When students are new to Tai Chi / Taiji they usually don't know what to expect as a new student and may feel confused.
They begin by learning Ji Ben Gong which is a warm up / Joint Loosening set. Next they may learn some Qigong and then begin to learn the form. Depending on who their Shifu / Teacher is they may start to learn some applications and Push Hands that matches what they are learning in the form.
This sometimes causes a student to lose interest in wanting to learn the form, because they find more enjoyment in application and Push Hands. The following words are those of Grandmaster Huang Sheng-Shyan.
Relaxation in the Form is produced by mind 'awareness' the Yi. We all begin with 'regional' awareness where you move your mind to different parts of the body and visualise them to relax. After a while you think of relaxing the whole body and it will relax as one unit. If you only work on relaxing the body, you are not likely to develop grounding without which there can not be any rebounding force. So we next need to work on 'sinking', which is a mental process where-by you guide the melting sensations of relaxing, into the ground. The rebounding force is a product of the sinking.
Pushing-hands is an extension of the Form where you work towards remaining synchronised, balanced and grounded even with external forces affecting you. It works on the principle of yielding to an oncoming force, and redirecting back to its source.
In Pushing-hands the practitioner learns to listen to the oncoming force of their opponent, stick and adhere to him or her, follow them back until they lose their centre, then issuing the relaxed force.
"The way that you do the form will result in the way that you push hands". "By understanding yourself and understanding your opponent, you will excel in pushing-hands." Therefore the way you move your body and synchronise your movements in the pushing hands must be the same way as in the Taiji Form.
Listening begins in the Form, where-by you cultivate the 'understanding of yourself' and how your body (Shen) moves and synchronises. From this you can extend your listening cultivation into the Pushing-hands to 'understand your opponent'.
If we listen to the Grandmaster, it is important to learn the form in a way that the form becomes us. You must learn how to listen (Ting) to yourself, how to understand your body and how it moves. Once you have an understanding of this, you can understand others. If you can't understand yourself, how can you understand someone else.
If you only want to learn Push Hands and not the form, you will always feel like something is missing in your Push Hands practice. It Will Be Incomplete!!!
So do yourself a favor. Learn the form, enjoy the form and practice the form daily. Once you do this, you will gain an understanding like never before.
Don't worry about how long the process is, learn to enjoy the journey. This is not a race. This is a practice that is refined throughout your lifetime.