Rising Dragon Tai Chi

Relaxation - Tai Chi's secret weapon

by Richard Farmer
Taken from an article written in 1995 at Christmas time.


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So, There is a verse in the Gnostic gospel of Thomas where Jesus is asked, 'What is the sign of your father in you?' He replies, 'It is a movement with a repose'.

It is fitting that at this time of year this article should begin with a quote from Jesus, even if it is not from a conventional source. Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of an amazing being and a time to share our whole heartedness with our friends and loved ones. It is also a time when the winter cycle is at its deepest and has just turned heralding the opening once more towards spring and summer. The repose of deep winter and the movement of summer.

From the Taoist perspective, Movement = Yang and Repose = Yin. The state of perfect balance is said to be Tai Chi, which is the union of Yin and Yang. However, especially at a time like now, we are all extremely busy, whether you are someone who looks after the home and family, or someone who is out there in the market place. It is of course a seasonal movement but I have also noticed increased levels of stress and activity generally as each year goes by. The advice to move with repose is not only a beautiful message but absolutely vital now and a message that Tai Chi Chuan has embodied for centuries.

Using the model of yin and yang, what would it look like to move out of balance, as most of us do most of the time. If to move in balance it is a blend of yin and yang then to move out of balance would look like Yang/Yang or indeed Yin/Yin. We are either all action or slumped into a heap in front of the telly. In fact it is the very nature of someone who acts from the double yang space to sooner or later collapse into a big puddle, as it is for someone who is always a push over to erupt into inappropriate action. The correct balance is to have the Yin within the Yang when in action, and the Yang within the Yin in rest. To move or live from this perspective shows that an understanding of a movement with a repose is present.

To have repose is to have relaxation and to act with relaxation is one of Tai Chi Chuan's secret weapons. To relax is to receive, to be still, to be open. To be relaxed we need to be open in order to feel what is not relaxed. This relaxation allows us to understand what is going on around us because we have received it. Relaxation is a state of being in the Body and the Mind.

To move the body we of course need to use muscles..... but not all of them. In an unbalanced body the muscles which should be relaxed are held in a state of tension, they are in fact double yang. This is an extremely inefficient and unhealthy way to move, lots of energy is being used and yet the flow of that energy is blocked which can create injury and in the long term, illness.

In the practice of Tai Chi Chuan relaxation of Body and Mind is essential. You could say that we have two bodies, a physical one and an energetic one. If the physical one
is too solid it hides the energetic body from our awareness. So in order to feel your Chi the physical body needs to be more porous in order to allow the more subtle energetic body to move through it and show itself to our awareness. We make the body more porous by practising relaxation. As you begin a posture use as much softness as you can to ensure total relaxation. This is of course the ideal, but as soon as you worry about a posture the mind tenses and so does the body. As soon as you are mentally double weighted, by thinking about something in the past or future when your body is in the present, a conflict of interest is set up between the body and the mind and tension results. So as you move from one posture to another take a second to release any unnecessary tension in order to meet the next posture more relaxed. When this happens and the porosity allows the energetic body to come through, we can then begin to play our form from a deeper perspective, not least because the movement that we are now listening to is underneath the physical one.

This has many benefits. Firstly our physical bodies can move more easily and fluidly. A joint is a joint, it is just bone - what holds it rigid is the tissue held in tension around it. By being aware of the joint we can bring the warmth from the heart of kindness and the softness of relaxation, to open and release the tissue surrounding it. When the joints are more open and the body more fluid, the blood flows more easily cleaning and bringing food to the body. Not only that but the Chi can flow too allowing our natural healing processes to operate more efficiently. With the body more at ease within itself there is a sense of well being which allows the mind to feel more relaxed too and this encourages a more flexible approach to life's questions.

Within the tradition of Tai Chi one of the principles of body/mind is called Sung. It is no surprise to find out that roughly translated it means a state of relaxation. But of
course it does not mean complete surrender. The Severn Bridge has Sung. The branches of a tree have Sung. For the body it means there is a mixture of natural tension, or action, and relaxation which makes for an elastic repose. In terms of the attention of the mind I call it an 'Unwrinkled Mind'. We tense, or wrinkle up when we are caught by a worrying thought. We are late, the traffic light is red, we want to
go but we can't. We are caught, we tense up, there is no way out. It is as if we think that tension will make the light go green. It doesn't. So we might as well 'unwrinkle' and be in a better state for when the light does go green!

Mental tension does not just affect our reactions to life, it also strongly affects our vitality. We in the modern world, in general terms, often speed around a mental race track only to be left like a limp lettuce at the end of the race. If we run out of fuel too early we need to take stimulants like coffee in order to finish. When we finish we crash only to be roused by more stimulants to meet the next challenge. Living like this
means that we are running on empty a lot of the time. We cannot afford to let go because if we did then we would collapse. This cannot be right! I call this speedy energy, it is the double yang of energy.

Sometimes when students practise they say they feel really tired and assume that they have made a mistake with their form. Actually, Tai Chi has put them in touch with how they really are, i.e. tired. This signal needs to be listened too not judged. Take a rest. Initially it means we do less than we are used to but gradually through the understanding that Tai Chi brings, we learn to relax more and use this speedy energy less. As we relax and honour our boundaries more, the swings associated with speedy energy will get less. Instead of operating from speedy energy we will be using a more natural balanced energy. As this place gets stronger in us, eventually we will do just as much as we used to do, even more if we want to, but from a place which holds the movement and the stillness. We will neither be running around like a buzzing bee nor lying in a panting heap wondering what hit us.

When busy times come, our outer action will have an inner stillness which will allow us to move through the day and have energy left over for the ones we love. Our times of relaxation and stillness will have within them a sense of aliveness and vitality which allows us to enjoy the time we have to ourselves.

This is a real state of well being. It is Tai Chi. It is a movement which has repose. It is the sign of the living Tao. It is the answer to the question which this time in the world
is perpetually asking. Who ever Jesus was and is, this is part of his enormous gift.

In my experience, to take time in the morning to remind myself to move with repose, is to remind myself of the sublime as well as the ordinary and to let the blessings of their combined breath touch the rest of my day.


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