The Meaning of Relaxation

February 2010


Most people associate Yoga, Qigong and Taiji (Tai Chi) with Relaxation. In theory, They are correct. However, in practice they are usually totally wrong.

Why? Because most people have no clue as to how to apply the concept of Relaxation when practicing these arts.

Of course, the one exception to this is Savasana or Corpse Pose. This is because most people associate the term Relaxation with the total absence of any tension whatsoever. However, since a total and complete absence of physical, mental and emotional tension occurs naturally for most of us only after death, most of us fall far short of Relaxation in this Asana.

To sum it up accurately: most people use far too little tension most of the time and far too much in the one instance when none is called for.

So what do they mean when they say that we must be relaxed when practicing Yoga, Qigong and Taijiquan?

I'm glad you asked.

Actually, I have never heard any high level master tell anyone to relax completely. If they use the term at all, they mean to become more relaxed or better yet, to drop some excess tension.

And here-in lies is the key to what is meant by the principle of Being Relaxed:

Relaxation means denotes the absence of Any Extraneous or Unnecessary Tension for the purpose at hand, with the key words being extraneous and unnecessary.

This is why I prefer to use the Chinese word: Song. It does not come with all of the baggage the English word, Relaxed does. It does not have the connotations of an absence of any physical forces or tension.

 For example: if I asked a strong person to hold our his/her hand and put a 5 lb. weight in it, he/she could hold it up with any strain anywhere in their body. They could be said to be Relaxed while holding the 5 lbs. Yet, we all know they are exerting at least 5 lbs. of force, otherwise their arm would drop the weight. So they are not without some tension; but, they are still relaxed.

If I then changed the weight from 5 lb. to 25 lbs., they may still be able to hold it up; but, they would most likely no longer be relaxed about it.

Now if I changed the person to an extremely strong weightlifter, he/she may be able to hold that same 25 lb. weight while being relaxed (at least for a short period of time).

In Yoga, the Asana (pose) Warrior II is very common. So let's use that as an example. If you assume the position comfortably, you can relax. Yet, you could never be completely relaxed in this position and not fall over or collapse. So, let's agree you are without excess tension at this point. If you then lower your stance to the point where you are struggling to hold the pose, you have crossed the line into the zone of excess tension. Similarly, if you hold the higher pose for a long enough time, fatigue will set in. you will start to use additional muscle fibers and or groups in order to keep holding the pose. So once again you have crossed the line.

So, as you can see, it is not the action that governs Relaxation. It is not the amount of force in the absolute either.

Rather, Relaxation is governed by what percentage of your total resources you are using at any one time. If you keep the percentage low enough (somewhere below a quantum level), you will remain relaxed no matter what you do; and, if your tension rises up above that level, you won't be relaxed no matter what you do.

Consider the above example of holding the 5 lbs. while being relaxed. If we then asked that person to stand on a balance beam while holding that same weight, they may no longer be relaxed, even though standing on the beam would be no big deal without holding the weight. Or, if we asked them to perform mental drills while standing on the beam, it might all of a sudden become a problem and cause extra tension.

One of the best ways of learning how not to cross over that quantum divide of using too high a percentage of your available resources is to learn the skill of scanning your body, mind and emotions to see what is running at that moment. This will then give you the ability to stop any process which is extraneous to your immediate purpose; and, thus lower the percentage of resources you are using at that moment.

As you may have realized, this also helps put you more completely into the Now by dropping any processes which belong to the Past or to the Future and have no good reason to be in the Now. But, regardless of how you do it, the more force you can exert while remaining relaxed will enable you to do more things well.

If you have already dropped any processes which you don't need; and, you still need to be able to remain relaxed and exert more force than you can now, you may need to raise the total amount of absolute force you can produce. In so doing, you will be raising the amount you can produce while still below your quantum level of stress producing force. To do this, you will need to train yourself physically, mentally and maybe even emotionally.

This is one of the many instances when training under a high level instructor can be of immense value. This concept is so broad in scope, but narrow in practice, that it is easy to fool yourself into believing you are doing what you want to be doing; instead of what you are actually doing.

In any case, don't try too hard. It will only cause you more stress:)