Tai Chi and the Myth of Relaxation

Snake Creeps Down by Yang Chengfu

From the January 2018 edition of our free Tai Chi newsletter.

The traditional form of Yang style Tai Chi contains something between 85 and 108 postures, depending on how you count them. Each of these postures is comprised of three to five movements, on average. Multiply it out, and the product is well over 300 moves.

Simple? Tai Chi is not simple. No way…not at all.
Tai Chi is quite complicated.

I try to provide clear demonstrations of each movement in class. Even with these clear examples, new students often find themselves physically unable to replicate a posture. Perhaps our wrists and ankles are just too stiff at the moment. Or, our hips and lower back may be frozen solid, after too many hours spent on couches and office chairs. Or, we may be recovering from a recent sickness or injury…

Tai Chi is not easy. Quite the contrary.
Tai Chi is physically difficult.
Strength, balance and flexibility are required to perform it well.

Make no mistake, learning Tai Chi is a real challenge. But we’ve all risen to equal or greater challenges at some point in our lives; and here the reward is certainly worth the effort. The level of challenge is not a problem.

The problem is with our initial expectations. Specifically…
We believe that learning Tai Chi should be relaxing!

People keep telling us so, don’t they? Perhaps in your case, it was the counsel of a well-meaning doctor, or an article you read in the news. Or maybe you saw a Tai Chi group moving gracefully in the park, and made this assumption by yourself. “Why not give it a try? I can do that! It seems very simple and relaxing.”

Then you proceeded to try it. And in the span of ninety minutes or less, your initial hopes and expectations were utterly destroyed.

“This is not relaxing at all! This feels like humiliation and failure. I can barely perform a single movement without tipping over, or confusing left and right. I guess the art of Tai Chi was meant for someone else… someone made differently than myself.”

These feelings are absolutely normal. Nobody can perform Tai Chi on their first day, or even in the first month. As I said, it’s both complicated and difficult.

The first obstacle we face, is not to memorize or perform Tai Chi… It is to overcome our own misguided notions about relaxation! Simply put, relaxation is neither a requirement, nor an appropriate expectation for the early stages of our practice.

What then are the requirements for learning this art form?

  • Balance, strength, flexibility? You don’t need them.
  • Coordination? Talent? Not necessary.
  • Positive attitude? Bring it if you have it, sure. But this is not a requirement either.

All you really need is perseverance. Everything else can be learned.

The art of Tai Chi demands physical and psychological skills that we may not presently have. To reach this goal, we must change ourselves. Deep and meaningful change is a stressful experience.

After you have memorized the traditional form, I promise you will begin to find it relaxing. Until then…go ahead and freak out a little. You’ve earned the right.

Chris Marshall
Head Instructor
Shoreline Tai Chi

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