It is my DUTY to try to explain “Song” in a way that is understandable to a tai chi novice. Readers with experience in tai chi are probably feeling the low vibrations of the beginning of a good belly laugh. It is something that we practitioners are told one hundred times over the first few years and it seems as though you can never be relaxed enough. Secondly, how do you do something that you already thought you were doing? An instructor looks at you and says “relax” and the student thinks “I am!”
Let’s deconstruct relaxation in tai chi and put together some practical tips that give you feedback to move in the direction of song.
Relaxation as described by Taoist thinking involves releasing tension on a mental, emotional, and physical level. As you can see, our general idea of relaxation is much more limited and we don’t have a word that embodies this state. Calmness, clear thought, and high energy are all the casualties of tension. By letting our minds and body’s taste “song,” this powerful relaxation, this productive non-sleepy relaxation, we experience a sense of feeling truly right. Tai chi transports us into this feeling mechanically but when we get a sense of it we can make it happen throughout our normal day.
Practical tips to improve your relaxation in tai chi:
Relaxing the mind:
If you are concentrating on your breathing you can’t be thinking about anything else. Try it, it’s amazing. This has helped my squirrel brain get off the treadmill many-a-time.
Relax the breath:
If you are anxious, even at a low level, you can’t fully inflate your lungs or belly (e.g. diaphragmatic breathing). By having the sense that your chest and abdomen are full your breath is relaxed.
Relax the _________:
Think of relaxation in tai chi, not as a state, but as moving towards that state. If you are told to “relax the arm” for example, tighten it as hard as you can and then release and extend it out slowly. Now you can feel your arm relaxing.
Relax your body:
This largely refers to the separation of energy between the upper and lower body. Loosen your lower back and adjust your posture to feel your body’s weight in your legs. Pull up at the crown of the head and imagine your upper body being light.
You are in a posture and your teacher says “relax.” Breathe deep in the belly and truly think about your breath. Arrest your body parts and squeeze, and then let it go. Relax your lower back, sink one inch lower and pull up at the top of the head. “Ahh, very good grasshopper.”