Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 313

Breath and Tension

Breath and tension are very closely interrelated. I see examples of this all the time. I used to do a form of body therapy, called Trager Psychophysical Integration. There is one particular movement when the client is lying on his or her back on a massage table, where I take the leg that is nearest me, bend the knee towards the chest while holding on to the shoulder nearest me, then push the knee towards the table on the other side of the body. It is a good stretch for the hip, back, and torso.

Virtually every time I do this, the client holds their breath! The body is under a great deal of tension so the breath stops. I have to remind the client to breathe and then the tension eases some. I know the release of tension is complete when the breathing returns to normal.

Try this simple exercise. Take a moment and listen for the furthest sound you can hear. Do it now.

What happened to your breath? If you don’t remember, do it again. Almost everybody stops breathing and the body is in a state of tension as they try to listen (and to be more quiet).When we concentrate, our breath naturally slows down or stops. In the internal arts, we must become more than natural, in that we want to breathe when under tension, so that the tension doesn’t have a chance to build up to a level where it interferes with our performance.

While intensely concentrating, we want to breathe smoothly, slowly, calmly. The very best athletes almost always look relaxed even when under great pressure. So practice breathing exercises and watch your breath when under pressure. It may be difficult to remember at first, but if you continue a regular breathing practice (Tai Chi can qualify if you concentrate on the breath while moving), it will come more easily. In this way, we can enhance our performance and learn to enjoy life’s ever-present problems by seeing them as awareness exercises.