I guess that most people don’t practise the exercises. For the majority it’s enough to come to a class once a week, and have a reminder of the moves. Fair enough… everyone who does tai chi or qigong does them for any number of reasons, and if it’s for a social reason, or just to get out of the house, then the once a week class is all you need.
However, if you want a bit more than that, even a small amount of practise will go a very long way, even if it’s only to keep you in the right mindset.
Practise & repetition.
The point of practise is to ingrain habits that enable you to move beyond the movements themselves. It’s astonishing how your brain can learn and remember patterns of stretch and contraction – not just a single muscle, but you can remember how the entire muscular structure feels in relation to other muscles whilst undergoing a particular movement. Yes, sometimes you might learn bad habits, but they can be corrected if you understand that practising is not a chore but is there to move you beyond your norm.
By this I mean the way that you usually make your body move, sit, stand, function. This is the way that your habits of, for example, tensing one muscle unnecessarily when using another, are constantly repeated, so much so that it feels strange when you break the habit – the most common of these probably being the way that we use our shoulders, or our lower backs.
Practising will have effect of your ‘owning’ the new way of using your body; it’s the art of breaking habits, or changing your norm.
What is practising?
Practising is ‘intelligent repetition’.
What this does NOT mean is going over the whole tai chi or qigong sequence or set (this is the same as not playing the entire piano piece, playing all 18 holes of the golf course, or only playing a complete game of tennis) from beginning to end every time.
What this DOES mean is that you find the movement that feels awkward and is constantly giving you a problem and work on that part specifically.
If you only go through the Form from beginning to end, you end up repeating or fudging the same problems simply in order to get to the end. Of course, if your aim is just to get the shape of the set of movements, then that’s a different matter.
Practising is Intelligent Repetition.
In other words there is a focal point to the practise.
Intelligent repetition is not a case of “throw enough mud at the wall and some will stick”, nor is it, “if I do 15 or 30 minutes every day, I’ll improve, irrespective of how much I concentrate”.
You might as well watch TV at the same time!
You find the problem (this might only be the bit where you have to think harder, or it could be the bit where the coordination slows you down) and you then dissect it, working on very small parts of it at a time. A session of intelligent repetition will probably mean that you never get around to doing the whole sequence.
Intelligent repetition is the way to change things rather than repeating the same mistakes time after time.
Questions are great!
One of the interesting things about practising is that when you get it into your schedule, you start to find questions about what you’re doing. Sometimes you find the answers to those questions simply through practising, and if not, you have a question for the next class.
I know that people don’t like to ask questions when in a group, but I like questions in a class, the more the better.
First of all, you can almost guarantee that if someone’s asking a question about something, someone else has the same question, or a slight variation.
Secondly, even if the same question is asked on several consecutive classes, the answer will never be the same; everyone has moved on from their previous norm, so a development of the answer will be necessary.
Thirdly, although I write a lesson plan for every class, the best classes are nearly always when someone unexpectedly asks a question in the class. When this happens, the planned structure of the lesson immediately alters dramatically, and the lesson plan goes out of the window.
Fourthly, when someone asks a question, the group takes ownership of the class content, and immediately becomes more involved.
I can’t remember what to practice… It’s gone!
After a class, the knack is to practise anything that you can remember.
When you do so, sometimes other bits start to come back, and in your head you move back into the class where you learnt it. If they don’t come back, it’s not a big deal; you’ve got your head into the right space, and are starting to take ownership of the material.
I might practise it the wrong way.
My own view is that this doesn’t matter; you can sort it out when you come to the next lesson, as long as you keep an open mind. The act of practising, even incorrectly, brings you closer to what you’re trying to learn, and you’ll correct it all the more easily. NOT practising moves you nowhere!
This is one of the big stumbling blocks; there’s always something which needs to be done first.
I suppose that, like dieting, you’ve got to really want to do it..
Once you’ve begun a routine of practising where you feel that, if you don’t, you’re letting yourself down, then you’re on your way.
For me, the best way to start was to borrow a couple of minutes from my usual schedule by getting out of bed before everyone else. There were no distractions, and I wasn’t eating into my usual routine (or practising on a full stomach). I know that for some people this doesn’t work whereas putting it into the diary at a specific time works better.
Find a way if you can… It will pay dividends.
James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308