by Richard Farmer
* Where are you going to do it?
* Who is going to practise?
* What do you need to help you today?
* How long do you have today?
* These questions will tell you – what to practise.
It is important that you have somewhere to practise as by laying your Tai Chi in the same place you build an atmosphere which is conducive. Perhaps the addition of a candle, if it is inside, also helps, but it is not vital. How much space you need depends on what you want to practise, for an exercise or Shibashi for example, you need only enough space to stand up in. To practise the Form you need a bit more and if you do not have enough space, usually by shifting things around you can make enough room. If need be you can shift some of the foot positions, I had one student who developed the Form to fit an L-shaped room!!! He had to make a conscious effort to stay straight in class though. So if you don’t have enough
room, make some.
Of course this is true at a deeper level, there are a thousand reasons why we can put off practice, and usually when we need to play the form the most, we feel least like doing it, so it is about being flexible as well as making space.
Space for what? Well, for a start, you. You may think that or a practice to be worth anything you must do at least an hour at 5.30 am. outside in the mist! It must consist of the entire exercise sequence and half an hour of Form before you have breakfast – but with that kind of schedule you will only get round to it about once a month, if ever! Here is the crux of the matter, which You are we talking about? The idealistic, mythical You or the realistic everyday You? Again if we don’t recognise who is talking we may never practise and what a shame that would be. So we must engage the everyday You, this is the one that needs and wants the practice and benefits of Tai Chi.
Playing and practising Tai Chi Chuan can be split into two kinds: Practice as a way of becoming Tai Chi and nourishing and supporting us for the coming day; and practice as a way of refining the Art of Tai Chi Chuan.
Let us consider the first. To become Tai Chi is to use the movements to invite ourselves into the body and into the moment. When the mind rests in the body we are in a state of balance, we are not pulling into the future, nor dwelling on the past, but being nourished by the present. Something I say to myself to remind me is “Be peaceful outside, soften the muscles in movement, be peaceful inside, relax the mind, rest here, now”. To practise this Tai Chi I may use an exercise or series of exercises – it may take one minute or it may take twenty, whatever I have time for. How long is not the point. The point is to remember everyday to relax, to live, to become present in movement, in the moment as it and I move. A day begun with this reminder has a different flavour than one begun rushing about. So to stand in the Attention Posture, for example, balanced and released has accomplished what practice is for – Tai Chi.
The second aspect of practice, the perfection of Tai Chi Chuan, will take some time. The disharmony of the past will not be undone overnight. So day by day, bit by bit the pieces of the jigsaw are put into place sometimes slowly and
sometimes swiftly. In the RDTC Short Form Book the Practice of Principles section details the stages of Tai Chi Chuan. To supplement that, here is an overview.
* Know the sequence
* Uniting the body into one unit using the Yang, spine and Yin Cycle model.
* Develop concentration.
* Understand the Chi ball or circle or sphere or the shape of each posture.
* Move with the dynamic or wave of movement that each posture creates.
* Use Chi and intention rather than muscles and control.
These are themes of attention and when a posture has these elements it can be said that Tai Chi Chuan is present. Of course some postures will be complete before others, usually the ones we prefer, in fact the reason why we prefer some
postures over others is because these themes are present and so is the Tai Chi, and it feels good. If a posture feels bad, check back over these themes and build the picture.
Practice at this stage would mean taking a sequence out of the form and looking at it through the eyes of the themes, consciously looking for and integrating them. I would choose a day when I had a little more time than a minute or so and through this looking I will become more confident and enjoy that sequence more. This will of course encourage me to approach my practice with joy.
So to have a successful and regular practice, ask yourself:-
Q: What do you need and want today?
A: I want to just relax in the moment, something simple.
Q: How much time do I have?
A: Just five minutes.
Solution – I would choose a simple breathing exercise.
A little everyday is worth more than a lot occasionally, do what you can and above all enjoy the journey – we are not in a hurry. More haste less speed is definitely true of Tai Chi Chuan. Playing Tai Chi like this builds up a positive experience and this makes us relax and want to practise more. It is of course a circle, in this case a circle which will lead you to, rather than away from, Tai Chi Chuan
~ Richard Farmer