Friday, January 18, 2013

Plateaus In Learning Tai Chi

Sometimes a pause in the growth of our practice can be an indicator of greater change to come. An initial learning curve is marked with rapid growth while subsequent periods of less growth are normal and an essential part of the process of learning.

When people begin learning something new, they often learn quickly. Their minds become engaged in the learning. However, when learning taiji, learning quickly is not necessarily better than learning slowly and deeply. Taiji has many subtle details that take time to learn. It takes time for it to get into your body and your mind. With each lesson, it is important to practice regularly until that lesson becomes part of you.

Learning is not a steady path toward perfection. Even with deliberate practice with slow and steady learning, learners often reach a time where it seems that improvement is not happening. This is called a plateau. A learner can seem to stay on a plateau for a long time.

However, at some point there is a sudden change and something new becomes obvious. This causes a sudden, steep rise in growth and learning. This sudden change may cause a temporary period where the student has to rethink the details of the movement in light of this new understanding. Then the learner works at this new level until there is another steep rise in growth and learning.

The presence of this sudden change does not mean that nothing was happening during the plateau. Plateaus and steep rises are yin and yang. The plateaus are yin where energy is stored. The steep rises are yang where the energy is delivered in a burst of new understanding. There is no yang without the yin.

A plateau is a necessary part of learning taiji. The daily practice during the plateaus helps the movement become automatic. It needs to soak into the marrow of the bones. It may seem like little learning is happening, but a plateau happens while the lessons are trained into the body.

Some dedicated learners may want to work hard to get through the plateau phase. Others may get frustrated with the plateau. This causes some students to drop out and miss out on the benefits of long-term taiji practice. Sometimes learners really do get stuck on a plateau and need help to make progress. It is the teacher's responsibility to discuss this with students so that they know what to expect. There are several strategies to help get past a plateau.

Encourage The Learner To Move Outside Of Their Comfort Zone
It is sometimes necessary to put emphasis on things that have been too difficult. The learner may need to risk looking foolish in order to make progress.

Learners Need Honest Feedback
We all want to encourage our students by giving them positive feedback. It is sometimes necessary to deliver constructive criticism. The learner may need to survive a bruised ego in order to make progress.

Learners Need To Use Directed Practice
Each practice session needs a short-term goal. The teacher may need to identify areas where the student needs to focus more attention. It is sometimes necessary to get back to the basics and relearn something. The learner may need to learn humility and go back to the beginning in order to make progress.

Enjoy your practice during the plateaus. Know that eventually the yin plateaus become the yang rises that bring new depth and enjoyment to your practice.

Previously published in Yang-Sheng magazine

© 2013 Eric Borreson

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