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Monday, August 8, 2011

Relaxation: using metal to cool fire (Qi Mag 1995)

Qi Magazine - Issue 17 (1995)

Relaxation, Focus and Meditation
These terms are widely known, but alas, widely misunderstood. This misunderstanding can have quite marked effects on your practice. So now it's time to clear up all the confusion.

The concept of relaxation often seems to be a problematic linguistic distinction between Western and Chinese cultures. In the West, relaxation seems to be almost wholly associated with sleep and unconsciousness. To the Chinese, especially to those associated with the martial arts or meditation, relaxation has some quite specific qualities. 

The first quality of relaxation is simply 'not tense', which does not mean 'limp' or 'floppy.' You quite often see this mistake in Taiji classes, when the teacher tells students to "relax" or be "soft." In fact, what the teacher is usually trying to tell the students is that their movements are too rigid, that they should be more fluid, flexible and light, rather than hard, heavy and stiff.

Unfortunately, when the teacher says "relax" the students don't just become limp they also tend to half-shut their eyes and go into a mental mode that can only be equated with that of a sleep walker or zombie. This is not too much of a problem when students are meditating because all they do is waste their own time, but so far as martial arts are concerned, this attitude is a positive liability.

This problem is compounded by the Western misinterpretation of phrases like "without force," "no mind," "empty mind," "go with the flow" and so on. "Going with the flow" for instance may well include a certain 'acceptance' of situations but it doesn't mean accepting a punch of the nose. "Going with the flow" means not using 'direct' resistance. You don't let things just happen to you and nor do you necessarily meet them head on like two rams clashing their horns together; instead you simply step off the line, avoiding hard attacks or even helping them on their way. Likewise, keeping an 'empty mind' does not mean being vacant. It means that you should got concentrate on particulars above the 'gestalt.' In other words you should not be concentrating so hard on your technique that you miss what the other person is doing to counter you.

When you understand how these ideas apply to the martial arts it is relatively easy to apply the same principles to meditation. Relaxing does not mean letting your postures collapse or going to sleep. It means letting go of tension, deepening and slowing your breathing. When your breathing relaxes your heart will naturally slow as well. Five element theory explains this as using metal to cool fire.

Keeping an empty mind means not concentrating on particular things. If you imagine that your body is like a theatre stage, your organs are like the dancers and your mind is like the lighting. The idea is that you watch everything that happens rather than focusing your mind on one thing like a spot light; because when you focus say on your heart, the rest of the stage goes dark and the liver might fall over. In this way you can let your mind be like a lantern shining on now.

With regular practice the energy of your body becomes smooth and your organs become healthy. It is easy to see and deal with problems before they become too advanced. As your meditation improves, your skills of concentration and relaxation will benefit your martial arts and also improve the quality of your whole life. 

-by Glenn Gossling