Relaxation is a far more profound concept than most people think. Since balance is an
early and fundamental requirement of Tai Chi Chuan, and since relaxation is the key to
balance, it is a lesson I teach beginners from the first class - and a lesson I never stop
When most newbies hear the word "relaxation", they think they have a pretty good idea of
relaxation. This is a great deal of the problem. As persistent students eventually learn
in their Tai Chi practice, preconceived notions are the only enemy. What we think we
know is almost never correct. You can have a picture in your mind of how something
works, and it may even work a little bit, but soon you will have to use a new, improved
picture and throw the old one away. This cycle is repeated indefinitely.
Relaxation (song, pronounced soong) is required for a number of reasons, both
internal and external. Some of the most important are: 1) Balance; 2) Ease and speed
of movement; 3) enabling of the cultivation and movement of internal energy, or chi
(qi) ; and 4) rooting power. The first two are obvious to any
athlete, but the last two make Tai Chi Chuan unique among martial arts (kuo shu).
I explain the importance of relaxation in my book, Tai Chi In Your Life. In this
article I would like to discuss methods for attaining relaxation beyond the normal.
Your approach should be to alternate between stillness and movement in your training.
Movement is a constant challenge to relaxation: One moment you are relaxed, but the
next moment you have moved into a position that is not as easy, and you lose your
relaxation. You become tense, raising your center of gravity or moving it off balance.
For this reason stillness is the easiest way to cultivate deep relaxation. The
stillness exercise is zhan zhuang, often called standing post meditation.
Many standing postures are available, but your starting point should be wu ji stance.
Wu ji stance requires you to stand straight, feet parallel and shoulder width apart. You
hold your arms bowed slightly out to your side as if you have tennis balls in your arm pits,
palm centers facing the center of the side of the leg. Start with the essentials: raise
the crown, drop the chin down, relax the throat and back of neck,
drop the shoulders, hollow the chest inward, sink the ribs, relax the lower back, bend the
knees and shink at the kwa (inguinal ligaments), connect to the ground through
the bubble spring, the Kidney-1 point next to the ball of the foot. Stay off your heels,
though they may touch the ground.
Once you have achieved these basics, you must methodically turn your awareness from one
spot to another. Seek out tension, and using your mind, tell the sources of tension to
relax. Experience the specific muscles involved, and let them go. Sometimes letting go
requires you to adjust other parts of your body as you become aware of imbalance in places
you never noticed before.
As you let go, balanced, you drop your center toward the ground. The closer your center is
to the ground, the more rooted - the more immovable - you become. Your feet are as if they
are nailed to the ground through the bubble spring. Your foundation becomes like the trunk
of an old oak, while your body above your waist becomes supple like the branches of a
You will first focus on relaxing your shoulders and chest, then your lower back and hips.
As a result of your movement exercise, you will become aware that you also exert a lot of
tension in your knees and ankles, which interfere with your rooting. Your standing exercise
will give you insights into how to let go of your muscles while moving. You will turn
moving exercises into new standing postures, such as a forward stance, that allow you to
meet new challenges of relaxation.
There are certainly more levels of relaxation. As you go deeper inside, you learn to
actually create your meridians of energy by relaxing the muscles along the areas of the
intended pathways: You do not simply exercise the meridians, but you create them by
creating pathways of relaxation.
Relaxation is the key to all progress in Tai Chi Chuan. For a guided standing post
meditation, try my CD, Tai Chi Meditations. For details,
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