There are no hard and fast rules that one must follow in choosing a beginning qigong or taiji practice, but there are some considerations that will help you make the choice that will suit your needs best. This will make your beginning experiences more satisfying, and open the door to other practices to come later as you advance. Some of these factors include your age, your current level of health, your reasons for wanting to begin a practice of this sort (interests and objectives), and the amount of time you currently have available to devote to your practice. For a more detailed look at these and other considerations, please read Guidelines For Beginning a Taiji or Qigong Practice.
If you are young--for the purposes of this discussion, let’s say below 30--and in good health, your options are completely open. Your body will be able to accommodate the demands of the most rigorous practices, including the hard martial arts if that’s your interest. Frequently, you have more time available to you, so you have the time necessary to devote to more detailed and complex practices. For you, the main considerations will be your interests and objectives. Do you want to learn something more martially oriented, something to increase your fitness, provide more energy and keep you healthy through a long life, or do you want to explore your spiritual nature? There are practices that are designed to address all of these things simultaneously, too--more advanced qigongs, bagua, and high level taiji practices--but they take considerably more time and dedication, and in the daoist tradition are usually only begun once a person has some mastery of the simpler practices.
If you have a health challenge, regardless of your age, your first priority should be to become healthier, and if possible to fully restore your good health. There are many practices, some simple and some more complex, that can target the exact nature of your health challenge and help you to heal it much sooner than another practice would. As an example, many people come to me to learn taiji because they’ve been told that will help them to get healthier, but for their particular circumstances, Chinese self-care exercises or one qigong form or another would serve them better to begin with. In many cases, the principles and techniques that you learn in one qigong form can later be applied to another qigong or to taiji. Once you have become more healthy, you can reevaluate your practice, and change it or add to it to accommodate your other interests and objectives.
If you are older, or even if you are relatively young but have lived a sedentary life, take into account your body’s current level of energy, flexibility and strength. If you are not very flexible or strong, you’ll want to address those things moderately, at a comfortable pace, without inducing any stress or strain. Daoist and medical qigongs are almost always gentle enough and very effective at helping your body become more energized, stronger and more flexible. Daoist yoga and simple Chinese self-care exercises are also a good choice in this case. The taiji short form is often fine, too, but the long forms can be too physically challenging to begin with.
You should be as realistic with yourself as possible in assessing the amount of time you have to devote to a practice, and this should be considered in conjunction with your personal goals for your practice. If you have a half hour or less to devote each day, and you have a health problem, you should definitely choose a qigong practice targeted at your health problem. The external choreography of most qigongs are relatively simple to learn, although it will usually take a few months of practice to acquire enough skill to improve your health. Chinese self care exercises might be all you need to begin to see an improvement, and they involve even less time to learn.
Without a significant health problem, you have more choices available, but still dependent on how much time you can devote. At a half hour or so a day, for general health and longevity a daoist or medical qigong set will fit your schedule and provide significant benefits. If you want to learn taiji and are limited to this time schedule, stick with a short form. Once you learn that, you may find that somehow, more time almost miraculously opens up in your life, and then it will be time to learn a long form if you choose.
Frequently I’m asked this question, sometimes posed by a current student making an inquiry for a friend or family member, but occasionally by people who have just found out about these classes and are wanting to know for themselves. The question is, "What's the easiest class for someone to take, to help get them into all this?" My answer applies to the classes I teach, of course, but you can take the general message and apply it to your own circumstances.
Without a doubt, Chinese Exercises for Health and Longevity (a.k.a. Chinese Self-Care Exercises, and Chinese Exercises for Self Healing) is the simplest, and often the best, place to start. First of all, it's one of the low commitment classes. You may enroll for one month at a time for a class that meets for one hour each week, instead of committing to ten weeks as in most of the other classes. That's a long enough period of time for you to decide if you find the exercises valuable and want to continue, or otherwise to decide that this class is not for you. Secondly, these exercises are not necessarily part of a cumulative system. You can learn just a few exercises and get the benefits of those exercises just by practicing them regularly without going any further. Third, the exercises are relatively simple, and most of them are not qigong exercises per se. Qigong by definition involves the regulation of the body, breath, and mind, and through the regulation of those three things in synchronous coordination, the qi is also regulated. Most of these exercises only involve the regulation of the body. Of course, your mind is used to regulate your body, so some degree of regulation of the mind may be involved, and a few of the exercises involve a simple regulation of the breath. But always, your main focus is on one component only, the regulation of the body. That makes these exercises much easier to do. Fourth, although these exercises really are simple, you can experience beneficial results very quickly, which is important to encourage a beginner in these practices. In that way, they come closest to providing the "immediate gratification" that so many people in our culture crave and have come to expect. And finally, because each exercise can stand alone, the specific benefits it provides, along with an explanation of how and why the exercise works from a Chinese medical perspective, will be discussed at the time you learn the exercise. In that way an intellectual curiosity can be satisfied while you are learning something practical, and you can use that understanding to deepen your practice.
As you learn more of these exercises and become proficient in them, you will be taught how to combine them prescriptively, to more specifically address your particular health needs. They also serve as excellent warm-ups for qigong, taiji, or western exercises.
The next easiest class is Daoist Yoga. This is more complex than the Chinese Exercises class and is in fact a qigong set having some specific medical qigong benefits. It is an eight movement, cumulative system, but unlike some other qigong sets, it's fine to practice just a few of the movements, or even one of them, and get most of the benefit that particular exercise has to offer. The last two points from the Chinese Exercises explanation apply here, and Daoist Yoga also serves as a great  warm-up for qigong, taiji, or western exercises.
Daoist Breathing is an excellent introductory class, and I encourage everyone to learn it. Not only is it applicable to virtually all taiji and qigong practices, it’s possibly the single best thing anyone can do to improve their overall health, since we breath 24 hours a day, every day, whether we practice qigong, martial arts, yoga, or not. Learning to breathe well is a matter of reclaiming your natural breath, the way you breathed when you were born, and it will positively impact every aspect of your well-being. I teach this course as a weekend workshop, since a significant amount of continuous guided practice is involved, which is more difficult to get in a weekly series of one-hour classes.  Chinese medical perspectives are included in this class, which will help give a beginner some insight as to where further study will take them. Because there are no external movements to learn, and breathing is done when standing, sitting, lying down, and moving, virtually everyone can take this class.
For a beginner whose interest runs a little deeper, Dragon and Tiger Qigong is a very comprehensive, true qigong. With only seven movements to learn, it’s still a relatively simple qigong, and teaches you skills you may later apply to other qigongs or to taiji. Opening the Energy Gates is also a good beginning practice, and foundational to many other qigongs. It has a few more internal aspects than Dragon and Tiger, and is an important introduction to neigong practices.
For a beginner who wants to learn taiji and has a little more time to devote, the Wu style short form is the best choice. Dragon and Tiger qigong may be a good alternate choice for someone who wants to learn taiji but has less time or more physical restriction. Please refer to the Course Descriptions for more information about Dragon and Tiger, Energy Gates, and the Wu style short form.

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