"At the beginning of learning Taijiquan, practicing more slowly, better. If you practice Taijiquan quickly, and the movements go on in a flash, you will not have enough time to feel them, not to speak of the sensation of inside changes of your body. Therefore, you should practice slowly so that you could seek and sense looseness, steadiness, and centralization of your body, not only in the static fixed positions, but also in the process of movements."
-Master Chen Bing
"Stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course"
-Tao Te Ching 19
A couple of ideas I have thought about recently as my understanding of Tai Chi increases:
Step away from resistance
When you encounter resistance that means you are going too far and your body is letting you know through discomfort.
Positions should instead be more gradually eased into.
This can also apply to the nervous system and the mind as well, as "telling oneself" to relax can become it's own source of tension, versus just being present in the moment.
There is a saying that if you leave muddy water alone, it will clear up by itself.
Return to what is already there
Related to the above, this applies to breath and relaxation, loosening ("Song" or "Sung") and as a mindfulness pratice which also relates to stored muscle tension or reflexes built up over time.
Linked below are a number of quotes about this concept (this whole website is amazing), but I have included a couple:
"Song is translated into English as relax. But this meaning is generally regarded as incomplete. It also can mean loosening, releasing tension, relaxed alertness. To my mind the state of Song is directly related to correct posture and structural alignment as described in the Ten Essential Points by Yang Chen-fu. By realigning the body to attain and maintain correct natural alignment of the skeleton several things result. Internal organs are able to locate in the body as they were designed to enabling them the opportunity to function at their optimum. Secondly, correct natural alignment enables the skeleton to assume its job of supporting the body as it was designed to do. Consequently the ligaments, tendons, tissue and muscles of the body can also assume the particular job they were designed for, namely to support the skeleton and not expend additional energy or create unnecessary tensions. If we can achieve and maintain this natural state, then we can allow the body to function naturally and optimally. In this state, we have a chance of achieving the state of Song from the inside out rather than superficially from the outside in as we all tend to do."
-Ian Etcell, How to Improve Your Tai Chi, 2003
"Song is not merely the absence of tension, but rather the absence of unnecessary tension. Song is the art of becoming aware of and inhibiting the habitual contraction of muscles due to emotional stress and poor habits of posture, breathing and movement. ... Active relaxation is a form of qigong in itself; it is also essential preparation for all styles of qigong. It includes the following attributes: awareness and tranquility, effortlessness, sensitivity, warmth and rootedness."
-Kenneth Cohen, The Way of Qigong, 1997, p 97.
This can also serve as a reminder for breathing more naturally versus forced breathing or correct belly breathing versus chest breathing.
Again there is somewhat of an irony in trying to "force" relaxation. Rather the idea as with stepping away from resistance is to allow this quality to develop gradually on its own.
Soften the glare
Part of relaxing the body is also relaxing the face including the eyes. Taken from a line in the Tao Te Ching:
"Soften your glare"
It has been noted by scholars the subtle hints and tips within the Tao Te Ching applicable to Tai Chi and Qigong practice.
The idea behind "soften your glare" is that when one begins to relax the eyes it becomes easy to then relax the face muscles. When someone smiles or is happy this is what happens to the face. And the face is one of the areas where tension can be stored.
There is also the mental component attached to this, as the mind and body share a "duplex" relationship where the mind can inform the body of how it should feel at a given moment, and the feedback loop between body and mind.
Sitting versus squatting
The kua is one of the more important areas to develop awareness of in Tai Chi practice. There is an interview with Chen Zhonghua centered on this concept, and halfway through it a useful illustration (the gears) demonstrating how motion works:
As per A Comprehensive Guide To Daoist Nei Gong by Damo Mitchell:
"The knees should never support your weight... The bending of the knees is simply to control the height of your center of gravity..." (139).
"The key to relaxing the muscles of the Kua is remembering one simple rule: 'sit, don't squat'...
When we squat, we generally know that there is no chair beneath us — we are potentially going all the way down to the floor. The body prepares for this by engaging a number of muscles which serve to support our whole bodyweight. The body does not necessarily know how far we are going to squat down and so simply engages enough muscle to take your whole weight, just in case it needs to... and a large amount of unnecessary tension is developed. When we sit down, it is very different..." (142-143).
A student asked, “What is the correct path?” Master Li said, “Do the birds in the sky have a path or do they just go where they need to?” ☯️