This morning, I did the form in about two and a half minutes after doing Five Golden Coins. This was clearly too fast. So I did it again, trying to do it much more slowly. Six minutes. Darn. This wasn’t working this morning. Five Golden Coins had been only five minutes. I’d spent thirteen minutes doing tai chi, which was clearly not the half-hour I’ve been trying to do daily for a while now.
I did a standing posture, Stand like Tree, for a minute. As I did so, I remembered reading a book a long, long time ago (I think it was this one but it might be another) about Irish Laws from the Brehon legal structure. In that book, there was a bit about how law courts had time-keepers, and the time-keeper was supposed to let each side speak for a specified period of time. To do so, he was to count “eighteen breaths to the minute.”
I kept standing in Stand Like Tree. Yes. Eighteen breaths to the minute, with each breath an in-and-out. Now — that’s fast but natural for tai chi breath. It’s not an overly affective breath cycle, nor overly deep, but it’s a reasonable daily breath.
So, I tried doing an 18-breath-a-minute form, where I used each pose as a standing meditation for a minute. Dr. Yang said, a few weeks ago, that any tai chi posture or any qi gong posture can be used as a strength-training exercise anywhere from two or three minutes to up to about twenty minutes for each. Now… if I did each tai chi posture as a standing meditation for twenty minutes, and there are sixty postures, that would be… twelve hundred minutes, or twenty hours!
I’m not going to be doing that any time soon. I simply don’t have the physical strength to hold most of the postures for twenty minutes at a time (although it opens up the potential of doing a sixty-day cycle where I do one posture daily for twenty minutes… still not ready for that, though).
But… I could do a 1-minute per posture meditational form. And so (having a bit of extra time today), I started. I did the form again, this time trying to do 18 breaths per posture. The first few poses, up through Stand Like Tree, were easy. By the time I got to Box Ears with Fists, I was trembling, and down to about fifteen breaths per posture. A little while later, I was trying to do Fair Lady Works Shuttles, and I was down to about eight breaths before moving on. By the time I got to the end, it was four breaths. I hadn’t raised a sweat, but I was exhausted from the effort.
It had taken thirty-seven minutes — a little shy of the two-thirds of an hour mark; it would have taken an hour if I’d been able to do each pose for a minute. So, on average, I held each pose for around 37 seconds: the earlier poses maybe a little more, the later poses quite a bit less.
So I now feel like I have a test for my tai chi practice beyond mere completion, a way to check in and see if my tai chi practice is improving or declining. When I push myself, and make the effort, at some point I should be able to ‘pass’ by using each posture as a standing meditation, and taking an hour to do my tai chi form. It’s an endurance run of sorts, and a strength and balance test, to be sure. But now that I’ve had a chance to rest, I feel great… and it’s clear that this morning’s tai chi practice has helped significantly in feeling great today.