1. Respect your limitations.
The movements of Tai Chi appear easy to perform. The grace and effortlessness of the movements, however, can be deceptive. They put significant, and more importantly, unfamiliar training stresses on your body. Much of the development is on your sinews and small muscle groups which can be overstrained if you are not gentle with yourself. This means that while following along in class, when you sense increasing discomfort or undue strain from a certain movement, stop or ease up, even if the set repetitions have not been completed. Be responsible to your own well being. Only you know your edges or limitations.
2. Slower is faster.
Resist the urge to move fast. Remember that Tai Chi is an internal art. By moving very slowly, in your initial years of practice, your mind learns to pay attention yet remain calm in each, ever present moment of the form. Slow movements will strengthen your body over an entire range of motion and allow the integration of your body into a single unit to develop. Finally, slow movements will reveal your edges (areas needing development), while fast movements can mask them.
3. Focus on one Tai Chi principle at a time.
Your progress will be faster if you work with one principle at a time. This does not mean intentionally violating the remaining principles. It does mean that for a set number of repetitions work to increase your awareness and improve your application of one principle at a time.
4. Work at your edges of ability.
Lifelong progress in Tai Chi depends on you gently, but unceasingly, working at the edges of your “comfort zone.” An edge is a boundary, belief, or limitation which defines your current state of Tai Chi development and behind which one remains comfortable and stagnant. For example, initially, just remembering the correct movements is everybody’s edge. Instead of continually just following the instructor to remember the moves, work to internalize the movements so you can own them. Another typical edge is the current length and height of your stances. Work toward slowly increasing the length of your stance and lowering its height. As you train, maintaining an awareness of your edges and training at your edges, while modulating the uncomfortable feelings that accompanies them, will enable you to slowing expand your comfort zone and progress in your development.
5. Choose consistency over bursts of intensity.
Progress in Tai Chi is optimum when training is consistent. For example, 30 minutes per day, every day, is much better than two 3 hour workouts per week. Growth in Tai Chi relies upon keeping up the “heat” from the training, at a moderate temperature, rather than attempting fast changes in one’s body through overly intense and sporadic workouts.
6. Maintain a balanced attention to both your mind and body.
Remember, Tai Chi is an internal martial art. Without continually practicing the internal aspects, such as centering your mind on tantien (2-3 inches below the navel), maintaining a nongrasping gentle awareness, and using your mind to lead your movements, your Tai Chi will simply be an attractive dance. The mental aspects are no less challenging or important than the physical rigors.