“Relax more”, “Relax better” – or relax “harder”? what does Song, or “relax”, really mean in Tai Chi? In almost any interview with the old masters or in their books when they define the key to Tai Chi skill, they almost always refer to “song”. They don’t mention “Qi”. They don’t say “Yi”. They use a very simple word: “relax”. But the importance of this word, why the real skilled masters always refer to song or relaxation should give you a hunch that relaxation in Tai Chi is maybe something more than “not to tense up”, or more than just keeping the normal state of the body everybody does when they say that they relax.
Song – something more than just being relaxed
It’s a bit peculiar to hear people compare Tai Chi with other martial arts. And yes, Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art. When they talk about boxing, wrestling, MMA, everybody says things like that “boxers relax too”. Apparently everyone relax, everyone use whole body power. Everyone, at least better practitioners from various arts, use the same stuff as IMA, the internal arts. Of course, most people saying stuff like this never studied an art like Tai Chi for twenty plus years. Song in Tai Chi really is something more than being relaxed in the common sense of the word. It’s being more relaxed than being relaxed. It’s a trained skill of relaxation.
No, just “not tensing up” is not enough. Being very relaxed is not a sufficient definition either. The thing is that the body and body tensions is a very complex subject. There are things happening inside the body all of the time. Thinking and breath regulates and changes the tension in different parts of the body all of the time, at every second. If you forget to relax actively, consciously, then your body tension, with or without your permission, will keep on changing. But to reach a deeper, even more relaxed body state, you need a certain amount of awareness, body awareness. So the key on how to learn how to relax better is not to relax more or try to not tensing up, it’s to practice relaxation in conjunction with practicing body awareness. You need to be able to naturally breath deep and know how to regulate your thoughts. Worrying and too much thinking affects the breath. Much thought and breath together will continue to activate parts of the nervous system throughout the body in such way that it will be hard to reach the first level of relaxation where you can even start practicing a deeper relaxation.
Developing a better relaxation
So how do you start to really practice “song”? Fortunately, Tai Chi form practice with slow, even movements has a kind of hypnotic effect. Focusing on movements alone will calm down your mind. Relaxation in it’s turn will cause breath to move slower and deeper. Another key of practice, for both standing meditation (Zhan Zhuang or Ding Shi) and form practice, is to continuously examining your body tension, trying to feel the body from inside, from the sole of the foot and every inch up to the crown of the head. Take time and slowly try to feel where you are tense, a little or more. Consciously try to relax more and even more. Relax until you don’t do any effort with any part of the body and the body naturally keep up by itself. It will if you let it. Trust your nervous system and your musculoskeletal system. It will take care of it by itself. If you can reach the point where your mind is blank, your breath goes deep and low by itself and you you have relaxed away any unnecessary tension so that your posture holds up itself, well, then you in the zone wher you have “song”, a very relaxed body with a feeling that it, at least partly, almost moves by itself.
So what’s the benefit of being Song?
So what’s the benefit of learning the deep relaxation of Tai Chi song? Why? Maybe the old masters would say that this is the key to keep the body healthy, not letting the natural aging control the body’s process of inflicting you pain through stiffness and tension, keeping it strong by being soft. From a martial point of view, you really need to learn to control your tensions in the body, being aware of them, being able to at every time keep relaxed and not tense up. Practicing body awareness is really the key to martial ability. Without control of mind and breath and body tension in stressful situations you will never be a good fighter, not in competitions, not on the streets. You practice all of this by practicing song. Most of all, this kind of practice will really make you feel better and function better in daily life. This is my personal experience. I don’t know how this consciousness training to develop better Song would affect you, but if every Tai Chi master agree that Song is the very key to success in Tai Chi Chuan, there must be something behind it. Don’t you think so?