Contrary to many other sports, we are trying to not ‘try too hard’ in Tai Chi. That sounds funny, doesn’t it?
What I mean by that is that we give ourselves time to develop balance, flexibility and strength. We don’t go to the point where we think we achieved something because our body hurts.
I’m not saying there is no value in cardio and strength training that pushes and expands the limits of our body. What I’m saying is that this is not how we do Tai Chi or what we want to achieve with Tai Chi. Having a different approach to how we exercise is also the main reason why we can practice Tai Chi and gain health benefits from it, no matter our age or abilities.
In Tai Chi we don’t push too hard. Rather we discover our boundaries and gently and slowly push against them. We gently stretch and make sure we don’t strain any muscles by trying too hard. We slowly lower our stance over time, making sure that we are not harming our joints by trying to go too deep too quickly, before our muscles had a chance to develop properly. We are gentle and soft instead of hard and inflexible.
Every time I show in class what pushing too hard means, even for basic exercises like connecting heaven and earth, I come home with some strained muscles in my back. Some day I will learn to just not show wrong execution any more…
Think of the flower fists. We’re not making a board-breaking fist, but rather imagine that we hold a precious rose in our hand and we certainly don’t want to squish it.
In Tai Chi we gently push our limits. We develop new abilities slowly but consistently, without interruptions by strained muscles or unwanted knee surgery. We’re in for the long run and for lifelong practice.
The next time you feel frustrated because you can not stretch as much as the person next to you, you can not lower you center as easily as your teacher, or your balance is wobblier that everyone elses – let go! Practice Tai Chi within your own limits and abilities. No one else matters. Don’t push it too hard but give yourself the time your body needs to develop.
The constant flow of water breaks the rock over time.