Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese exercise that has been practised for many centuries and is now popular in the West. It is an exercise which combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and graceful movements. It involves learning a sequence of movements called a ‘form’ which looks like an effortless, slow-motion dance.
One of the most important principles in Tai Chi is learning how to be ‘song’ (pronounced sung) which literally means ‘relax’. However, in the West the word ‘relax’ is often interpreted as ‘eliminating all muscular tension’ as in a person sitting or lying down totally supported with limp muscles. Everyone thinks they know how to relax, and it is not generally thought of as an activity that needs to be taught! Unfortunately, it is often not possible to be relaxed when it is most needed as in stressful situations at work when deadlines must be met etc. Relaxation tends to be an activity that is done periodically like in the evening when watching TV or when on holiday. Thus, stress builds up and time is needed to relax and reduce this stress – a vicious circle!
A more accurate translation of the word ‘song’ is ‘active relaxation’ or ‘to release and let go’ of unnecessary muscular tension. The body is maintained in a correct upright posture and alignment and the muscles are always physically relaxed around the bones and joints while sitting, standing and moving.The idea is to be ‘actively relaxed’ at all times, no more vicious circles of increased stress followed by a desperate need for relaxation. When in stressful situations at work we have a tool to use that makes it possible to stay calmer and more relaxed. This in turn avoids the negative effects of stress and leaves more energy for both work and play!
Active relaxation is not a magic pill, it is a skill that does require effort and practice to learn but once mastered it can be carried over into daily life and help reduce stress.
An exercise to teach ‘Active Relaxation’ – It takes less than a minute and can be practised in sitting, whilst at the computer, or in standing. Breathe normally for this exercise.
Breathe in and imagine you are suspended by a string attached to the top of your head and stretch your body up into an upright military posture – shoulders back, chest out etc. Feel the excess tension in your muscles. Then without losing the upright position gently sigh out and starting at the top of your head release the excess tension, relax and soften the muscles in your neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, hips, knees and ankles. Imagine warm sunshine flowing down the front, back and sides of your body melting the excess muscle tension away. Feel the difference in your muscles when they are actively relaxed. Repeat as necessary throughout the day.