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Our culture is filled with things that make you anxious: the news, advertising, marketing, media, fashion, trends, fads, gossip, customs, family, religion, peer pressure, war, work, ill health...
An anxious person thinks constantly, talks, competes, worries, over-eats and spends money. Instead of relaxing, they are compulsively active.
Relaxation starts with the mind. This is the root of the problem. Tai chi encourages new starters to think less. To stop worrying. To change pace and slow down.
Your nervous system develops
a new strength. Not the rigid strength of unyielding determination, but the
deeper power of inner resilience. You notice a spontaneous equilibrium that
persists in the face of difficulties, intense emotions, disturbing
environments and discomfort. You can use your training to counteract the
effects of stressful situations.
(Lam Kam Chuen)
Mind & body
Relaxing both mind and body will improve your health and make you feel better. Your quality of life will change. It can be hard for busy people to relax, so you must be patient.
The commitment you make towards being relaxed will prove itself worthwhile when you start to feel fresh and energised.
Relaxing will have an effect upon your nervous system. Calming the nervous system changes how you move - you will feel less jerky and more fluid.
There are two ways in which we can work on the nervous system:
Calming the mind
Slowing the body
The body can
be slowed by practicing taijiquan every day and the mind can be calmed by reading
books that encourage healthy thoughts, by watching nature and by meditating.
Quite often emotional stress and overuse causes our muscles to clench involuntarily. Many people experience stiffness and shortened muscles; these both reduce joint flexibility.
Most people's arms are extremely tense and they don't even realise it. Why? Why are people's arms tense?
Your hand is the primary tool employed by the mind for the exploration of reality. You touch, you hold, you press, you pull, you manipulate most things using your hands.
Jacob Bronowski wrote "The hand is the cutting edge of the mind." There's your answer. A tense arm is the by-product of a mind that is not in any way relaxed and at ease.
The difference between
experienced fighters and beginners is the speed of muscle relaxation, which
is 8 times faster in champion fighters. For an inexperienced fighter, the
speed of muscle relaxation is too slow for the leg or the fist to gain
enough speed when striking a blow. Keeping the antagonistic muscles
contracted automatically slows down the movement.
There is a direct correlation between mental tension - over-thinking, anxiety, frustration, worrying, anger, stress - and physical tension in the body.
Indeed, students who are actively sharing news snippets and regurgitating political views on Facebook are inevitably the most tense in class, have the most trouble concentrating and subsequently make little or no progress through the syllabus. Their brains have been hijacked by the mass media. If you want to stop being tense, you need to switch it all off.
Relaxing the muscles
Muscles work better unclenched. In taijiquan we discover how to work without clenching. This enables the joints to move properly and tension dissipates.
A good way to understand what relaxation is really about is just to it still for a while and do nothing. Nothing at all. You may feel bored and restless almost immediately. This is a good sign.
It shows that you are unaccustomed to stopping. Ceasing activity and doing nothing is the first step in achieving a condition of relaxation.
Boredom is a sure sign that you are restless and compulsively active. You want to be entertained. Like a child.
If you find it difficult to do nothing, good. This proves that you are compulsively active. The solution is attainable:
- do not think about what needs doing; it can wait
- do not think about the past; that is over with and cannot be changed
- do not worry about what to think about
Just stop doing altogether and come to rest.
A lot of folks say they are
relaxed... that they are Christian or Buddhist or Muslim
or something that says you know I'm concerned
for my fellow man. But when somebody puts their hands on these people you'll
see that that priest or that monk or that rabbi becomes just as rigid and as
violent as anybody else who would never ever describe themselves as being
God fearing. Why? Cos they're not used to the pressure.
You would like to believe you're relaxed and when someone puts their hands on you and pushes all of a sudden you realise just how indignant you are about that whole thing happening.
Some people are very stretched and they have a full split or they are very balanced on their hands and they can do a handstand but when you put your hands on them all that ability goes out the window and they resort to Cro-Magnon behaviour.
Page created 24 June 1994
Last updated 29 April 2021