I’m going to talk about relaxing. There are various scenarios to picture here. I’m not talking about slouching on the sofa after a busy day which is ok, but ill talk about this later. Basically, relaxation is like the opposite of tension..?.. Well, not quite. There is an old Chinese proverb that says something like
“Relaxation is who you are. Tension is who you want to be “
As most of you may know who are reading this, I practice oriental medicine and have been doing so for a number of years. Actually, today Friday 19th March 2021 marks the 12th year when we first arrived in Sitges, Barcelona from Tokyo Japan ( I’ll definitely enjoy a drink to this later ). Anyway, more to the point. Oriental medicine doesn’t really talk about relaxing per se, but the organ/meridian most associated with relaxing is the Spleen and digestive system which belongs to the Earth element. So in the general sense of well being, then good health will pertain to some aspect of relaxing during and after a good meal. Rather like having a healthy bank balance and more importantly, a safe one to store your money.. Anyway, fitness and health are quite different. It’s easy to become fit, and just as easy to lose it ( if you stop working out for example ). However, health is slightly different as it takes a while to build up and also quite a while to destroy yourself. Just making a slight positive change in lifestyle and diet is enough to implement a positive change for the future. The same also applies for small, often hidden, negative habits which can lead to unfavourable outcomes.
Sometime things arent always what they seem. People that look fit often aren’t healthy, and people who don’t look so fit usually are quite healthy. How do you know? Someone who is healthy is relaxed..as simple as that! They will move quickly from a relaxed state to an active state with relative ease. Grandmaster Sam Tam*, who taught me the Tai Chi form in Tokyo, embodies this principle and in his 81st year is a living example of this. Let’s have a look at what it means in Chinese.
Song 鬆 Relax
Before I elaborate, Chinese characters originally were standardised during the Qin Dynasty 221BC to 210BC and would have appeared in the above format. They are developed from pictograms or shamanistic images and will comprise of different components to state a meaning or general idea. In the 1960s they were standardised again to make reading and writing less complicated. Anyway, what I want to say is that I am not a scholar or an expert in Chinese history or writing, but I take from it the meaning that actually serves a practical purpose. I hope you get a general idea. It’s better to convert experience to knowledge initially. After all, it’s very easy to gain knowledge these days and experience is usually expendable since everyone these days is an expert in one way or another. Let’s not forget that knowledge was developed first from phenomena or experience and my interpretation of the Chinese characters could be a contentious point for some scholars. I’m also not trying to make the foot fit the shoe, rather the application of experience will provide a nice round fit to a general concept of an idea. The English language can sometimes be limited in this respect and an image can sometimes serve a better purpose in conveying an idea.
The top part of this character literally means long 長 hair (three lines). In ancient China, people wore their hair in a bun or knot at the top. So the implication here is literally letting your hair down. This aspect is very complex as the way the hair was worn could be a sign of rank, and therefore letting down ones hair or removing the pin could pertain to stepping down a rank. The character below this is a pine tree 松. In China and Japan, a pine tree is a symbol of resilience and long life. So if you place the two ideas above then your letting your hair down but remaining resilient. I’m not sure this is the correct contextual meaning though, I think the pine cone opens up and does so to spread the seeds. So relaxing in this sense has an idea of letting go by opening and releasing tension while maintaining structure and alignment.
In Tai Chi with the small group im currently teaching we have an emphasis on doing the form in a relaxed way while listening to your bodies structure and sinking the Ki to the centre. In order to relax I think you need to really listen to your body, the relaxation ( letting go ) will follow. I encounter so many people who have injured themselves by doing incorrect exercise as a result of not listening to their body. Being really tired after a good work out is relaxing, but not in the true sense and im not saying that intensive exercise is bad. Everything is good as long as you gain the benefit of being relaxed. If you do Tai Chi or work out in the gym without having this principle in mind, then I think it’s better to walk the dog instead. It’s not easy to learn Tai Chi well. It’s especially important not to have an unachievable image of yourself as being super fit or say really good at Tai Chi. I hope you will gain some benefit and understand what relaxing is as well as the profound benefits of dog walking.
Next time I will talk about listening from the eastern perspective.
*Edward Obaidey Sensei also deserves a mention here.