I have often heard students of the internal arts complained that they do not have enough time to practise. As a result, their progress become slow, and when they are busy with other chores in their busy life for a couple of months, they may give up their practice all together. The positive thinkers' approach is to condemn the "lazy" students: "You have to find time to practise!" But how much time is enough? My approach to this issue is "To practise in such a why that you do not need to allocate special time in your daily life to "practise". But how?
One obstacle of the internal arts (like chi kung, tai chi and meditation) is that progress is slow, in particular in the beginning stage (how long is the beginning stage depends on each student and depends on how his sifu teaches; and of course also relevant is his attitude in learning). The reason is that a student needs to loosen his major joints (shoulder and hip) to a certain degree, plus the internal sensation that he can direct his internal chi to nano-ly "move his major joints. In traditional lingo it is called "change of Jing" (換勁). Fair to say, the tradition lingo is not explanatory!
This stage can be jump-started with the good coaching of an experienced sifu. The time needed varies. I have students who can get the gist of it after a few lessons. And I have students who can only get it to a proficient level after more than three years! (Honestly speaking, I have also seen people, not my students, doing the internal art for decades and still failed to get it).
The second stage is a stage of self exploration. In this stage a student, armed with opened major joints (traditional lingo: Song 鬆), will explore changes in his internal sensation (or experience) while doing zhan zhuang, seated motivation or moving forms). At this stage good communication with an experienced sifu will be helpful. Such communications however need not be very frequent, because most of the time a student has to explore rather than to ask. And in asking, chances are that it will be more like: "Sifu, this is my internal sensation, am I on the right track?" In my coaching experience, the best approach for a student in this stage is to focus on healing his specific ailments (like back pain). The reason is that firstly a student will have the necessary motivation, and secondly changes in his internal sensation will come to be experienced as more distinct when he focuses on his own problems.
After these two stages, a student can decide how much time he spends on his practice. To maintain his level of proficiency in the art, he only needs very little to practice. Very often, he can incorporate such fine-tuning in his daily life (for example, when he is commuting in the subway: the way he stands and the way his connects different [his chosen] parts of his body.) If a student wants to further progress, in addition to learning more techniques from his sifu, he should try to teach what he has learned to other people. Teaching the art is far from easy, any one who has taught the art and are honest enough to measure the progress of his students (vis-a-vis time spent in coaching and practice) can appreciate the depth and breath of the internal arts. Yet, to maintain one's level of proficiency at stage two, one really doesn't need to spend much extra time in practice!