Practice GuidelinesAs you practice T'ai-Chi, ask yourself: Do I know where my weight is supposed to be in this movement, this stance? Do I know which direction my feet are supposed to point? Do I know the correct arm and hand positions? If not, continue to work on these Bone Level adjustments.
If your posture is basically correct, you can continue on to Muscle Level work. Ask yourself: Can I be more relaxed in this movement, this stance? Can I feel heavier and softer as I move? Are all the movements initiated in my legs? Does my waist direct the movement rather than power it? Is my waist relaxed? Can I be more fluid in my movements? Can I avoid stopping and simply slow down as I arrive in the stances? Can I maintain good posture without using force?
When you're feeling pretty relaxed in the practice you can proceed to Energy Level work. Ask yourself: Can I suspend and loosen all of my joints as I move? Can I feel my joints gently opening and closing with each movement sequence? Can I coordinate movements to my breath, inhaling on coiling movements and exhaling on issuing movements? Can I feel and rest into my lower abdomen center in all the movements? Can I feel my intent guiding my sense of energy and is that energy in turn guiding my muscles and bones? Do I know the martial, functional intent of each movement? Does my energy follow that intent? Can I pick up speed and issue energy at any point in the form without losing good posture, relaxation, or flow? Can I let go of "holding" stances and instead only refer to stances as shapes to "pour" my energy into? Do I know when I'm issuing or holding back too much energy? Do I know when it's time to rest?
When you feel you have a consistent energetic connection in your movements you can proceed to Spiritual Level work. Ask yourself: Can I let go of "my" intent and allow a deeper impulse than "me" to guide the movements? Can I move spontaneously in any way I feel called to move without losing inner connectedness, posture or relaxation? Can I let go of stances and let the demands of the moment and my own inner sense of rightness determine my responses? Can I surrender all unnecessary force and move naturally from each moment to the next? Can I let go of thinking and just be with the movements of the body? Do I feel one with my surroundings and the energies around me? What is my essential purpose in life and how does T'ai-Chi support that purpose?
Remember all the levels are interconnected.
Your focus will tend towards one level.
The practice tends to follow the above order but not always!
Listen to your body. It will point you towards what to practice next.
Some signs you might need to focus on Bone Level work: You feel soreness in your joints. You sprain a joint. You feel slumpy or misaligned.
Some signs you might need to focus on Muscle Level work: You're developing tendonitis. You have muscle tears, strains or pulls. You have a sense that you're applying too much or too little muscle tension in your movements. You feel tight or tense in your upper body. You feel shaky or weak in your legs. You feel brittle.
Some signs you might need to focus on Energy Level work: You don't understand the martial applications of the movements. You feel afraid to issue energy. Your energetic boundaries feel too permeable. Your movements are relaxed but too heavy, sleepy or sluggish. You don't have a sense of the energetic life of your body. Your joints have a "held" quality. You have good posture, you feel relaxed, but you don't feel as powerful, alive and vital as you would like.
Some signs you might need to focus on Spiritual Level work: You're obsessed with your own skill and power. You're considered arrogant by other people. You feel highly skilled but are losing your sense of purpose, of why you're doing T'ai-Chi. Something's missing. T'ai-Chi is not the pleasure it used to be in your life.
Skipping a level out of impatience often forces your body to bring you back to the level you skipped. For instance, you skip posture and try to "relax completely" and get joint problems. You skip relaxation and strengthening the legs and go directly to full intent martial applications and pull a muscle. You skip energetic work and go directly to trying to be "spiritual" and "one with everything" and develop chronic fatigue or lose all your friends. You deny the spiritual work and become self-obsessed.
It is also a mistake to get stuck in any level since they are all interconnected. If you get stuck in Bone Level work and you get stiff. Get stuck in Muscle Level work and you become limp. Get stuck in Energy Level work and it's all about you. Get stuck in Spiritual Level work and it's not enough about you.
Also the next level can help refine the previous level. Relaxation refines posture. Energy refines relaxation. Spiritual surrender refines energy. And posture refines and supports everything.