The concept of relaxation in Tai Chi Chuan is one of the most misleading, for those of us raised in the west the word relaxation generally conjures up a lack of effort, a sitting down with a cup of tea by the TV feeling, ( passive relaxation) this is totally wrong for Tai Chi practice (active relaxation). In the term Song we have the idea of the un-drawn bowstring, the musical string tuned to its correct pitch, but not yet plucked.
This implies a certain tone but not an excessive tension, softness without floppiness. For many the difficulty lies in identifying how much tension is too much? And how much is too little, It is simple to define but harder to practice.
The position of the body in the finishing posture of each technique is defined, precise, and purposeful. It will require muscles and tendons to work to support the posture (Tone) and others to relax in order to allow the limbs and back to extend (Softness) thus we have our Yin and Yang, relaxation with purpose.
Whilst this practice is often applied to the whole form, this is perhaps a little demanding for the beginner. Instead consider beginning Ding Shi with a posture you know well, Wu Chi perhaps, or the finishing posture of Grasping birds tail. As your ability to relax and maintain the correct shape increases, you can practice for longer, gradually working up to more demanding postures, Single whip, Seven stars, or even Step back to beat the tiger..
Next post I will give a detailed description of how to begin incorporating Ding Shi in your practice.
Until then enjoy your training! Keith
Keith has studied the Chinese Internal arts for over 40 years. He lives in England and Portugal with artist, designer and writer Gloria Dean and teaches in Portugal and the UK.