The master principle of all Tai Chi movement is the principle of Relaxation, looseness, ‘song’. When one relaxes completely into the skeletal and fascial structure of one’s body, one naturally aligns one’s body with the principle of effective (effortlessly effective) body mechanics. Aligning bodily with effortlessly effective body mechanics encourages the body to move with greater ease and grace.
The Benefits of Relaxation
The physical benefits of a relaxed body are many. The supple looseness of a relaxed body gives one the ability to respond spontaneously with quick free-flowing movements. These movements erupt from a balanced structural foundation with effortless, natural skill and changeability. In this relaxed state the potential for free-flowing actions is freely available. Tension can trap and consume power and/or potential power, thus powerful, graceful movement flows from places free of tension.
Furthermore, the body’s relaxation calms and clears the mind (and vice versa). A clear and calm mind helps to relax the body, resulting in a release of anxiety, inviting the body to relax further.
How to Achieve Relaxation in the Body
Tension seems to be a common element of our corporeal existence, so much so that we think that it is normal and natural. It isn’t. If we look at the relaxed movements of a baby, or the fluidity of a feline we become aware that normal and natural means tension-free… relaxed and fluid.
Tension is an expression of fear. It is an act of containing the fear within the body. Letting go of this fear housed within the self-inflicted tension of the body leads to the release of the tension. The reciprocal relationship of the mind to the body gives us the doorway into releasing this tension from our body. We can relax the mind to relax the body, and relaxing the body further relaxes the mind, and the easiest entry point into the relaxation of the mind and body is the breath.
Tension encases us in a rigidity that permeates our bodies, and in turn our very thinking. It leads to an increase in fear and thus anxiety. It can lead to a plethora of ailments that can subdue us.
With all the havoc that tension creates in our lives, minds, hearts and bodies, we must find ways or practices to induce the relaxation response and mitigate the effects of stress and in turn rigidity/ tension. If we do not, we are speeding ourselves to the state of ultimate rigidity – that of a stiff corpse.
Firstly, I’d like to discuss the practice that is foundational to relaxation. I am talking about breathwork. Breathwork involves consciously working with the breath to achieve different physical and mental states. There are ways of breathing that can excite one and fill one with a fire-like vigor, but we won’t be exploring these here. Our focus is on breathwork techniques and practices that calm the mind and body. Breathwork often requires deep focused breathing for an extended period of time, especially when attempting to induce the relaxation response within the mind/body.
Awareness of one’s breath can be a practice that one participates in throughout the day, during any number of daily activities to keep oneself in a non-anxious, relaxed state. Focus on one inbreath through the nose and an outbreath through the mouth. For maximum relaxation benefit allow the breath to follow its natural pattern and slowly, naturally it will deepen and slow, becoming more diaphragmatic and relaxed.
Tai Chi as a Practice to Induce the Relaxation Response
Tai chi is a gentle exercise that gently stretches the fascia and ligaments as the body goes through a number of interlinked movements with self-defence capabilities while engaged in deep, conscious, diaphragmatic breathing. One could argue that Tai Chi has the movements of a Chinese Wushu (Martial Arts) style married with the principles of the Chinese-inspired energy work of Qigong with its relaxed posture/movements; slow, deep breath and a deliberate awareness of both. This leads to a stillness inside, a lessening of anxiety and tension; and a profundity of present- moment awareness.
Setting aside the elusive concept of qi for a moment, we can still realize Tai Chi’s inherent ability to induce a relaxed but operable physical state, in particular if the Tai Chi form is done regularly, consistently, and with the principles of: awareness; slow, relaxed movement; and deep diaphragmatic breathing.