Top 10 Guidelines for Taijiquan Practice

By Grandmaster Shou-Yu Liang and Master Wen-Ching Wu

To successfully learn Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), you will need to understand some of the principles and guidelines that have accumulated over the centuries by masters of this ancient art. These principles and guidelines are the foundation of Taijiquan. In this chapter, we will introduce the general theories behind Taijiquan, and guidelines for physical and mental awareness during practice.

To achieve the maximum benefit from Taijiquan practice, you should "practice Taijiquan 24 hours aday." This doesn't mean that you need to do the Taijiquan sequence all the time, but you need to make Taijiquan a way of life. The practice of Taijiquan will not only provide a "whole" body workout; but also cultivate the energy within your body, increase your mental awareness and centering, and build good habits for proper body alignment. When you have accomplished these goals in practice, you will automatically carry these good habits into your daily life. You will gain a greater awareness of yourself; keeping your physical body properly aligned while sitting, standing, driving, eating, watching TV, working, type, brushing your teeth, and everything else you do regularly. This is what is meant by "practicing Taijiquan 24 hours a day" and "making Taijiquan a way of life."

1. Head: Vitality of Spirit Leads to the Top of the Head (Xu Ling Ding Jin)
Vitality of Spirit Leads to the Top of the Head implies the energizing of your head by a slight lifted feeling. Whenyour head is slightly lifted, it will be upright, with the neck relaxed, and you will appear to have a sense of vitality. With your head upright, it will be easier to keep your balance. To have a "suspended" feeling, imagine that the Baihui cavity on the top of your head is being suspended by a thread.

2. Eyes: Eyes Focus with Concentration (Yanshen Zhushi)
Your eyes are generally the first to move when you generate an intent with your mind. When practicing Taijiquanfor health, your eyes correspond with the arm or leg performing the most important movement at the time. When your eyes are focused in the direction of you primary limb, you express the intent of the movement. This way your movements are " alive"; have a pleasing, artistic appeal and express the vitality of your spirit.

3. Mouth: Tongue Gently Touches the Roof of the mouth (She Qing Ding Shange)
After a hard day, you may find yourself with your teeth clenched unintentionally. Any tension in the mouth can restrict your breathing. Pay attention to your jaw, making sure that your jaw is not tensed. During practice, keep your mouth closed, with your lips lightly touching each other. Then touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your moth. With your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, saliva will be generated. Your saliva is not only an excellent digestive juice; but, it is also an excellent "moisturizer" and "coolant" for your body during Taijiquan practice.

4. Torso: Body centered and Upright (Shenti Zhongzheng)
Unnecessary tension in your muscles and joints is generated when your body leans or twists excessively. Overthe years, certain work conditions may help develop habits that put your body under undue stress, due to unproper alignment. All these misalignments need to be corrected before permanent damage occurs. This guideline sets the criteria for proper torso alignment. It allows the body to be relaxed, prevents undue tension, and improves smooth circulation for blood and Qi.

5. Chest and Back: Arc Your Chest and Round Your Back (Hanxiong Babei)
With your chest naturally relaxed and arced in slightly, reducing the pressure on your lungs, you allow deeper and more relaxed breathing. The slight movements of your chest provide direct stimulation and exercise to your organs. It is like a gentle massage, loosening up whatever stagnation there may be, in the fasciae layers surrounding your organs. The slight arcing of your chest makes the back slightly rounded with a slightly lifted feeling. When training Taijiquan as fighting art, the chest is arced in further with the back more rounded. The reason for this, is to create the potential for power release. It is like a bow being pulled, storing the potential to release an arrow.

6. Waist and Hips: Loosen your Waist and Hips (Songyao Songkua)
The 206 bones in our bodies are "threaded" together for weight bearing and for a variety of movements. The waist, which connects your upper body and lower body, has a significant influence on the movements of the entire body. Though the connecting ligaments, once the waist moves, the other joints in the body are affected.

7. Arms and Shoulders: Sink the Shoulders and Drop the Elbows (Chenjian Chuizhou)
Sink the shoulders (Chenjaing) requires that the shoulder joints be loose. Let yourarms hang down naturally. Drop the Elbows (Chuizhou) implies the lowering of your elbows. People involved in stress related work often find themselves with their shoulders raised. When this happens, the lungs are constricted from the tension caused by the shoulders. This will restrict breathing and prevent the smooth circulation of blood and Qi. Also, if the shoulders are not relaxed and the elbows are not dropped, it will make the guideline Arc Your Chest and Round Your Back impossible.

8. Wrist and Hand: Extend the Fingers and Settle the Wrist (Zuo Wan Shen Zhi)
Extend the Fingers and Settle the Wrist is a hand and wrist exercise. In Settle the Wrist, you are flexing yourwrist by extending the base of your palm forward, while leaving your finger tips suspended in place. Every time you settle your wrist and extend your fingers, the joints are being stretched and loosened up. Energetically, the small motion of your wrist and hand, helps bring your attention to your fingers, assisting your mind in leading the Qi to your fingers.

9. Legs: Distinguish Substantial and Insubstantial (Fenqing Xushi)
Distinguish Substantial and Insubstantial is a guideline for the entire body. With regard to the leg movements,it is a guideline to achieve agility and smoothness in shifting weight from one leg to another. Substantial (Shi) literally means solid, implying firmness and stability, not rigidity. Insubstantial (Xu) literally means empty, implying the ability to change, not lifelessness.

10. Entire body: Upper and Lower Body Follow Each Other (Shangxia Xiangsui)
This guideline stresses the importance of integrating the entire body, for good rooting, balance, and centering.Whenone part of your body moves, all other parts also move, providing a total body exercise.