Traditional Taiji practice was never just about doing slow forms, and this is true for all styles or systems of Taiji. Taiji for health purposes, or just as light exercise, can focus on forms only. But other practices need to be incorporated to make Taiji a complete method of body-mind cultivation, and self-defense. Here is a basic (and not exhaustive) list of common adjunct practices within Taiji training.
Silk Reeling 纏絲功
Silk Reeling exercises are an essential part of Chen Style Taiji (although sometimes omitted in other styles). When a silk worm makes a cocoon it spins silk fibers in circles around itself. Then, when silk makers unwrap the cocoon, they pull the silk strand and it comes off in a spiraling pattern. This spiraling movement is why these exercises are called Silk Reeling. In Taiji, spiraling movements are used to relax the joints, and stretch the connective tissue, and strengthen the body. Regular practice of Silk Reeling also teaches the body to evade joint locks. In Chen and Hunyuan Taiji there are Silk Reeling patterns that work the entire body systemically.
Foundation/Basic Exercises 基本功
In addition to, and sometimes prior to learning forms, Taiji students practice basic exercises and patterns. The most common is practice of the Eight Methods (Taiji Ba Fa 太極八法). The Eight Methods are basic movement patterns that form the basis of all movements in Taiji, and the are: Peng 掤勁 (Ward Off), Lü 捋勁 (Pull Back), Ji 擠勁 (Press), An 按勁 (Push Down), Cai 採勁 (Pluck), Lie 挒勁 (Separate), Zhou 肘勁 (Elbow strike), Kao 靠勁 (Shoulder strike or body check). These movements can be practiced alone, in sequence, my oneself, with a partner, etc.. There are actually endless ways to execute each of the Eight Methods as they are conceptual rather than rigid movement patterns.
Other basic exercises include various stepping patterns, standing post exercises (standing meditation), and others.
Push Hands 推手, Applications 技擊 and Qin Na 擒拿
Push Hands is perhaps the most important adjunct exercise in Taiji, and is found in all systems of Taijiquan. Push Hands is a partnered exercise where participants move through various movement patterns, eventually moving to free style push hands where partners try to unbalance each other. It is said that practicing Taiji without Push Hands is only practicing half of Taiji. This is true. Push Hands allows us to test, in a controlled way, how we apply Taiji principles such as proper movement, force generation, and balance.
Closely related to Push Hands is form applications 技擊 and other partnered work. In form application participants practice the self-defense applications of form movement. Other partnered work includes practicing joint locking (known as Qin Na 擒拿) or other self-defense applications. Without the practice of Push Hand or applications, Taiji cannot be used for self-defense purposes. Below are photos of Dr. McCann demonstrating Push Hands with Master Wang Fengming in Anhui, China (2017).
Body Strengthening 健身功
One common myth we hear a lot regarding Taiji is that, since the form must be done in a relaxed way, strength training is incompatible with training. This is at face value false. Body strength can be increased at the same time as relaxation and flexibility (look for example at gymnasts who need to be relaxed, flexible and strong). From its beginnings, Taiji has always included body strengthening exercises. Some of the most common traditional body strengthening is the use of heavy weapons, which in Taiji include the long pole 大杆 (9-12 foot long pole), Da Dao 大刀 (heavy halberd, also known as the Guan Dao 關刀), and the mace (also known as a sword-breaker 鐧). Training with these weapons increase waist strength, upper body strength, and leg strength.
In addition to heavy weapons Taiji practice includes Taiji Ball 太極球 exercises. These exercises are similar to Silk Reeling exercises, with the exception that they are done holding weighted balls of anywhere from 2-4lbs. and up (some larger balls can be 25lbs. or heavier). In Chen Village, Taiji practitioners would also practice lifting heavy stones. For martial arts applications there needs to be some amount of physical strength. Also, for health and disease prevention, physical strength is essential. There is an incredible amount of modern research for example on the health benefits for both men and women of weight training.