There are many reasons for slow form practice in Tai Chi(Taijiquan). For the moment I won’t list any reasons and save that for another bunch of posts. A very interesting question on slow practice is: How slow should I practice my Tai chi form?
There might be a few different answers depending on what style you practice and to what lineage you belong. For meditative purpose, I personally prefer Yang style. “Slow” might have the same meaning in other Tai Chi styles, like in Wu Jianquan style (“leaning wu”). Chen seems to have a slightly different take on slow practice and have fast movements as well. But for Wu/Hao and Sun styles and even for Chen Xiaojia, the footwork prevents you to do the form as slow as it’s possible in Yang style. So my perpective will be mostly from a Yang perspective. But there are definitively some similarities between styles and the main reasons for practicing slow is about the same (Well, there are fast Yang forms and also Yang form practice with following step as well, but let’s not complicate this further.).
I will try to make my explanation as short and simple as possible on the question: How slow should I practice my Tai Chi form? From my own point of wiev, there are four main points you need to consider.
Moving slower and slower
My first answer is that you should practice as slow as you need to carefully examine your body, to find in what positions and in what movements and transitions you have the habit to tense up or loose your focus. You should always keep relaxed, balanced and in alignment and control your muscular tension. But if you don’t know when and where you tend to tense up, how will you be able to stay soft and relaxed? So, move as slow as you need to in order to feel what your body is doing and how it reacts on the changes.
My second point is the you need to practice slower than you want, slower than you think is slow. This is hard to describe, but if you go slower than you think is slow, you will force your mind to calm down. This is a powerful meditative effect of Tai Chi practice, but with moving slow and in an even pace you will really learn how to use your body to control mind and deepen your breath and deepen your relaxation. When you reach a certain relaxation and slow pace in your practice, you will notice a great difference of awareness. You will experience that this practice makes your thinking clearer, that you see and hear better. This is an experience and knowledge you can use and bring with you in your daily life.
But don’t move too slow
My third advice is that you should not press yourself too hard or try to move extremely slow. Moving from one posture to another does not need to take six minutes. The risk is that if you force yourself too much, you might loose that important feeling of reeling silk. Your movements must be perfectly even and controlled. Don’t let an obsession to be a master of slowness destroy this even more important principle.
My fourth point might be my deepest advice and it might be the most important point for your progression over a longer period: Don’t do it so slow so you interrupt your Prenatal Qi or keep you away from learning about what this is. Solo Tai Chi practice has it’s main health aspect in the Prenatal Principle. in Tai Chi this is about re-learning your original body movements. And this is what is called “Natural Movements” in Tai Chi. It’s really no fuzz or magic. You won’t be able to throw Qi balls. I will go deeper into this later. For the moment, just realize that practicing really slow is good, but you need to let your body do some of the work by itself, learn how your body wants to move without forcing it. This also means that there is a limit to how fruitful “slow” in Tai Chi practice is.
Also read: if tai chi can be boring