply not how it works. When you watch a virtuoso violinist in an orchestra, you are watching the results of thousands of hours of practice – that’s how people get good at playing the violin and it’s also how they get good at Tai Chi.
The more that you practice, the easier it becomes to perform the forms because you develop muscle memory which aids your body in making the right movements at the right time and it allows your mind to be more consciously aware of your body to make subtle corrections as needed.
Take A Friend With You When You Practice
There are two very good reasons to take a friend with you when you practice. The first is that they will help you develop a habit of actually going to practice. Two heads are usually better than one in life and it’s true in Tai Chi too – when one of you finds your motivation failing, the other can help out for a moment.
The second reason is that they may be able to see what’s going wrong when you cannot with a particular form. This will, of course, speed up your learning greatly when you can get advice from someone you trust as you practice.
Relax Your Hands When You Practice
If you want your hands to convey the aura of Tai Chi mastery, then the trick is not so much to force them into exact positions but rather to relax them completely and to let them find their natural place in a form.
Even your arms should feel relaxed when you practice Tai Chi with only your legs requiring some tension because they are in contact with the ground.
Take Things Slowly, Seriously
It is absolutely natural to want to progress in your Tai Chi practice, but you must take things slowly and this isn’t a metaphor. Thai Chi is a slow deliberate system of physical forms, rushing through those forms will prevent you from being fully aware of what you are doing.
When you aren’t entirely aware of what you’re doing, you can’t see the mistakes that you are making and worse, if you do this often enough – you develop erroneous muscle memory and it’s very hard to unlearn that once it’s been developed.
Be Aware Of Your Breath, Is It Centered?
In order for there to be balance and harmony in your body, you must be in control of your breath and in Tai Chi – you will learn many exercises to master your breath. However, in order to remain in control of your breath, you need to be aware of where it is.
For balance, it should be in the center of your body which is roughly in your lower abdomen. If it’s not there, you want to move it around a little until it is. With years of practice this will become second nature, eventually.
Be Aware Of Your Breath When You’re Not Doing Tai Chi
In fact, control over your own breathing is so important that it can be a valuable exercise to examine how you are breathing even when you are not practicing Tai Chi. If you take a mindful approach to your day-to-day life, you can become aware of your breathing at all times.
Now, it’s important not to force your breathing to “conform” but rather to be aware of it and to make conscious efforts to allow your breath to return to where it is in balance in your body.
Wear Shoes With Thin Soles As Often As Possible
We have touched on this in other articles on this site but when you wear shoes, you are interfering with an ancient feedback system – your feet when directly in contact with the ground send messages to your brain, subconsciously, which inform the brain about your position.
Related article: Tai Chi Practice: In shoes, socks, both, or none?
Of course, you might not be able to go barefoot everywhere but you might be able to get some feedback through the shoes if you choose a thin-soled shoe. Which is what Tai Chi experts recommend. Something like the shoe shown in the video below is traditional:
Forgive Yourself For Your Mistakes, Quickly
It’s not just in Tai Chi practice but in your whole life where learning to forgive your mistakes, quickly, can have real benefits. When we let negative emotions go, we free ourselves of internal distractions, it is much easier to breathe and to live in the moment.
This is, of course, a critical part of Tai Chi practice and developing the compassion to forgive ourselves when things are not going right can greatly help you move forward on your Tai Chi journey.
Seek The Yin and Yang Within You
The heart of Tai Chi’s philosophy is the Yin and the Yang and if you are not aware of it in yourself, how can you ensure that you are in harmony? This can feel quite intimidating at first but in the long run it becomes an almost instinctive practice. You will learn to enjoy the feeling of your body and mind in balance with the cosmos itself, it’s powerful stuff.
Watch When You Feel Off Balance – What Is Happening?
The biggest areas for improvement in our Tai Chi practice are the moments where we lose control of ourselves. The good news is that if we are aware in those moments and pay attention to them – we can learn valuable lessons from them that can instantly be put into action and we can reap almost instant rewards from them. Falling over has never felt this good.
Are Your Movements Coming From Your Waist?
In order for the body to flow from movement to movement, it has to move as a single unit and the only way for that to happen is for your movement to be led from the waist and thus you can move in harmony rather than trying to move one part of you at a time.
Enjoy The Practice And Commit To A Regular Schedule
The best advice of all is simply to enjoy the practice that you do. Even if you only have a few minutes each day, each time you practice you are moving your Tai Chi forward. When you can commit to a regular schedule, not only will you have fun, but you will be able to witness dramatic improvements over time in the way you perform Tai Chi.
When you make it a routine, a habit, or better yet, a ritual, you have no choice but to do the practice. It’s often the simplest advice which is the most powerful.
5 Common Mistakes When Practicing Tai Chi
There are also some simple mistakes that are commonly made in Tai Chi practice, if you keep an eye out for them, you can slowly learn to eliminate them and make your Tai Chi practice much easier.
Mistake 1: Your Head Is Not In An Upright Position
It’s almost impossible for your spirit to flow through your body when your head is dipped down toward the ground. In fact, when we see this in others, we know it instinctively. Someone with their head drooping down looks beaten and uncomfortable – how can they be enjoying their Tai Chi if they aren’t looking up and ready to embrace and face the world around them?
When you raise your head, you instantly feel your mind clearing and your spirits soaring. This is biology leading brain chemistry and it’s a great feeling. Try it now and see.
Mistake 2: You Are Pushing Out Your Chest When It Should Be Loose
When you push out your chest, which is a very natural posture for many people, you’re filling your chest with air. This might not sound like a big deal but in fact, you’re fundamentally altering your center of balance.
You want to relax the chest (don’t pull it in – that will also change your balance) so that it falls in a natural and comfortable position. Once you’ve mastered it – you may also want to think about the position of your back.
Mistake 3: Your Waist Is Held Too Tightly
The waist in Tai Chi is not the bit you measure around to work out your belt size but rather the whole area from your hips right up to your belly button. As with many other sports the “power” of Tai Chi comes from a fluid movement through the hips and waist.
If you hold yourself too tightly in this area, then your body will be fighting you through each of the forms as you perform them. You need to let go a little.
Mistake 4: Your Elbows Are Raised
When your arms are not fully relaxed, your elbows tend to raise up and then your shoulders follow them. This is actually really common if you practice other martial arts but in Tai Chi, you want to let go of this tension because it interferes with your workout.
So, drop your shoulders and elbows and you’ll immediately feel your body becoming more relaxed and ready to flow through the forms as you desire.
Mistake 5: You’re Using Strength And Not Your Will
Tai Chi is not meant to be a show of strength if you are forcing yourself through a motion you are risking injury and potential disappointment. Tai Chi masters say, “When you are extremely soft, then you become extremely hard and powerful.” This is an admonition not to use strength to carry out forms but rather to use your will.
What does that mean? It means to develop the right level of awareness so that you know what is impeding a movement and you overcome that obstacle with your mind, rather than trying to push through it.
Getting better at Tai Chi isn’t as hard as it might first appear and if you follow this guide, you should find yourself improving at a reasonable rate. You can’t rush Tai Chi, it’s not the way it works. Even if you could rush it, you probably shouldn’t. It’s so much better to enjoy the journey and each step in it, that’s a crucial lesson!