This question commonly comes up at the end of full day trainings when beginning Tai Chi students sometimes find themselves with aching legs and backs. “I thought this was supposed to be good for me!” is a common refrain. I often think of Tai Chi like water; too little and things wither, too much and things drown. Just like water, only practicing the right amount of Tai Chi will yield the desired results.
So how much is the right amount? Since people are as diverse as plants, there is no one right amount for everyone; however, unlike plants we have the ability to choose our own means of cultivation. One of the research based benefits of regular Tai Chi practice is improved over all body sensation and decreased pain ratings. With time and consistency people begin to discover how much practice is most beneficial and also apply this “self knowledge” to daily tasks like working in the garden or doing housework by respecting their bodies and knowing when it’s appropriate to take breaks.
The Rehabilitative Qigong & Tai Chi method encourages practitioners to engage the “yellow zone”. For every joint range of motion and muscle contraction the “green” zone is where the system isn’t challenged at all and the “red” zone is where pain and threat occur; the “yellow” zone is where we are curious about tensions and discomforts but no threat or pain arises. Through consistent investigation of the yellow zone, we both expand our physical abilities and support our sensitive nervous systems. Remember that the yellow zone is different for everyone and even different for the same person at various times throughout the day. When we let go of the joint range of motion and muscle contraction numbers and instead focus on consistently engaging the yellow zone, then we begin speaking the language of the bodymind.
Originally published November 2014.