Tai Chi is very beautiful to watch when performed by a skilled practitioner. It looks so effortless and easy. To move so effortlessly, though, requires years of daily practice. The body has to be completely retrained to correct the bad habits we learn starting in early childhood. When the Ego emerges at around the age of two, "It" immediately "thinks" it is in control and starts screwing up Paradise. We soon lose our state of perfection and it is downhill from then on. We forget how to breathe properly and our perfect body alignment is "redesigned". By the time we reach adulthood, our Body-Being has lost most of it's Integrity creating a lot of stress throughout our body and mind. This makes our natural-born relaxed body just a lost memory. To finish this self-destruction by Ego, by now we have learned to use just the top of our lungs to breathe in short, shallow breaths which also add tension to our bodies, and our minds. If this is not realized early enough, our joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles get continually overworked and our skeleton tries to accommodate this unbalance by growing toward balance. This can cause curvature of the spine, osteoarthritis, excessive joint wear, muscle tension and strains, tendon and ligaments tears, and overall poor health and unhappiness. We can fix much of this, though, if we act.
Tai Chi is one system that teaches us how to regain our perfection and puts us on a Path back home to Paradise, our True Nature. The first thing you learn, or should learn, is how to breathe properly. I have other posts here that contain methods to do this so I will just briefly touch on this subject. You first learn "Normal Breathing", the way we breathe naturally as babies, very deep where the belly and tan tien (our Center) expand when we inhale instead of the chest. This takes time and daily practice to relearn but in a few weeks, you should be able to do this at will. It will help you relax for real again and is used in meditation to calm your mind to a state of silence and Awareness. Next, you will learn "Reverse Breathing". This is how we breathe while we are still in utero and also after prolonged exercise. The belly still expands on the inhale but the tan tien now expands on the exhale. This creates tremendous power that can be directed by the mind. This is a key element in the Internal Martial Arts such as T'ai Chi Ch'uan and takes many years to cultivate and use. This should be relearned very carefully and slowly, preferably under the strict tutelage of a real experienced Tai Chi instructor or Master if possible. This is covered in my post on breathing exercises. Now it is time to relearn how to align the body properly. This way it can work as One with the mind to achieve complete relaxation so the chi can flow unimpeded.
Without chi, you can not move. In fact, you can not live without chi. It is our life force. This is how movement naturally occurs. The Mind leads the chi which leads the Body. Wherever you focus your attention, the chi goes there and takes your body with it. You have probably noticed this while driving on the highway and looking to one side of you. You will "mindlessly" turn the car in that direction. The mind is extremely powerful and should be used with caution! This sounds funny but it is far truer than most people will ever know. This is why you must regain control of your Ego before It destroys you. Now, the mind and the body are meant to act as one unit. Mind directs the chi in the tan tien to go wherever it is focused. Most people's minds are cluttered with useless thoughts of the past or future that interfere with this natural process. This is the Ego speaking. It is time to shut It up.
Deep-breathing techniques help to quiet the Ego-ridden mind which helps the body to relax. This works both ways. Relaxing the body helps the mind to relax too. To facilitate this process, it is time to align the body. Spread your feet apart to align under the shoulders with the feet parallel to each other. Hold your head upright, looking straight ahead, and imagine that you are suspended by a string at the top of your head. Picture it running down through the exact center of your body. To get the lower back to move forward, bend your knees slightly as you push the pelvic area forward to straighten out your spine. The "string" should meet the floor half way between your feet at about the front of the heels. Now, relax your body from your head to your feet. Feel gravity pulling every cell in your body straight down into the ground. Become aware of any tension and relax it. Breathe slowly and deeply feeling the air enter your nose and flow gently downward as your stomach expands. Exhale just as slowly visualizing the air leaving from top to bottom as you feel your stomach "empty". Be mindful of a natural feeling of pressure at the bottom of your stomach as you near the end of your exhale. This is your tan tien. It is about three fingers width below your navel. Keep this in mind for later. Stay aware for any tense muscles and relax them every time. Check your shoulders! We have a tendency to tense them without knowing so let them sink down as they relax. As you inhale again, notice where the tip of your tongue is resting. It will be resting gently against the roof of your mouth right behind your front teeth. This is exactly where it should be when you are completely relaxed. This seemingly minor thing is critical to tai chi, all internal martial arts, and possibly to living a healthy life. This is the bridge, picture a switch, that connects the yin and the yang energy so they can combine and flow smoothly throughout your body. Careful, or you might get shocked! Just kidding...lol!
Remember feeling your tan tien earlier? Now, as you feel your tan tien, burn that feeling into your memory. This is where you will be focusing your attention a lot! As you inhale, feel your tan tien pulling the air in through the soles of your feet. In time, you will feel a wonderful "tingling" sensation in your legs. This is your chi. This can take a long time to achieve but had I been taught this, I think my practice would be even farther along. Just my opinion though. Now, as you exhale, sink the air into your tan tien. Do not force anything. Remain completely relaxed as you do this. I firmly believe that this technique will help you to feel your chi accumulating in your tan tien much quicker and therefore discover the ecstasy that awaits you with dedicated practice.
Here are two previous posts on Taoist or Tai Chi breathing:
General Rules About Breathing
Best wishes to All who follow their Path with Heart through a lifetime of dedicated and necessary Practice. The blessings that await are infinite and beyond explanation!