What is the absolute #1 key to Tai Chi for Beginners? If I had to pick one thing, it would be consistency!
Consistency is a theme through out the whole tai chi mindset. Consistency of breath. Consistency of movement. Consistency of focus. And of course consistency of practice. Let’s run through each of these briefly.
Consistency in tai chi for beginners:
- Consistency of breath.
Very rarely do we bring our breathing into consciousness. Amazingly enough, when we spend even a few minutes a day cultivating a deeper, more rhythmic breathing style we are able to reap the stress relief, relaxation, and euphoric benefits of good, clean air!
- Consistency of movement.
With just enough control over your breathing you can time your movements to flow smoothly as you inhale and exhale. This focus on graceful movements allows for the full effect of the body awareness and “cultivation of chi” as your practice continues.
- Consistency of focus.
There is a location of focus in each movement in tai chi. For beginners, this is often taken as just one more new thing to think about. As you continue to develop your proficiency with the tai chi form you’ll notice your focus and your energy moving more fluidly.
- Consistency of practice.
The way in which to develop consistent breath, movement, and focus is through practice of tai chi. For beginners there is no need to spend the whole day meditating if it only happens once in a blue moon. It is much better to invest a few minutes each day to your tai chi play — even if it is only 10-15 minutes!
Consistent, daily sessions (short or not) help you to reinforce everything you’re learning allowing you to feel the benefits that much sooner!
Suggested Tai Chi for beginners resources
One way to motivate that daily practice is to have a support system. Get together with other tai chi enthusiasts. If you’ve found a local instructor, then make sure you are taking full advantage of that resource and investing time, at least weekly, getting specific feedback on your progress with tai chi.
For beginners who are not so fortunate as to have a local support group, there are few options beyond books and videos. The best thing I can recommend is finding a training and support group online. One of the longest standing trainings and support groups I’ve seen online for tai chi and qui gong is over at CloudWater.com. Check out a free lesson and let me know how you feel about their resources!
Today we have a special guest post from Bud Jeffries of Legendary Strength. I thought this concept was great, even if focused more on “external” displays than the more “internal” focus of tai chi. Either way, is gives great food for thought on helping us excel in multiple areas of our lives — and isn’t that one reason that you’re learning tai chi?
Check it out:
Would it surprise you for me to say that I think gaining a massive amount of strength, whether it’s building a big bench, squat or deadlift, would also help you learn to solve math problems? Or perhaps reading a massive library might help you build a bigger deadlift or do 1,000 swings? Or that doing 1,000 swings might make you better at solving your personal problems?
I know that people are going to say this is ridiculous hogwash and the stuff from a self-help guru, but I don’t believe that – Here’s my point and thought on this whole thing: Building one skill that’s tough, that’s hard, that makes you work, makes you stretch and dig into yourself to accomplish a major skill or goal or feat like building the skill of massive strength – a big squat or massive endurance, 1,000 swings or a skill that’s less physical but more mental such as solving quadratic equations gives you the mental or physical carryover to accomplish anything you want.
Every time you meet a goal you get better at meeting goals of any kind, it doesn’t matter what they are. Consequently every time you let yourself off the hook you get worse. Getting strong teaches you mental toughness. Mental toughness is paramount to everything you might want to do in life. Same with endurance, but the same with difficult mental activity and maybe even difficult spiritual activity, at really working on yourself, changing things, becoming a better person or learning difficult things such as learning a new language.
Each of these things I believe activates a similar set of pathways in the brain. It activates similar physiology. Now obviously reading a book doesn’t have the same effect as doing 20 rep squats, but here’s what I mean: Forcing your brain and body to constantly build the skill of accomplishment builds massive gains into life. The better you get at one thing the better your confidence that you can get good at anything else, and you can!
I am also a believer that building physically tough skills gives you the ability to carry out other goals and activities. It makes the rest of life not feel so tough. If you’ve been through your own personal Hell week you begin to see the idea that maybe finishing that book, or blog or series of articles or that new business or getting through a tough situation isn’t as tough as you used to think it is. In fact life generally isn’t very tough if you’re tough on yourself. If you make training hard, life gets easy. The better your skill gets at one thing the better your ability to build skill at any other activity. The deeper and better your skill, the more exact it is – the better you get at carrying over that skill to other skills. Make sure you get really good at something. – You can become strong physically or mentally at anything you want, just get good at something and then you can transfer it over to everything else.
Want to learn how to optimize every part of your physical training? Then I suggest you check out the Super Vitality course.
One of the essential principles of t’ai chi is complete relaxation, letting the lower body sink as if rooted into the ground while the upper body floats above. The movements are slow, circular, fluid, and balanced. In T’ai Chi for Health: Yang Long Form, instructor Terence Dunn teaches the complex, 108-posture Long Form with clarity and patience. The format of this 120-minute video is similar to T’ai Chi for Health: Yang Short Form: 7-minute explanation of the qualities, philosophy, and health benefits of t’ai chi; 10-minute breathing and warm-up segment; 20-minute introduction to basic postures; full hour of step-by-step instruction in the 108 postures of the Yang Long Form; and finally a 15-minute Yang Long Form demonstration. Dunn is an excellent instructor, explaining each move in detail and demonstrating with grace, suppleness, and strength. –Joan Price
Click here to buy from Amazon
Today we continue with the three main keys I’ve discovered when it comes to learning tai chi for beginners. Previously we talked about the key of centered weight, this time the key of neutral joints, and next time the key of proper breathing.
This second key for getting started covers the whole body from head to toe. Almost all our joints will be in a neutral position as we move through the tai chi form. The head is upright and all the vertebrae are neutral. The shoulders are dropped and elbow, wrist, and hands are generally neutral. The tail bone is tucked under and the hips, knees, and ankles are kept in neutral alignments.
Using one term to apply to all the joints is not something I’ve heard before. Usually any product teaching tai chi for beginners talks specifically about one joint or another. One primary joint, probably because of its high visibility, is the wrist. “Beautiful ladies wrists” refers to keeping the hand and forearm aligned so that the wrist does not have any undue pressure on it from being held at an angle.
This leads to the difference between “held straight” and “held neutral.” If a person makes a fist and imagines pulling it in towards their elbow that arm can move with the wrist locked down straight. This is not neutral. When that person holds their relaxed hand slightly cupped and allows the hand to follow along as the forearm moves they are exemplifying the ideal of neutral joints.
When talking about keeping centered weight the applications beyond tai chi form practitice are not always obvious. Applications for keeping neutral joints are not only obvious, but also a quick correction that often alleviate many unnecessary aches and pains.
Being a computer geek I have many days that are spent sitting behind a keyboard. I need to be careful that my joints stay neutral. There are days when I am so intent on what I’m working on that it is hours before I take a break or even stand up. The days that I used to the mistake of allowing my neck or shoulders to hunch or foolishly allowed the natural curve to fall out of my lower back were very long, often painful, days. Now, however, sitting for many hours can still be enjoyable when staying conscious of keeping joints neutral. My level of comfort through the day is often a function of how quickly I notice any non-neutrality and adjust to correct it.
Along with the keys of keeping weight centered and breathing properly the ability to keep joints neutral makes life more enjoyable when practicing tai chi for beginners, both while performing the tai chi movements and as a part of our day to day lives!
I’ve noticed three main keys to learning tai chi for beginners: keeping your weight centered, keeping neutral joints, and proper breathing. Each of these is foundational and works together to make tai chi the wonderful exercise that it is. Let’s start with keeping your weight centered.
One of the things that is difficult about learning tai chi is that there are so many different things going on at once to coordinate. The feet are moving, the arms are moving, we are breathing in new ways, and all this while keeping our movements relaxed and smooth.
One thing I learned from the few live lessons I had is that the secret of learning tai chi, for beginners, is to concentrate on one part of the body first then add in more once you’ve got that part under control. The obvious place to begin is the feet and legs since our stance is what everything else is built upon. When we have sure footing we can begin to add other parts of the movements.
The secret I’ve found to having a solid stance is to make sure your weight is centered appropriately for the particular stance. While your weight will always be centered between your feet how much weight is on each foot varies depending on the stance.
For instance, the horse riding stance has an even distribution between each foot and the weight is centered between your feet. Where as a bow stance has a 70/30 split between the front and back feet with the weight centered directly below your hips. And the other main stance is the T-stance where 90-100% of your weight is on the rear foot and 0-10% is on the “front” foot with your weight centered on the rear foot.
Each of these stances transitions into another stance and by keeping the weight centered during those transitions we will also stay balanced and move more gracefully.Once the foot work has developed some smoothness we can add in the other aspects one at a time — arms, head, breathing, etc.
Overall, keeping your weight centered makes tai chi, for beginners or more advanced practitioners, a wonderfully relaxing form of exercise.