Tips for beginners

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When you first start Tai Chi it can seem quite a daunting prospect. Whether you are learning a long form or short form, there is so much to take on board, there are so many working parts to master. These are some pointers we share with our students when they start out.

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If you can, try to start by relaxing your mind and body. You will find the experience a lot more enjoyable if you do this, and this will help get you in the right frame of mind and develop the right physiological habits from the beginning. I know this is easier said than done when you are trying to remember a sequence, and not fall over while doing a stick man/woman impression of the person in front of you. But the sooner you can relax into the movements the better. Probably our best tool to help us calm our minds and bodies is our breathing. It is difficult to relax while holding your breath, so remember to breathe. Breathe naturally.

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The traditional jibengong, or foundational work in Yang style Tai Chi includes walking drills, and these are probably the most important thing to get right as a beginner. Once you have got the hang of the walking drills, that way of stepping and rotating and placing your feet so that you are stable and able to balance while moving backwards and forwards, will give you a great foundation in the art. It is much easier to integrate your upper body movement onto the lower foundation, than to attempt it the other way around (which nearly always ends up being disconnected). Get your footwork right first, I promise you won’t regret it.
Moreover the walking drills also contain elements of the art which probably supply the most immediate health benefits; as you build up your leg muscle tone you support those joints, gain strength, endurance, balance and by extension our brain health (studies have shown that our brains are hard-wired to prioritise anything that challenges our balance).

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As the saying goes… Rome was not built in a day. Take your time, be resolved that this journey is going to be a long-term investment in your mind and body and that you are going to enjoy every step. Get the big brush movements down first before trifling over details and gradually commit them to your memory, step by step. Remember you are not in a hurry, this is for your own benefit and not a race, so go at your own pace. It is better to get to know the form slowly and thoroughly, so that you can remember the sequence, than to rush through to the end of the form without really having learned it at all. Ask questions, make sure you get the shape of the movement right before you move on, and don’t be frightened to ask more questions about stuff you have already learned, to consolidate your progress.