No, I am not talking about "song".

One thing that I have noticed about any master performing his or her art is a certain degree of casualness in the movements. If one looks beyond the intensity of the energy and intention, one can see  the ease with which the master moves.  A large part of this casualness, I am sure, comes from having repeated the movements thousands of times. Another part is the result of relaxation, a relaxed body and a relaxed attitude.

In order to become adept at healing with qi, one should be able to achieve a fairly relaxed state of being. Tension impedes the ability of energy to flow throughout the body and inhibits ones ability to listen to the energy of another. While energy will go wherever one has the strength of will to send it, pushing it along blocked and clogged pathways is similar to running 220 volts through a wire only designed for 110 volts. The possibility of burning something out is quite high. So you can see why it becomes essential to understand relaxation and to actually relax!

My teacher, Peter Ralston, would always take something he was working on to extremes in his study of it. That way he would have a better understanding of it in all its aspects.  Relaxation is no different from any other principle in this aspect. To take relaxation to its extreme means letting go of every bit of muscular tension possible. Peter would say to "relax so much that you turn into a puddle of goo on the floor." And Robert W. Smith tells a tale of a man, who after being beaten by Cheng Man-ching, asked what he needed to work on. Cheng's answer was to relax. The man's reply to that was that he was relaxed. The moral of the story is that not only was he not relaxed and but he didn't really know what relaxation is.

Three questions often asked by my newer students are:

              How do I relax?
                                                           How do I know I have relaxed?
              When have I relaxed enough?

I find that the easiest way to begin to work on relaxation is to set up a scale. Let us use the arm as an example. First tense up the arm as much as possible. Then release the tension. Now you have a subjective scale from tense to relatively relaxed. With this scale as a reference we can work on relaxing further.  Now the quick and easy way to total body relaxation is a long session with a good masseuse/masseur, however I personally frown on this as a training method because it isn't as much under your own control. The better method (in my view) requires time, intention, and feeling.  It is best to start with a small area of the body to avoid being overwhelmed  by the task. Again let us use the arm. Put your attention on the arm and feel it. Feel it inside and out. Feel the whole arm as a unit all at the same time. If you have to scan the arm from section to section, then the arm is too large an area to start with. Choose something smaller like your hand or a finger. Again run through your scale to get a fix on relative tension and relative relaxation. Now with all your attention on the arm keep letting go of any tension you feel in the arm.  The muscles in the body are often layered over each other. Tense surface muscles can hide tense muscles below. After an initial session of releasing tension in the arm keep your attention and feeling in the arm. Look for tension deep inside that may have been hidden and keep letting it go. A number of things may happen during this type of training. It takes energy to hold muscles in a state of tension. Releasing this tension then frees up that energy. How you experience this freeing may depend upon the practicioner. It may manifest as a general sense of health and good feelings or it may be a sudden spasm of the area affected.  Often tension is used to protect the body from some type of trauma. Releasing this tension can have some very interesting side effects. I usually tell new students that they probably will be getting sick a lot for the next year.  The relaxation exercises that they do will release bound up toxins and other nasty things that their tension has been holding off for years. They may find themselves reliving past injuries, physical, emotional, and psychological, so it doesn't hurt for a teacher to have some counseling experience to deal with these things when they come up.

Since it is so easy to deceive oneself, I recommend getting a partner to help determine how relaxed one can get.  Again let us use the arm a convenient tool. In a standing position, allow your arm to relax as much as it can. Then have your partner lift up your arm and drop it. The arm should drop at the same rate as gravity, any slower illustrates hidden tensions in the arm slowing down the movement. I have seen students quite shocked to notice that when their arm was let go it remained held straight out in the air. And they thought that they were relaxed.  Another good exercise is to have your partner manipulate your arm through all its ranges of movement. This should be done gently and smoothly, with your partner feeling for any resistance and tension. Your partner can then give you feedback and work with you to loosen up the arm.

To answer the third question, one is never relaxed enough. Relaxation is a process that should never stop because we are constantly tensing muscles throughout the day in response to the workings of the world around us. Never stop relaxing.

Obviously humans require some tension to function and the student who thinks that performing a taiji set like limp lettuce will make him a fighter is sadly mistaken. Then again too much tension will inhibit the student from ever acquiring that smooth easy grace that the masters exhibit. The goal is to find the right balance, enough tension to set up the proper postures and enough relaxation to make the postures functional. For healing the need for the tension may not be obvious since I earlier railed against it. But good body posture is essential for nuturing and cultivating , focusing and directing energy.  With a strong healthy body you will be in a better positon to help somebody than if you yourself are the one in need of aid.