I use this form as my first Martial Arts exercise each morning, after a brief set of range of motion and warm up exercises. When teaching Tai Chi, I use this form as the first introduction to the style, before teaching the Yang style short form.
While the effect of this form may seem very simple and subtle, it really allows the student to focus on relaxation and breathing. When I began doing the form, it helped me release tension in my shoulders and upper back. Soon after that it helped me discover tension in my lower back. Years later I found tension in my buttocks, thighs, neck and stomach.
Without the demands of the stepping form, it can lay bare very basic internal problems. I consider it an invaluable resource.
Like most martial arts forms it can be considered a form of moving meditation. Just sitting meditating in posture has proven too difficult for me. I find that this form gives me just enough to pay attention to that it keeps my mind from wandering, at least too much.
Olsen recommends a Buddhist breathing sequence that is what I've followed. It has the practical benefit of giving the practitioner something specific on which to focus his attention at all times, and it directs the attention to different parts of the body, which allows for constant reexamination of tension.
One can imagine a light passing from the dan tien point (two inches below and slightly inside the body from the navel) back to and up the spine to the crown of the head on inhaling. The circle continues on exhaling down the face, neck and chest back to the dan tien. Another way to visualize this is to think of a bubbling tube of water circling the body.
I should mention that I don't subscribe to any form of mysticism. There appears to be no scientifically documented medical mechanism for the Chinese system of meridians. But imagining or visualizing these meridians has seemed to be helpful in relaxation.
Below are the images that show the sequence of this form. Each movement takes one cycle of inhalation and exhalation. I show some pictures of the transition between movements in a small image to the right. The text describes the movement below it, starting with the large picture at left. The end of the movement is shown in the following large picture.
In all the movements, even when the arms appear straight, the elbows should not be locked. One general principle of Tai Chi is that every movement keeps something in reserve.
While it is not necessary to have one's eyes closed, I find it helpful in avoiding distractions. It also makes keep one's balance more difficult, and can therefore be a helpful part of the exercize.
1. Begin standing with feet shoulder width apart. Knees should be straight but not locked. Bend both wrists. Forearms rotate very slightly so that fingers face front rather than out slightly towards the sides.