The Chinese word for relax is ‘Song’. It can be translated as relax, but also, soften, loosen, to let go. If you watch a teacher in China demonstrate ‘Song’, you can see them actively checking their body and softening the musles, letting go. They then take that state into their Tai Chi practice.
One way to relax is to do the Qi gong practice of dissolving. This is where you focus on the outer border of an area of tension and feel as if it can melt like wax becoming warm, melting and dropping down. You can also visualise ice melting to become water or even steam and come straight out of the body. This is best developed in a natural standing posture. This melting practice can be done for anything from 2 – 10 minutes to start with.
By far the biggest trick to relaxing is to keep your mind on it. Just a gentle, casual awareness of the process of relaxing / softening. In the little pauses in life, check and relax, soften, let go. The magic of relaxing is in returning your attention to it. If you keep glancing back at yourself through the day, seeing what you can soften, you will change your awareness to one of watchful, kind attention. This will change your state and eventually effect those around you.
To move like water is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself when doing Tai Chi. To be still like a deep fjord, or constantly moving and untamed like a stormy sea is a wonderful feeling. Water can be fluid, ice or steam. It can change. It can change whilst keeping it’s nature. That is what you can do. You can change, flow and adapt. In Tai Chi you can be contracting then expanding, slow then fast.Don’t get fixed on one way of doing Tai Chi, be open.
There are so many opportunities to be free from tension and pain if we allow ourselves to change like water. Tai Chi is the physical embodiment of change if we let it be. If you are lucky enough to live near the sea, mimic its nature. Stand where you can see the water and be with it, letting it guide your movements. It is liberating and unifies you with nature. You can focus on a pond or a lake, then the clouds – that’s a lovely one to do. It is good to go back to the same spot on different days and witness the changing states of the environment.
We get fixed, we get so fixed all the time, we get buried in ourselves. When we are guided by water in its different states, we release ourselves from that fixed state. Then we are free to merge with nature whilst remaining embodied and present.
Chang San Feng was a Taoist sage who lived in the 13th century. Around this time, the Shaolin monks had developed strong practices to maintain good health and defense. One day he witnessed a bird and a snake embroiled in combat. The bird was direct and attacking with its firm beak. The Snake was soft and yielding, waiting for an opportunity to strike. Neither creature won the battle as each was evenly matched in its abilities.
From observing the nature of this conflict, Chang San Feng realized that it is not always the strong that win. Sometimes softness can win. So the idea of Tai Chi was born. When using Tai Chi as a martial art, it is good to have both attacking and defensive abilities: Yang and Yin.
In any event in life, especially a potential conflict, it may appropriate to be assertive, forward, creative; or following, listening, yielding may generate a better outcome. Our ability to have a Yang and Yin response to events is our ability to be open minded, flexible and free.
In Tai Chi we can practice changing from a Yin to a Yang state. So we could start moving slowly (yin) then speed up (yang), Think towards the Tan Tien (yin) or focus on clear, spacious awareness of the area around us (yang). There are many skills to learn and each can be regarded as more Yin or Yang in nature. Identifying which is Yin or Yang is always relative.
Eventually we can combine one Yin and one Yang skill at the same time. Sinking the front of the body (yin) while raising the back (yang) is a classic. We can focus more on one skill and glance at the other, this helps stay focused. So focus on sinking the front while having a regard for its opposite of raising the back. This is a very good method as it develops a deep harmony of energies in the body and mind.