Monthly Archives: March 2014

How to Relax Emotionally

I recently posted on PickTheBrain.com about some ways to take control of your emotions using Tai Chi philosophy.  In this post, I wanted to flesh out one of the most important steps – emotional acceptance.

We’ve made a lot of posts about physical and mental rest, but so far have neglected to talk about another important form of rest – emotional rest.  This might seem like a strange concept to some – how can we relax our emotions?

For the most part, we have very little control over our emotions.  The part of our brain most responsible for emotions (the amygdala) is located in the very center of our brain – the part that even lizards have evolved.  The part of our brain which is responsible for conscious decision making (the prefrontal cortex) is located behind our forehead.  There are hundreds of thousands of connections running from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortext, but only a handful running in the opposite direction.*

What does this mean?  That our emotions, for the most part, are running the show.  So how can we rest something which we have so little control over?  I like to explain using a quote from the famous mindfulness teacher / psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn: “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”

waves

What does it mean to learn how to surf?  When we experience emotions, they tend to multiply on themselves.  For example, let’s say you’re driving in your car and you just miss the green light and get stuck at a red.  This annoys you.  Then you think to yourself ‘This is stupid, why am I getting angry about something so small?’  Now you’re angry at yourself for being angry.

When you surf, you can’t resist the flow of the waves.  If you try to resist, you’ll end up underwater.  The same is true with emotions.  If you resist your emotions and try to fight them, they will consume you.  If instead you accept your emotions, then they lose their grip over you, and you can glide along their surface.

The key is acceptance; another quote I like from famous grief expert Elizabeth Kübler-Ross goes like this: “I’m not OK, you’re not OK, and that’s OK.”  Once we realize it’s perfectly normal and OK to be feeling whatever it is that we’re feeling in this moment, we’ve accepted it.  Only upon accepting an emotion can we move beyond it.  If you can’t accept the emotion, accept your unacceptance.  If you can’t accept your unacceptance, accept the fact that you can’t accept your unacceptance.

Accept.  Embrace.  Surrender.  Yield.  It works the same way in Taijiquan.  If you try to fight hard with hard, you’ll end up with broken bones.  But if you use soft to defeat the hard, you can use your opponent’s power against them.

Do you ever take time to rest your emotions?  Next time you notice yourself in an emotional state which you don’t want to be in, give acceptance a try and let us know how it goes!

*Source – Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live

Free Yourself. Make Light Your Burden.

One of the most important principles in Tai Chi is to relax.  In this post, I want to share why I believe relaxation is so important.

At Taiji Zen, it seems that we talk about two forms of relaxation.  Relax your mind – this can lead to happiness.  Relax your body – this can lead to health.  But in reality it’s not so simple.  Mental relaxation has clear physical implications – the next time you feel relieved, check in on your body and notice the release of physical tension.  Physical relaxation also has clear mental implications – it’s much more difficult to be stressed in a hot tub than on a bed of nails.

So what does this all mean?  The important thing is to know that relaxing physically will also lead to mental relaxation and vice versa.  And how can we use this information?  My favorite application of this concept is trying to maintain a state of deep relaxation all day long.  That’s not to say that I never work hard.  But I believe that the most productive work comes from a calm mind and healthy body.

And how to stay relaxed?  The first step is awareness.  We need to be aware of how we feel (physically and mentally) in order to change it.  Once you become aware of all the stress you’re carrying, only then can you start to let it go.  Try checking in on your feelings at a specific time every day.  Are your shoulders hunched up?  Is there tension in the muscles of your face?  Your neck?  Let it go.  It’s as easy as taking off a heavy backpack.  Or as Jet might say, “Free yourself, make light your burden.”

If you can’t let it go, try doing the opposite – inhale and completely tense every muscle as hard as you can for 10 seconds.  After 10 seconds, exhale deeply and release every muscle.  If you still can’t let go, then let go of letting go.  Sooner or later you’re bound to relax deeper and deeper.  Worrying about it about it will only slow down the process.

In my opinion, the best way to relax is to approach it from both angles – both physically and mentally.  Think about the law of diminishing returns – the fourth slice of pizza is less delicious than the third, and the fifth slice is less delicious than the fourth.  Similarly, as you spend more and more time on mental relaxation, the time is likely to become increasingly unproductive.  The same is true for physical relaxation, and almost any other productive endeavor.  Put more simply, it’s all about balance.

This is why I love Taiji Zen.  By practicing Taijiquan, we learn to relax our bodies.  Through practicing mindfulness, we learn to relax our minds.  In my (admittedly biased) opinion, Taiji Zen is one of the best systems for learning how to relax, and by extension, developing health and happiness.

What are some ways that you like to relax?  Let us know in the comment section!

Tony Schwartz: Ultradian Rhythms

Before working at Taiji Zen, I used to teach classes designed by a really smart guy named Tony Schwartz.  I wanted to share an article with you all about one of the most important things we used to teach, because Tai Chi philosophy has been stressing it for thousands of years.  In order to be perform optimally, you have to take breaks!  (Sound familiar?  If not, you should read Dax’s post about Gathering and Exploding.)  Specifically, research has shown that taking a break every 90 minutes (a period of time called an ultradian rhythm) is one of the most effective strategies for sustaining top-notch performance.

balance

Here’s an excerpt from an article Tony wrote:

“In his renowned 1993 study of young violinists, performance researcher Anders Ericsson found that the best ones all practiced the same way: in the morning, in three increments of no more than 90 minutes each, with a break between each one.”

I highly recommend reading the entire article, which you can find here:

Schwartz, T. (2010, May 18). The 90-Minute Solution: How Building in Periods of Renewal Can Change Your Work and Your Life .

In order to Fālì (use explosive energy), first you much Xùlì (gather energy).  Without Yin, you can’t have Yang.  It’s always comforting to see scientific research prove ancient Chinese philosophy.

How often do you take breaks at work?  What do you do during your breaks to Xùlì?  Share your favorite techniques in the comments section!