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Relaxation for Taiji Qigong and Life

Throughout the practice of Taiji and Qigong, the whole body has to relax and sink. You have to learn how to be fully relaxed. First of all, the joints in the body will have to be loosened right through to the tips of the fingers. It is only through relaxation (still with Peng energy) that you can assimilate your energy thoroughly.

Taijiquan is an exercise which works and develops the hidden potentials of the human body by following natural rules. It regulates and strengthens the human body by a special way of training, bringing the mind and the body to a higher level of harmony.

For this reason, throughout the practice of Taijiquan, the mind should be in total control, giving orders to muscles, tendons, bones and internal organs so that they can work together orderly and smoothly according to our will.

It could be said that Taiji Qigong training enables the mind/intent to give orders to the body to make good use of our own hidden abilities. In other words, the signals from our brain and the movements of our body have reached the stage of automation or unity. To achieve this, our whole body will have to be relaxed and loosened.

Relaxation in Taiji Qigong:

1. Relaxed and calm. This means that our mind must be relaxed first. This is the starting point of relaxation. Wu Yu-xiang, founder of Wu (Yu-xiang) style Taijiquan, said, "First from the heart (mind), and then the body." Chen Xin, the 16th generation master of the Chen family, also said, "Our mind has to be relaxed.”

2. In Taijiquan, when one part of the body moves, all other parts will move as well, and when one part is still (motionless), all others will also be still. The motion and the stillness are all under the control of the mind. That is why when we practice Taijiquan we have to be relaxed and calm and have total concentration. It is only when we have reached this stage of the mind that we can develop the high sensitivity of what the Taiji classics describe, "a feather cannot be placed and a fly cannot alight on any part of the body."

3. Taiji practitioners should place a lot of emphasis on using the mind/intent. Training should begin by placing the mind in a peaceful and relaxed state before we can concentrate and use our mind/intent to achieve what we intend to achieve.

4. Relaxed and open. If our brain is in a peaceful and relaxed state, our mind/intent should be able to relax, loosen and extend our internal organs, muscles, tendons, and the joints. The Taiji classics say, "Our skin has to be sensitive; and all our joints have to be loosened."

5. We should lengthen our body from opposite points. If one part of our body goes up, the other one must come down. If you discharge power to the right, you must loosen and sink the part of the body that is in the left.

6. All Masters of the past and present emphasize the same principle: loosening and lengthening all the joints in the body. For beginners, they should start from loosening and lengthening. As we develop we should become aware of the opening in the closing and the closing in the opening.

 7. Relaxed and sinking. This should include the sinking of qi, body weight, and the main joints in the body. When we practice Taijiquan, except for lifting through our bai hui, all parts of our body have to be loosened and sink. For example, in our arms, we loosen our shoulders, sink our elbows and sit our wrists; in the legs, we loosen our hip joints, release our knees, and sit our ankles feeling for the whole foot and relaxing our toes into the ground. In our torso, we have to relax our chest and sink our waist (lumbar spine). We do this in order that our joints can be loosened and lengthen and that our qi can flow freely and body weight can sink. Our lower torso is well rooted, and as a result, the upper body can be nimble moving with confidence and a firm structure and foundation.

8. The sinking of our qi and relaxing of the body within the Taiji Qigong principals enables us avoid to problem of top-heaviness.

9. Relaxed and lively. This will occur firstly in the joints then will develop through the spiralling and flexibility of our limbs and movements from the waist and dan-tian. The key to achieve this is that through practicing Taiji Qigong Movements. In silk reeling training, we loosen our joints, and tendons, and increase the flexibility of our muscles. The Taiji classics say, "Each time we move, our whole body has to be very nimble." We have to train in such a way so that all our joints are loosened and can move freely and quickly at our will and we can quickly mobilize the force of the whole body to the point of contact with our opponent.”
Major joints need to be loosened

It was said that in Chenjiagou village the famous Taiji master Chen Bo-xian asked Chen Zhao-Xu (Chen Xiao-wang’s father) how he could improve his Taiji form. The answer he got was really simple: 'Loosen four pieces', which clearly indicates the main joints in the body that need to be loosened. The 'four pieces' are the shoulder joints and the hip joints.

My teacher, Chee Soo, when talking about the major joints that have to be loosened, had more detailed and vivid description. He said, "We have to pay attention to the relaxation of our chest. It is only when our chest is relaxed that we can execute all our movements from our chest. If our chest is stiff, it will be filled up with our qi. Once our chest is full of qi, it cannot co-ordinate the movements of the whole body, then we will certainly be beaten in any contest." He also said, "The most important thing is to conduct all your movements from the waist and the chest. Your chest cannot be full of qi or jing at any time of your practice. Whether it is open or closed, your chest has to be relaxed. The key to making your chest relaxed is in loosening your shoulders. That is why the Taiji classics say that the turning (free movement) of your arms rests on your shoulder joints, and the neutralization (of incoming force) is in your chest and waist. The key to make your waist nimble is in loosening your hip joints. If your hip joints are not loosened, your waist will be stiff."

He then added, "When you do push hands, the first thing we should do is to control the opponent’s shoulders. When he finds it hard to turn, he will resist and so will be under your control. When your opponent wants to control you they will do the same thing as well. But if you can loosen your shoulder joints and can make them turn in all directions (when you do the form), then when your opponent grab your arms and try to lock your shoulder joints, you can follow their force, and turn your shoulders to get out of their control and then retaliate straight away. Your shoulder joints do not turn by themselves. Their turning should be executed from your chest and your waist. The three should turn together as one whole unit. To be truly relaxed means all these parts of your body - Shoulders, chest and waist have to be relaxed and loosened."

When he taught push-hands, he said, "The worst you can do is: when your opponent pushed, you lifted your shoulders up, and your chest and waist become a piece of timber, then you are finished. The old saying, 'Taijiquan should be practice from the body.' The body in here means the shoulders, the chest and the waist, which you should work very hard on."

From the discussion above it becomes apparent how important it is that the joints should be loosened first. So when we talk of relaxation, we mean loosening the shoulder and hip joints and the relaxation of our chest and waist as the relaxation and the turning of our chest depend on the loosening of our shoulder joints; and the turning of our waist depends on the loosening of our hip joints. If you can solve this problem, you can solve everything about relaxation.

How to train to be relaxed

Students at the beginners’ level cannot avoid being stiff. This is quite normal as when you begin to learn Taijiquan you are not familiar with Taij movements, the process of learning is not always easy and before the benefits of Taiji Qigong can be realised a structure for development needs to be put in place. It is easy to overload new practitioners with too much information. The concept of all the body working together, the feeling of connectivity and the movement being coordinated with the breath are indeed fundamental in the practice of Taiji Qigong but it takes time to develop such awareness. Beginners should be given time to feel for the movement of the body, develop strength, develop bodily awareness and a feeling for how to relax the mind and body whilst maintaining good posture. They need only to remember the movements: their directions/positions and how to do them, where the main energy point is, where the body weight is.

Once students have learned a routine, instructors should raise one of Taijiquan’s training principles - relaxation, emphasize its importance and demand that they achieve it through the following methods:

1. Relaxation through straightness. Relaxation should be based on an upright body otherwise our Taiji form will be collapsed due to swaying shoulders, sticking out buttocks, or over-extending knees.

2. Relaxation through slowness. For beginners, before they are truly relaxed, they have to practice the form slowly. Through slowness, they can check for themselves the part of the body that is not relaxed and can have better understanding of relaxation.

3. Relaxation through spiral movements. All Taiji movements are spiral and circular. It is harder to relax if we move in straight lines.

4. Relaxation through the main joints in the body. We start from loosening the major joints first. Then we can combine the loosening of shoulder joints with loosening the joints in the elbows and the wrists and be able to feeling how the joints are moving one after another just like the movement of a caterpillar or a worm which moves its body section by section.

5. Relaxation through sinking. Taijiquan requires that all parts of our body sink. This requirement places pressure on our legs, which have to be firm and strong in order to give good support to the upper body. The lower the stance, the greater the pressure, this should be a slow and developing process. From my experience, the low stance can help develop strong legs. It is only when you have strong legs that you can better relax your upper body, and you can shift weight more easily. You can say the relaxation on the top of the body builds on the development at the bottom. Therefore in your daily practice, as you develop try to use a low stance to give good training to your legs and so make good preparation for the relaxation of the whole body.

6. Relaxation through losing in push-hands. From doing push-hands, we can learn the skill of borrowing our opponent’s force. In order to borrow his force, we cannot resist and have to follow. People who do not want to lose are always tense and stiff, therefore resistance and running can often happen. If we are not afraid of losing, we can be more relaxed. Therefore, when you do push-hands, you must be prepared to lose and must not try to avoid losing. If you are not afraid of losing the benefit will be enormous. You will not be afraid of letting your opponent come in when they push. You can let them push in as deep as they like, and just relax and slowly develop the ability to contain and swallow the incoming force.

Relaxation and strength training

The relationship between loose and tight, soft and strong, and relaxation and strength training has always topics which can easily cause heated debates. We must understand that Taijiquan is a martial art of which the philosophy is based on the Yin Yang theory from Yi-Ching, and people often refer to this aspect of Taijiquan as 'soft and strong intermix'. Any martial art, which only emphasizes on soft and relaxation is not Taijiquan. That is why it has been mentioned that relaxation is only part of Taijiquan’s basic training, not all of it. Relaxation is only a means in Taiji training, not an end. Our main purpose is that we can develop a spring-like force, which is both soft and strong, and light and heavy through relaxation and other training methods. This is Taiji force and is the force of the whole body, which cannot be achieved only by relaxation. Taiji force is achieved through the diligent practice of the Taiji form, push-hands, training equipments, single Taiji movements, and other power training programs. All these training methods are not contradictory to relaxation but are complementary to it. Some people dare not take part in power training programs for fear that they may make them unable to relax.

We all know that Yang style practitioners place a lot of emphasis on relaxation. Dong Ying-Jie, one of Yang Cheng-Fu’s best students, has made comments on the relationship between relaxation and power training as follows.

"Some people said Taiji practitioners should not do weight lifting and should not use force. This is not true. Before we learn Taijiquan, our whole bodies are stiff and our force is not flexible. Once we have learned Taijiquan, we are very relaxed, our qi circulates and we can get rid of the stiffness but keep our force. Our rigid force has become resilient force. The rigid force usually comes from the shoulders and is not controlled by the waist and manifested through the fingers. In business term, our rigid force is our capital, and relaxation is the method we use (know-how) to run a business. If we know how to run a business, with a small capital we can still do big business. If we do not how, then even with a big capital, we cannot run any business. Therefore, after you have learned to do Taijiquan properly, there is nothing you cannot do, be it weight-lifting, wrestling, or running. Do not allow the misperception to worry you." (Dong Ying-jie: Taijiquan Shi Yi.)

So Mr. Dong Ying-Jie has compared power training to the capital needed in a business and relaxation to its know-how in order to succeed. Here I would like to give an example to illustrate the relationship between power and relaxation. Some children like jumping up and down on a trampoline. Whether they can bounce high up or not depends on the resilience of the trampoline. If it is soft and without resilient force, no matter how hard a child jumps on it, he will not bounce back up. It will be the same if the trampoline is hard. Taiji force is like the force of a trampoline. It is a mixture of soft and strong. The Taiji classics say, "Let your opponent come in and hit back as soon as he loses his balance." If you want to let your opponent come in, you will need to be relaxed first. In order to hit back you will need a strong resilient force, which is based on relaxation and great strength. You cannot achieve what the Taiji classics say without either of them. That is the reason why I insist that one must train the Yin and Yang to develop strong internal power and at the same time achieve relaxation. Combining the two, your can have a strong resilient force, which is real Taiji Gong-fu.












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