In Tai Chi, Avoid the Misapplication of “Relax” (w/ video)

A typical tai chi class: the instructor admonishes his students, “Relax!”  They go ahead and do what they think is “relax.”  And here’s where the trouble begins.

Ask a roomful of people what the opposite of tension is and you’ll get the unanimous reply, “Relaxation.”  At first consideration, this indeed makes sense.  But then ask those same good folks to physically do some tai chi with what they believe relaxation is, and you wind up with a roomful of eyes half-closed, stooped over and crumpled up physiques swaying across the floor.

It’s not their fault.  To some degree.  They are simply mimicking what society has taught them.  Relax.  Come home after a hard day of work, flop on the couch, pop opena can of beer and let the TV channel-surfing begin.  Consider too, at and early age, the “cool” kids knew how to strike a pose and defiantly slouch.  “Just relax dude. Relax…”

So now we slouch over, keep our arms drawn near to our body with crumpled up fingers, head protracted, eyes glazed over and spirit dulled.  Because we were told that tai chi helps relieve stress.  It teaches you how to relax.  Yes, even the folks in China do this now too.  And they must be correct, right?  After all, tai chi comes from China.  So let’s spend all our years impressing this energy pattern on our bodies.  And years later – voila!  We’ve gotten shortened muscles, arthritis, heart disease, fatigue, and stooped over posture – just like everyone else who never stepped a foot in a tai chi class.

What went wrong here?

It’s because we misunderstood what relaxation really is.  We’ve equated it with “collapse.”  And energy follows thought.  We thought it was correct to crumple up, go totally yin, and “relax.”  So our energy got dulled and could not longer support the physical properly.  Finally, like a neglected houseplant, we’ve wilted under our own misunderstanding.

Again, the manmade ideal was incorrect from the true application of relaxation.  Look at nature.  A healthy tree is vibrant with elasticity.  Its leaves are green and juicy.  Its stems, branches and roots support it well as it continues to climb toward the heavens in search of the light.  Hidden underneath, its roots penetrate deep into the earth to ensure its survival by way of sucking up the water and nutrients.  Its green braches sway with the heavy winds, always returning back to their original form.

Look at the frogs by the water’s edge.  They are relaxed.  But at any instant, they can spring high in the air to escape a predator or prey upon a fly.  No animal sauntering through the forest has its eyes glazed over with its limbs held all gnarled up.  At one glance, we would intuitively understand that such an animal was fatally ill.

So why don’t we understand this about our structure and energy?

Why do so many people stay stuck in the manmade misconception of relaxation?

Repeatedly reinforcing that faulty structure will attune you to overly-yin, deficient, weak and “victimized” energy.  Don’t attune yourself to that!  Look to nature for the answer, and follow the true, healthy and vibrant structures of relaxation.

Then you will become healthier, your mind sharper and any martial skills you develop will be higher.  Also, your qi will be able to flow smoothly.  Your organs and vertebrae won’t be all smushed together.  Your longevity will increase and you’ll keep your youthfulness much longer.

Right now – BE it:

Straighten up.  Relax your shoulders down.  Take a deep long breath and let it out. Yes, your body may fight you at first, wanting to revert to its familiar, and thus comfortable, old pattern.  The choice is yours – learn to relax into the change, with patience and persistence, or forever stay stuck in the “comfortable” downward spiral.

May you accept the change, relax, and forever spiral upward.

2 Responses to In Tai Chi, Avoid the Misapplication of “Relax” (w/ video)
  1. Jeff Welty
    February 24, 2013 | 9:53 pm

    I just saw the video on “Avoid the Misapplication of Relax”, posted in April 2012. I completely agree with the problem described here. As a tai chi teacher and student, it also caused me to rethink how I might address my class to relax.

    Here’s my thought. Thinking of a phrase that is a little more specific and not subject to the whims of social re-interpretation I came up with:

    “release unnecessary tension”

    seems to be a more appropriate phrase, which implies an alertness and awareness is still desired.

    Thanks for your thought provoking and informational videos!

    Jeff Welty
    Tacoma, Washington

  2. Marios Charalambous
    October 15, 2016 | 1:31 pm

    Someone might ask you…what is unnecessary??

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