Morning practice on the Wharf
This week I have been reading about two very active volcanos – one in Guatemala and one in Hawaii. This is a big deal. Lots of death and destruction. This morning I was practicing on the wharf and as I faced south, there loomed Mt Rainer. And as I faced to the north east, there stood Mt. Baker. Both are large mountains covered with snow year round, and, as I thought about it, are volcanoes that could erupt at any time. Wow. So close and so many people near by. Nothing I could do about it, so back to practice.
The What and Hows of Tai Chi Practice
I get more questions about what to practice and how much time one needs to practice than any other. My answer is always – “it depends”. Let me explain.
First one must decide “why” one wants to learn a specific exercise or several related exercises. This is the most important question – what do I want to accomplish. Am I trying to take charge of my health? Do I want to smooth out my emotions? Can I find a spiritual path that will lead to lifelong satisfaction? It is important to understand why you are studying and what you are looking for.
My personal journey started because I was unhappy, unhealthy, and a lost soul. I needed a complete change of life direction. I was so fortunate that I encountered Tai Chi, because it is so general as a life practice. It works on all the levels – body, emotions, and spirit. It is referred to as a tonic/martial qigong exercise. It slowly and steadily opens and strengthens the body and mind, leading to the ability to adapt to life as it changes from year to year.
When I first started my studies, I used to go to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and practice for several hours each day. I worked hard to memorize the sequence of the form, absorbing what Master Choy’s lesson of the week was. Once I had learned the forms, after several years, I started to cut back to an hour or two. When learning a new form, I would put extra time into practice.
My own personal program would consist of a general warm up of turning the waist, rolling up and down, shaking arms and legs, and whatever else I felt like at the time. About 10 or 15 minutes. Then depending upon how much time I had on that particular day, I might do a qigong exercise to focus the mind, and /or, work on some area that needed special attention. For internal organs I would do Organ Cleansing and Strengthening. For joints, I would do Yi Jin Jing. For general energy movement, I might work with ChiCycling or Holding the Ball.
In any case, this would take around 15 to 30 minutes. Then to form practice. Usually an hour or so. Tai Chi Chuan is my great love (besides my wife, of course). At this point in my life, I feel that Tai Chi gives me a workout on all levels so I don’t need to practice specific Qigong exercises as much as when I was learning, or when I am teaching new students.
So the bottom line is: practice as much as you feel like it when learning. Don’t force yourself to practice. Do the practice when you feel like it. In the beginning it is usually advantageous to set a fairly regular routine that conforms to your schedule. When I was first learning, I was working in the early morning hours, so my practice tended to be around 10 in the morning. Sometimes, if I had a particularly stressful day, I would practice in the early evening – not within an hour of dinner or bedtime.
I personally feel that my day will go smoother if I start it off with practice. I have morning classes now, choosing not to do evening classes. When I first started teaching, I offered evening classes, because I was loosely connected to the University of Arizona and its students, who mostly attended daytime classes. Now other instructors take the evening times.
I also tend to not do a practice on Sunday. Because of classes and my own practice, I put in around 9 or 10 hours a week playing with Tai Chi. Most people can benefit with half an hour to one hour, six days a week. If you are overcoming some problem, or are studying in order to become an instructor, you would probably need to put more time in, but not so much as to cause fatigue. Monitor yourself. Tai Chi is based on the middle way – not too much or too little. You do not want to arrive at the point where your practice is a chore.