Adjusting Students with Relaxation
By Margaret Olmsted
While one of the greatest gifts of tai chi is learning to relax, relaxing isn’t so easy. We have habitual ways of holding our bodies that result from pressures placed on us and from injuries and sickness. First, we have to discover these habits and tensions and then we can focus on letting them go, which can be an enormous relief. The process takes a lot of focus and awareness.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our students is helping them to relax and discover greater ease in their bodies. How do we do this?
First, we have to relax ourselves. We cannot convey relaxation if we are not relaxed.
Then we have to convey this relaxation with our own being, with our relaxed bodies, voices and sense of touch. If our hands are soft and relaxed, they will transmit relaxation. If we want a student to relax a part of their body like their shoulders, we have to relax our own shoulders.
One of the keys to being able to relax is to have a good foundation. It’s hard to relax in a 70/30 position without supporting the body with feet at shoulder width and the right length of step. So, always start with the feet. I love it when I walk up to students to adjust them and they immediately change their feet! They know what it feels like but maybe can’t step there yet.
When I go to shift a student’s weight, my own body needs to be in principle and my touch relaxed and gentle, so the student’s body will go with me without resistance. If there is confusion, I encourage them to let go with words like “Relax and ease a little more weight over your front foot.”
If I want to adjust hips, I often find that simply by touching their hips and relaxing my own hips, the student’s hips will relax.
If mirrors are available, I use them to let the students see how they are leaning and how to find a relaxed upright position. If there are no mirrors, I will demonstrate how they are leaning and help them find uprightness.
I liken relaxing the arms to the feeling of the arms floating in water. And have them imagine their arms floating and responding to the movement of their bodies.
Learning tai chi and learning to relax can be challenging. So, I always give praise when someone lets go and relaxes. I use empathy a lot: “It’s hard to relax.” I use humor: “Relax harder!” And I often tell them that even if they are not doing exactly what I’m doing, then whatever they are doing, they are doing in the most relaxed way they can.