By Brian Cooper

I began teaching in 1989 and still have many students who started with me back
then.  These long-term students have not
found any problem practicing on a regular basis and that’s probably why they
are long-term students.  In more recent
times many of the newer students have complained that they don’t have time to practice
or they are so busy and stressed out, it’s difficult to keep up their practice
of tai chi or chi gung.

I don’t think it’s true that these students have no time to practice. I feel
that their practice is probably unrewarding and therefore, deep in their hearts
they don’t feel like doing it. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. There
may be many reasons for this, but my intuition is that there is a sense
of strain in their practice. When working with your own internal practice,
the requirement to go inside, feel and concentrate can create a subtle sense of strain.
This in itself will make the person not want to do it.

This reminds me of a time, way back when I was young. I wanted to learn to play
blues guitar.  Every day I practiced in a
set session for about an hour.  My
progress was very slow and I didn’t seem to be able to get into the feel of how
to play blues guitar. I followed all the instructions to the letter, and even
took private lessons.  But still I
couldn’t seem to make it flow.  I gave up
my practice sessions and left the guitar in a little empty space between the
lounge and kitchen and I began to find myself picking it up for a few moments
and trying a chord or two. I did this a number of times a day since it seemed
effortless just for a few minutes and I didn’t really care how well I did. It
was just for the enjoyment of it. After a few days the thing began to flow and
I started to practice for longer periods of time gradually building up to long
afternoons as my skill got better. Then progress became quite swift and for a
while back in those days I could play a pretty mean blues guitar.

So what was wrong with my full practice?  I think
it was the strain of trying to get it right, of not being natural about
it.  The casual attempts at micro
practice seemed to release me from strain and things began to move forward. So
if you find your practice getting stuck in this way even if you don’t obviously
feel strain but just can’t seem to get it to work, try the art of micro practice.

Example: When you’re brewing your coffee first thing in the morning, standing in the kitchen,
bring your awareness to your feet. Feel how your feet contact the floor. Begin
to sit into your stance so that your weight sinks into your heels. Let your
tailbone sit down into your heels. If you were standing in soft mud it would be
your heels which would be sinking.  And
gradually without deliberately shifting your weight, direct your tailbone
forward until you can feel the pressure going into the middle of the arch of
the foot.  Now lift all your toes from
the floor, stretch them forward and gently lay all the pads of your toes back
on to the floor.  How does that feel?  Do you feel now you’re contacting the floor
better? Do you have a sense of gripping the floor but without any sense of
tension or strain? Now your coffee is brewed and you just completed your first
session of micro practice.

People often report to me that standing is difficult for them. After some attempts,
they say that standing, even for a few minutes becomes a frustrating
experience. The desire to move about becomes so strong that they fidget and
fidget and finally give up.  So here is
an example not so much of micro practice, but of casual practice.

If you can’t stand to stand, go for a walk. Take a stroll in the woods and as you walk
just casually begin to go inside.  Feel
how your head is held. Is there any tension or strain? Just casually let it go.
How are your shoulders? Do the same thing, let them drop. How is your spine?
Feel all the way down your spine; begin to let your pelvis hang as you walk.
Gradually you will find that your whole body is beginning to relax and become
more fluid. Keep going for as long as you feel comfortable with it and there is
no strain.  I’m willing to bet a least a
fiver you’ll feel much better at the end of your walk.

Waiting in a queue at the supermarket?  So,
instead of being in a hurry, standing on the balls of your feet, watching the
person in front of you so slowly packing their bags, trying to remember their
pin number as they pay, just sit back and relax into your stance. Let your
shoulders drop, let your pelvis drop, let go of tension, and just have a moment
of peace.

You can apply the same kind of softness to your regular practice also.  Did you
ever see a cat overstretch?  Practice like a cat, feel your way through a
stretch. Enjoy it.  Let your body hang,
have fun, don’t worry.  When you don’t
feel like doing any more, go and do something else. There will be plenty
of opportunity throughout the rest of the day…for micro practice.

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