It was lovely to get away at Easter. Maria and I decided to spend a few days away in Lulworth Cove, Dorset. It is a beautiful and serene little village hidden along the Jurassic coastline. The hotel we stayed at was supurb! So a big thank you to the ‘Limestone Hotel‘ and the fabulous team headed by Mike who made us feel so welcome.
Holidays give us a chance to really relax, to take stock of how we feel. Often we can become so stressed out that we need at least a few days if not a week to deal with the backlog of stress so that we can enjoy the rest of the holiday!
But do we need to go away on holiday to feel relaxed, rejuvenated and happy?
The answer is definitely….NO you don’t! You can feel just as relaxed, energized and happy every day.
The choice is definitely ours. So how do we get there? Well let’s have a look at what relaxation is?
One of the first questions I ask new tai chi students is “what does relaxation mean for you?” Take a moment to think about this and write down your thoughts.
We generally interpret the word relaxation as getting rid of any tension at all. Becoming limp. The Chinese equivalent word for relaxation – ‘Song’ – implies not only without tension but even more specifically – without unnecessary tension. The full translation ‘Fang song gong’ translates as the following:-
Fang – doing/releasing
Song – relaxation
Gong – skill/work
and is interpreted as ‘Active Relaxation’. With awareness we notice habitual muscular contractions caused by emotional stress, poor body alignment/postural habits, movement and breathing.
Active relaxation is an extremely important skill and is central to all tai chi and qi gong exercises. It is the key to deep relaxation and healing of body and mind.
Have you noticed how relaxed and flowing tai chi performers look when they do a routine form. Their bodies flow from one position to another, undulating, circling, twisting and turning with effortless ease. It always a pleasure to watch professional musicians, dancers & athletes displaying the same skill in their own way. The key is ‘Active Relaxation’.
In the West we often deal with stress by watching TV or reading a book and whilst they do give a temporary relief and make us feel a little more relaxed it is not lasting and not deep enough to start a healing process. In this kind of activity the mind is simply being distracted. It’s no longer caught up in the stress-cycle. So in that sense it provides a brief lull in the busyness of the mind! Active Relaxation as the translation suggests is a different ball game altogether.
So what are the key points to Active Relaxation? Lets have a look now…
Awareness – In order to practise active relaxation we must bring our attention into the here & now, the present moment so that we can see the reality as it is.
Tranquility – Encouraging a sense of tranquility will allow us to observe what is going on in the body and mind with a sense of calm detachment. We become an observer of our own experience without getting caught up in it. We approach this non-judgmentally and open-heartedly. We our kind to ourselves!
I love Chinese calligraphy and always enjoy exploring the meanings of these ancient pictures. The Chinese calligraphy for awareness and tranquility is a Crane, poised by the river, waiting to catch a fish. This sums up the state perfectly. Poised, ready & alert, aware, balanced with relaxed effortless ease, tranquil.
Rootedness – In order to fully relax it is necessary to build a solid foundation or connection with the ground. To become fully grounded requires a lot of skill but with guidance from an experienced teacher this technique can massively transform your ability to relax deeper and deeper into your core. When we talk about becoming relaxed and rooted we are not just talking about the body. The mind is intrinsically included and also becomes relaxed, centered and rooted. I have found that this really helps people increase their self confidence over time.
Letting Go – With the other steps in place we can then begin to consciously Let Go of any tension that is not necessary for the task in hand. At the beginning we focus on releasing the body but later the same approach is applied to the mind and emotions. Through the carefully structured curriculum of tai chi we can practise this skill whilst we move the body through the tai chi form or practise stationary qi gong meditation. However as always the idea is to eventually take it into everything that we do. All the time! We gradually build up our ability to stay in the moment and process whatever comes up, releasing and letting go, so that even in the most stressful and difficult of circumstances you can ‘keep your head’ and stay calm.
Active Relaxation is a skill that needs practice but very soon you will start to feel more relaxed and for longer. You’ll notice how you manage to stay relaxed even in stressful situations and as I have found myself, you’ll feel far more energetic than ever before so you can have that holiday feeling ALL the time not just when you go away.
You can start practising today by listening to your body.
When you’re on the computer or just brushing your teeth in the morning, how much tension are you holding in your shoulders? When making your cup of tea…are you holding tension in your belly? What about your eyes? This is a common place to hold tension.
Have a go and let me know how you get on by writing a comment below or sharing it on Facebook. I’d love to hear.
see you soon