There are certain principles that are inherent in the practice of Tai Chi and if they are not present, then the practitioner is not practising Tai Chi but something else. It is these principles that you can always return to and look for in your own form. Ask yourself questions that are based on the basic principles that are the root of Tai Chi practice.
In the beginning of your studies, as well as developing your physical skills, you begin to develop your sensitivity to your body by learning to utilise different variations of internal energy (chi). The fundamental qualities that one begins to develop are:
The Body as One Unit
Follow the path of movement within a posture, begining in the feet and legs, which in turn move the waist and the torso, translating the movement to the shoulders and finally to the arms and hands.
It is essential that you investigate this concept as you move through a posture. Open up your sensitivity to the movement of your body as a whole - feel the pressure of the weight changing from one leg to another - notice how the torso follows this action and how the arms then follow the torso. If you move too quickly you will not have time to grasp what is actually happening.
You have to listen (be sensitive) to what is happening to your body and how you are feeling. In Duo work (Push Hands) you listen with touch to the subtle movements and changes in your partner's body in order to carry out the appropriate action.
In partner work, you have to remain in contact with your partner in order to be able to listen. In the Solo forms, think of Sticking as the quality of gentle but consistent commitment to staying centred within your form as in meditation.
It is important to have a firm root or foundation to the postures of the forms. It is from the root of the legs forming a strong base that the power and ability to move manifests itself.
Tai Chi is based upon the soft defeating the hard. If you have listened and rooted, then you can yield to any pressure that comes your way - be it physical or psychological.
Look at each of these basic energy concepts and investigate how you apply them to your forms. Each of them should be present in every posture, whether in a solo form or in partner work. Each posture has its own quality and one method you can use to investigate this is to hold any posture and see if you can feel where the quality resides within that particular posture.
Practising the postures and not just the sequence can be very useful because one can often get caught by worrying about the sequence and by doing so, end up getting distracted and only practising the sequence instead of practising Tai Chi. If you get caught in this way you can find that you have no room to feel what is actually happening in your forms because you are too busy concentrating on what move comes next. The sequence of a form has its own purpose, but be careful not to get trapped by it.
Each time you play the form is a unique moment. Note the word 'play'. As well as all the serious aspects of the study and learning of Tai Chi, it is important to keep a warm and friendly attitude to your practice. You can learn by experiment and play in addition to the focussed and concentrated application of the mind and body to the art.
Enjoy your practice of Tai Chi Chuan. It is a wonderful art to learn but first and foremost, it should be a joy to practice!