[Path to Mastery 4/1/10 – Wk29 D4 (Str 9.12.09)(Ph2 11.15.09)]
Continuing our Tai-Chi Journey:
Today, we enter a new chapter, principles governing Relaxation!
So far we have covered principles on Alignment and principles on Movement. I could say that you move and align properly so you can relax. We haven’t covered Breathing yet, but it is true that you breathe so you can relax even more deeply. The whole point of doing all of this is so you can relax deeper and deeper. Relaxation is pleasure. Relaxation is health. Relaxation is having time. Relaxation means that there is no stress. Relaxation is naturally what we all seek, but at the same time it eludes us.
The issue is that even though we all want relaxation, we don’t do anything to get it because we believe that power is with strength, mass and speed. This is why we get tense and we rush all the time, and try to get more of everything. We believe relaxation is what we get to do after we have tensed enough and accumulated enough and rushed enough.
I’d like to make a proposition. I’d like to make a proposition that we don’t really believe in this. Not really. We just don’t believe in it for ourselves. I find it interesting that in all the years I have been doing martial arts, and that is 25 years at this point in my life (Since 1985), I have never seen anyone marvel at someone who is tensing, struggling, and rushing. People are always impressed with the people who are effortless, flowing, relaxed and have grace in their demeanor and movement.
When there is a stressful situation, we have respect for that person who stays calm, collected and relaxed. Relaxation is confidence. When we see someone rushing about, we don’t think of confidence. As a matter of fact, you will notice that almost always without fail, the person who stays clam, and relaxed will always get more done. This is especially true since they don’t have to rush back to correct their mistakes, even if they happened to get done first.
It’s also only when you are relaxed you can laugh and have fun. Relaxation is happiness.
We know deep inside that relaxation is true power. We just don’t believe in it for ourselves, and we just don’t know how. Most of us have never been shown how. A lot of us believe that someone is just born confident, happy, or relaxed. We stop trying because no matter how hard we try we just never seem to get there.
Isn’t it interesting that we try so hard to get there? We also try to get there by rushing so we won’t have to rush anymore, and we also try to get there by tensing and trying to do as much as we can. If relaxation is the act of letting your muscles go, and you are engaging your muscles more and more, I wonder how that is going to work out. I propose that if you tense, you get better at tensing, that if you relax, you get better at relaxing.
Now before we go any further, I’d like to debunk a myth. Relaxation is not being limp. Relaxation is balance. From a Tai-Chi perspective, relaxation really runs the whole gambit from being limp all the way to being tense. When I first joined my teacher Gabriel, he said relax, and I went limp. He said, not limp, relax. I was completely confused. He showed me how relaxation is really what I came to call relaxed tension in real life application. Even people who are calm, collected, relaxed are not limp. If they really were, they would have fallen to the ground. People who are limp are not relaxed. They lack discipline. True relaxation only comes when there is a well balanced mix between relaxed muscles and engaged muscles to suit the purpose. So, people who are laid back are not relaxed either. They lack balance. They still feel stressed, they just ignore it. It is not the same as feeling truly relaxed and in balance.
When you are truly relaxed, there is no more inner struggle, both mentally and physically. When there is no inner struggle, there is peace and calmness and relaxation. When there is no struggle, even if muscles are engaged, it creates smooth flowing movement. Relaxation is the absence of struggle. Relaxation is grace and flow.
Relaxation in Tai-Chi is the act of letting go of all you can while still being able to perform the task. It is the active practice of less is more. Too many cooks in one kitchen is not good. They get in each other's way. The same is true with your body. In Tai-Chi we practice what is called the unbendable arm. You stand straight up, in a manner where you feel centered. Then, while maintaining your stance, you extend your arm out and make a fist, and tense it as much as you can. Your partner comes up to you and bends your arm. Now, you relax, and open your palm. Then you imagine your arm is one piece and your fingers extend to touch the wall across from you while relaxing everything. The way you know you are relaxed is by feeling the weight of your arm underneath. It is important that you do not lean forward while doing this. Then again, you have someone try to bend your arm. You and your partner may notice that it is a lot harder to bend your arm. As a matter of fact, often times, if the arm could be bent with tension, the arm can’t be bent at all when it was extending and relaxing. This is because when there is tension, your antagonistic muscles are engaged. All this means is that when your triceps were tensing to keep the arm extended, your biceps were tensing to bend your arm. In short, you were struggling against yourself and that is why your partner could bend your arm easier. When you are relaxed, you don’t feel your body because it’s not fighting itself anymore. When your triceps are engaging, your biceps are relaxed and thus your triceps have more strength. This is true for your whole body. Relax and just move the minimum. If you are shifting forward, relax everything and just push with your back leg, and even then, use as little as possible, so you don’t feel anything. So, relaxation is learning how to relax what you can while engaging what needs to be engaged so you are streamlined and focused.
Effortlessness comes from an attitude and belief that there is a better way to do this, and the right way to do this is effortless and I just need to find this way. Effortlessness comes from a belief that less is more. It comes from a belief that it’s about working smarter, instead of harder. Try this next time when you open a jar. If you can’t open a jar and you were struggling, then straighten up, relax, smile and open it as if it were nothing. You’ll be surprised. More often then not, you will be able to open it effortlessly. Try it with jars you can open. It will open a lot easier and it will cause a lot less tension in your body.
Relaxation is like compounded interest. In the beginning, there is little to show for it, but the more you practice it, the more you get from it. The more you practice it, the more benefits you feel from it, and the better ways you find to do it. I guess it’s really like anything. My suggestion to you is try it and see for yourself. Stop rushing. Stop tensing. Stop slouching. When you find yourself doing one of these things, just exhale and start letting go of your tense muscles. Start moving at your pace instead, so physically you slow down. Start smiling. This will allow your breath to return to it's natural relaxed state.
If you feel that you are a naturally excitable person, don’t confuse relaxation with having no personality. If you know me I am a very high energy person and I am very active and animated. Kids, have a lot of energy and are animated. We bounce of the wall and people find us disgusting because we are busting with energy. But we never think kids are rushing or tensing or not relaxed. That is because kids are relaxed. Often times, we confuse relaxation with being dead. If you are really relaxed, you will naturally have more energy and more likely to be active. But you will also be calm, and not frantic. There won’t be nervousness around you.
One last thing about relaxation: Relaxation is being settled. When you are relaxed, you are at resting state. So, whatever your personality, relaxation is your natural resting state. It is a state where you are efficient, where you are not addicted to adrenaline. Adrenalin is what kicks in to protect us when there is fear. When you are relaxed, it is a state where there is no fear. In short, if you rush, or you have addictive habits, or any other negative tendencies that cause stress, you are addicted to fear or as we like to refer more lovingly, we are addicted to adrenalin. Adrenalin itself is not bad. But an addiction is like any other addiction. It is bondage and it is not good. It distorts who we are. I think it is important for us to know that being relaxed whoever you are is your natural state. Being relaxed means you are just being you. I feel this is important to know because often times we think we can’t be relaxed because we ‘think’ it’s not really us. It is vital that we realize that we are a generation that is addicted to adrenaline and that it has become the norm, and that it is keeping us from being who we really are. Whenever you are addicted to something, especially fear, you can’t really be yourself, . Being relaxed means being your true self.
Whether you will succeed in relaxing or not will be a matter of priority. If you don’t think it’s valuable enough for its trouble, you won’t do it. I hope relaxation will be your new priority in life.
Enjoy your Easter Weekend! There will be no blog tomorrow.
History of Tai-Chi Journey up to this point:
Before the blog opened to the public, we covered the single person part of the system.
1. Chi-Gong (Taoist Longevity, White Crane Chi-Gong); 2. Standing Meditation
3. Stepping Mediation; 4. 7 Basics; 5. Basic Form; 6. 30 Form; 7. 108 Form
8. 4 Type Pushing Hands
Interactive training after we went public with the blog.
1. 8 Type Pushing Hands (Covered from 2/2 ~ 2/11); 2. San-Shou (Covered from 2/12 ~ 2/15)
3. Ba-Gua.(Covering from 2/16 ~ 2/19); 4. Weapons (Covered on 2/23)
5. Healing System (Covered on 2/24)
1.Introduction (Covered 2/25); 2. Free moving – conditioning (Covered 2/26); 3.Free hand pushing hand (Covered 3/1); 4.Free hand (2 person drills and multiple person drills) (Covered 3/2); 5.Free hand weapon (2 person drills and multiple person drills) (Covered 3/3)
1.Principles (Covered 3/4)
2.Principle of Principles (Covered 3/5)
3.Principles of Upper Body #1~5 (Covered 3/8 – 3/15)
4.Principles Governing Lower Body #1~5 (Covered 3/16 – 3/22)
5. Principle Governing the Whole Body: (Covered 3/23)
6. Principles Governing Movement #1~5 (Covered 3/24 – 3/31)
7. Principles Governing Relaxation – General Concept (Covered 4/1)
1) Mind Body Release and Relax
2) Use Mind Not Use Strength
3) Internal External Mutually Integrate
4) Dropping the Weight (Weight Underneath)
6) Chi Sink Dan-Tien