The Importance of Relaxation in Tai Chi Chuan

Nothing is stressed more in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan than relaxation. This article outlines the importance of relaxing while practicing this martial art.

You will see that this is not the sedentary or limp condition we visualize when we think, “relax.” Yang Zhengduo said that “relaxation of the whole body means the conscious relaxation of all the joints, this organically links all parts of the body. This does not mean softness.” Because Tai Chi Chuan is an internal martial art, there is more happening than what meets the eye. Relaxation in Tai Chi Chuan involves sinking ( sung ), grounding or rooting, and rebounding energy ( jing ).

Sinking (Sung)
Sung , translated from Mandarin, means to “give up,” “yield,” or “relax.” But this definition is limited and does not fully explain the important principle of sinking in Tai Chi Chuan. Wee Kee-Jin, a British instructor, explains the physical and mental aspects of sung . “The physical process,” he says, “involves releasing the joints from the feet up. The mind leads the body in a continuous flow of sensation from the crown down.”

Al Duncan talks about sinking in the book, “My Journey in Learning Tai Chi Chuan.” He says, “Sinking doesn’t mean bending the knees to lower the body more. Sinking actually involves relaxation of the supporting of the hip joint and the lower back. The upper may appear to drop lower, but the knees have not bent any further.”

Relaxation is the key to sinking the body’s gravity down to the feet and to developing a strong root.

We can see that sung involves a coordinated effect of both mind and body to relax internally, from head to foot. Jou Tsung Hwa, in “The Tao Of Tai-Chi Chuan,” puts it this way: “Think of playing the piano or typing as an example of the need for conscious relaxation in the hands. The same principle is applicable in Tai Chi Chuan, for every part of the body as well as the mind.”

Rooting or Grounding
Jan Diepersnoot gives a good description of rooting in his book, “Warriors of Stillness.” He says, “The roots of the human being are in his feet. Our feet are our literal connection to the earth, it is where we make our contact, and the quality of that contact deeply affects our awareness of mind and spirit.” It also affects all movement in Tai Chi Chuan.

Rooting or grounding is a direct result of sinking ( sung ). Yang Zhengduo writes that, “the root or the base is in the feet which also includes the legs.” He goes on to say that when you relax, your feet and legs become strong enough to form a firm foundation or base. It’s on that base where the waist or “driver” rests.

The Tai Chi Chuan classics tell us that all movement should be rooted in the feet. When the root is strong, the classics say, the “movement” moves from the feet (root) to the waist and is expressed through the fingers.

The best way to describe jing is by comparison and example. Waysun Liao, author of “The Essence Of Tai Chi Chuan,” compares ch’i to gasoline and jing to the power produced when the gasoline is ignited. If ch’i is stored electricity, then jing is the working energy that turns a hair drier or a television set on. Jan Diepersnoot compares jing to a cracking whip. He describes it as a state of total relaxation to one of total tension. It is quick relaxation that intensifies ch’i and creates jing .

Tai Chi Chuan puts “relaxation” in a context different from what most people understand. There are internal workings going on that are not visible to the average person and it takes a masterful teacher to point them out. It is the special qualities of Tai Chi Chuan that make it beneficial for one’s health and also a powerful martial art.

Vincent Chu, author of “Beginner’s Tai Chi Chuan,” said, “Relaxation in Tai Chi Chuan is so much more difficult to do because we have been trained in life that activities always involve power.”

Master Chu goes on to mention that three benefits of relaxation in Tai Chi Chuan are:

Ch’i circulation
Understanding jing
Health benefits
It can be safely said that if one does not follow Tai Chi Chuan principles of relaxation, then he or she is not practicing Tai Chi Chuan.

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