- what should I wear?
- what if I've never tried tai chi before?
- what if I can't do the moves right away?
The easiest question is the first one. Tai chi requires your body to bend and stretch, so your clothes should likewise be able to bend and stretch. Stretchy workout pants and a t-shirt are great tai chi clothes. Bring a sweatshirt or sweater to class to put on at the end so you don't get chilled. Believe it or not, tai chi can really make you sweat!
You shouldn't worry about coming in as a beginner. Everyone who now looks fabulous and confident doing tai chi was a beginner at one time. Everyone struggles to some extent to get their tai chi just right. There's no need to feel anxious or worried that you can't do the exercises perfectly right away.
You also need to bear in mind that a lot depends on your body, and on your body awareness--the term we use to talk about how well your mind and body are integrated together. Some people have naturally great balance and coordination. Others struggle to convince their foot to step forward while their hands go into holding the ball position.
Even if your body awareness is excellent, it will take you time to learn tai chi. The way a tai chi practitioner moves her body is quite unusual in the world of exercise. It requires flexibility, a strong mental focus, and really strong legs--believe it or not. Even if you're in great shape, building the kind of strength required for tai chi takes time.
Questions I wish people would ask me:
- What is appropriate class etiquette?
- What do I do when I get frustrated?
- What's the best attitude to take when beginning to learn tai chi?
I can't speak for other instructors, but etiquette in my classes is casual, but nonetheless an important part of interacting with me and other students. I don't care if you're late for class, if you have to leave early, or if you're flustered when you come in and you need to take a moment to settle in as we begin a work out.
I do care that once we've begun, you put as much of your focus as you can into the workout. That's what matters, and that's what's going to give you maximum results.
Ultimately, tai chi is about freeing your inner warrior. If that means you get sassy, or we laugh a lot, or you want to share a thought or a joke, then I've done my job.
To take the second question, frustration has to be one of the most enormous blocks to progress in tai chi. It is something that happens to most of us on the tai chi path. When it rears its ugly head, frustration can pass quickly, or it can linger with you, slowly making you more and more bitter that you aren't "getting it" faster, sooner--now!
Frustration is really just emotion--and that emotion is anger. You decide that you should be better at tai chi than you are. You're mad about the difference between where you're at and where you think you should be. Soon, instead of feeling happier, more peaceful, and energized, you just feel put out.
The answer to frustration is more practice. The only way to get out of the loop of beating yourself up is to get better. And the only way to see real progress is to do it over and over again. Pick a section of the tai chi set you kind of know, and repeat it until you could do it in your sleep. This kind of repetition is the only way to learn tai chi. It is the source of all breakthroughs. When you're in the depths of frustration, the comfort you can take is that the breakthroughs will come, because you are practicing.
The best attitude you can take when you start tai chi is that this is like nothing you've done before. Tai chi isn't something you learn in a weekend seminar. You can't pick it up overnight. It isn't rewarding at all if you merely dabble in it. It's something that you'll have to work at for the rest of your life--or as long as you want to continue to reap the benefits.
Tai chi master Benjamin Lo, in an interview on the website of the Wuwei Tai Chi Club, has this to say about tai chi and attitude:
I tell people when they learn Tai Chi Ch'uan that patience is not enough because people always lose patience. So I tell people you have to have perseverance. We have never heard of people losing perseverance.Patience is good but it is not enough. After five years you can quit. I have seen people practice 20 years and quit. If you have 20 years patience, it is pretty good, but if you have it a lifetime, then we call it perseverance.
If you're attracted to the idea of tai chi, chances are it's something you should try. In my experience, most people either know it's not for them right away, or they have a sense that this is something that they can really groove on. If you know you want to keep going, develop perseverance. Practice as much as you can. Keep going, through the times when you really want to practice and the times when you don't. Through the times when you feel great and the times when your body feels creaky and stiff. Persevere, and you will reap the rewards.