T'ai Chi Mini-Forms for Strength Training
If you have limited time available for T'ai Chi practice, you can follow mini-form routines to target a specific area, such as strength. The mini-forms described here can help you achieve better functional strength — lean and toned muscles that do what you want, when you want, and have enough tone and conditioning to not get hurt or leave you stranded in a pinch.
The strength required or fostered in T’ai Chi is not brute muscular force, but is the type that comes from within. When you practice unified movements with a relaxed body and a still mind, you find a strength that you perhaps didn't know existed.
Honing leg strength with T'ai Chi (Horse Stance and Bow Stance)
All of T’ai Chi nurtures strength and endurance in your legs and hips, especially when you sink lower into your knees, which places more challenging demands on your lower body. Although every form works on leg strength, perhaps the best single focus on legs is in basic stance training. Practicing the following stances quickly reminds you that T’ai Chi is not for wimps:
Riding the Horse Stance (mini-form #2): Your feet are parallel and shoulder-width apart.
Bow Stance (mini-form #3): This is the basic bow-and-arrow position that in some ways resembles a lunge.
You can perform these stances with various arm positions just for fun, but if your focus is leg strength, don't let your tiring arms take away from the powerful work happening in your legs. You may — especially at first — want to leave your arms at your sides or let your hands simply rest on your hips.
Building arm strength with T'ai Chi (Standing Like a Tree)
Pushing your body weight around, such as when you do pushups or hoist an iron bar over your head, is one thing. But being able to keep your arms lifted in the air, whether they’re moving or not, is truly another matter.
That's what T’ai Chi calls for, so while doing the forms, you target your arms. But to get a foot up (arm up?) you can throw in some standing Qigong-style meditations (such as Standing Like a Tree) that force you to keep your arms lifted and steady.
These steps (mini-form #4) focus on the Embrace the Tree arm position.
Pick a comfortable standing position, perhaps a simple T’ai Chi Posture.
Place your arms in the Embrace the Tree position. Hold for five breath cycles — five inhalations and five exhalations. Lower the arms to rest for a few seconds.
Alternate holding the position for five breath cycles and then lowering your arms for a brief rest. Do this for up to 10 minutes, or as long as you can.
Each week (or two, depending on how often you practice), add five breath cycles to your holding position before you lower to rest. In alternating weeks, keep the extended hold, but add five minutes. In other words, you increase the length of your hold one week; then you increase the time that you practice the hold-rest pattern.
Continue to stack these increases until you reach up to an hour of holding without the need to lower to rest.
You may not feel the need to work up to an hour of holding. That's okay. Work up to 10, 20, or 30 minutes instead. The payoff in benefits is proportional to the effort expended, but you can certainly develop sufficient strength and stamina to do good T’ai Chi from being able to hold the arm position for 10 or 15 minutes.