The term “pushing hands” is a bit of a misnomer. The exercise is a tool, a method that you can use to develop specific skills and qualities within the body and practically none of these skills is about pushing. Come to think of it “Complicated Arm Rolling Exercise” is more apt.
There are, broadly speaking, four components to pushing hands, and each component builds a certain skill or quality in the body. Now, these components are things you can drill whatever your level or that of your partner’s
The first component is movement – you’ll need to get good at going round and round, or side to side, forward and backwards and up and down. Just as important as becoming comfortable with the movement is being able to do the movement and flow with a partner. Relaxation, flow and smoothness are what you’re aiming for here. The focus here is internal, get to know how your body moves, where the areas of tension are, and where you find it difficult to do the movement. Experiment. Play.
The second component is what I like to call “switching off”. You must learn to move your awareness away from the movement. This is something that needs to be learnt, and it won’t just happen because you will have spent a lot of time concentrating on the movement and out of habit your awareness will focus there. The objective here is to let your body do the movement rather than make your body do the movement. If your practise of the movement has been good and thorough, your muscle memory will take over and just do the movement without you needing to try to do anything.
The third component is listening. Now that you can move and you’ve freed up the headspace that would have been spent on doing the movement, you can then focus this awareness on your partner and what they are doing. How is their balance, is there any tension? Are any parts of the circle weak, where are their strengths? Get to know what your partner’s movement is saying. People have called this “Listening with the skin” or “seeing with the hands”.
The final component is that of integration. You need to learn to do the first three components all together at the same time, and you might find that your awareness. You need to be able to unconsciously do good movement whilst listening to your partner’s movements.
Each component in detail is probably worth of several blog posts alone, so it’s fair to say that you’ll never really run out of detail to work on in your pushing hands. As soon as you master one aspect, another will be discovered so that you can continue your learning.