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Tai Chi
Practicing Too Much

16 Jun 2011
Can we practice Tai Chi Chuan too much? In a word, no. Some forms of exercise, such as weightlifting, carry an inherent upper limit, but Tai Chi does not. However, there are many ways to practice. If you practice a lot but practice the exact same way each time, you may be disappointed in your lack of progress. Some say that practicing Tai Chi is like peeling away the layers of an onion; but an onion has limits, and the practice of Tai Chi does not. If Tai Chi was an onion, the best part would come only after all the layers had been peeled away. The secrets are hidden in the empty middle.

Let's look at some of the options available for varying our solo practice. Keep in mind that this article only scratches the surface. Your challenge is to use your mind to dig deeper, using these ideas as a starting point.

One favored method is to practice your form (at least) three times each day, but practice each one at a different speed. The method I have heard of says practice the first time moderately slowly, the second time faster, and the third time the slowest of all. Others gloss over the subject by saying "practice faster twenty percent of the time", or something similar.

So speed variation is one approach, but there are pitfalls at each speed. The faster you go, the more you are inclined to put your ego into the achievement of power, with the result that your effort is external, not internal. You can tell when you do that because you will feel physical strain as either muscular effort, or muscle cramps. It is easy to lose the core muscle linkage essential to internal power. That said, practicing at a high level with speed is an important part of your progress - but only after you have moved beyond the beginner stage. Don't assume you know when that is; let your teacher tell you.

There are also pitfalls to practicing too slowly, what my teacher Master George Hu used to call "stuck chi". The solution to this problem is not to practice faster; the solution is to turn your slow practice to the exquisite relaxing of every muscle in your body. Stuck chi at any speed is due to tension, so you solve the problem by eliminating the tension. Removing the tension also improves your rooting.

A less discussed method for varying your practice is to practice energetically. That does not mean doing it fast and externally; quite the contrary. Practicing energetically means, once you have reached a relaxed state, you consciously move your chi through the meridians in your body.

Do not tell yourself, "someday when I am accomplished enough, it will just happen". Only if you are very, very special will it just happen; it is best to assume you are not that special. Instead, as you practice the form, turn your chi on.

Now, if you have never practiced any sort of chi cultivation exercises, your experience with chi may be too limited to do this practice. For the purpose of discussion let's assume you have some experience so that at least a little accomplishment is available. Even if it is not, you should be able to understand this discussion at some basic level.

Begin by turning it on: turn it on like a light switch, by turning your attention to the crown point (Baihui, Gv-20). Feel the energy in your head rush to the point. If you treat it like a flick of the switch, the movement will be one-time, but if you focus continuously on it, it will flow continuously.

You can achieve "ignition" in many ways, but this is a good one. Some people ignite at the Life Gate (ming men, Gv-4) opposite the lower dan-tien (abdomen); some prefer the Heart Gate, on the spine opposite the heart.

Your next goal comes in the form when you are stepping. As you roll your foot forward from the heel to the Bubble Spring (Yongquan, K-1) next to the ball of the foot, draw the earth's energy in through your Bubble Spring: up the inside of the leg, wrapping around the calves and behind the thighs to meet at the perineum, (Huiyin, Co-1), where the Conception Vessel (front line meridian) meets the Governing Vessel (back line meridian). From there your chi can move up the spine (Governing Vessel, Gv) to the Life Gate.

As you move, continue drawing the chi up your spine toward your shoulders. Between the shoulder blades at the Heart Gate (Shenzen, Gv-15), your energy should split and issue equally through the arms to the center of the palms (lao gong, P-8) for discharge. This discharge will precede the end of the exhale.

As you inhale, gather the remaining energy back in the spine. Eventually your goal is to orbit that energy over the top of the crown, but for now, drop it straight back down into the ground.

As you practice your form, experiment with this exercise through different transitions and moves.

When you finish this practice, be sure to gather your chi in your lower dan-tien (abdomen).

What other ways can you think of to vary your solo form practice?

You may also like this related article: Tai Chi vs. Qigong (Chi Kung) (139)
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