All posts by Eric

Eric

About Eric

I'm a positive psychology nerd and I help develop the Daily Zen content for the Online Academy. I'm also an aspiring actor in China, and spend my free time getting beat up by the good guys in movies and TV shows.

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!

The Most Important Thing For Practicing Tai Chi

While I was filming a documentary about Tai Chi, the director wanted some B-roll of me talking with the great Chen style Tai Chi master Wang Xi’an (for more info on that documentary, check out this post).  They sat me down in a chair next to the grand master and instructed me to talk.  There was no audio for this scene, so I could say whatever I wanted.

I’d been dying for a chance to talk to Master Wang but wasn’t sure how much time I’d have, so I didn’t mess around with small talk.  I asked my first question: “What’s the most important thing about practicing martial arts?”

I'm the awkward white guy with a smooth Taiji suit on.  Grandmaster Wang is on the far right.  We never ended up using the scene where I was talking to Wang Xi'an.

I’m the awkward white guy with a smooth Taiji suit on. Grandmaster Wang is on the far right.  We never ended up using the scene where I was talking to him.

Without hesitation, Master Wang answered, “To practice with your mind.”

“You mean like visualization and that kind of thing?” I asked.

“Not just that.  Any time you practice, focus your attention completely on what you’re doing.  If you practice without your mind, you’re just wasting time.”

“Cut!” said the director.  “Thanks Eric, that’s perfect.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask follow up questions, but afterword I thought incessantly about the master’s wise words.  I decided to try it out myself.

At that time, I was practicing iron arm kung fu*, which entails me slamming my arm into a tree as hard as I can for about 10 minutes every day.  It’s a painful and repetitive experience, not exactly something I looked forward to.  While practicing, I often merely went through the motions, more like a masochistic ritual than training kung fu.

I decided to switch up my strategy from mindless bludgeoning into one of mindfulness.  I concentrated on which strikes would hit the tree the hardest.  I noticed there was some consistency about which were strongest and which were weakest, and began changing my technique to try to increase power across the board.  In a short time, I could feel my technique improving.

For me, this was incredible.  A practice which I dreaded became increasingly interesting and productive.  I started trying to apply mindfulness to all of my practice sessions, and I’ve seen great results ever since.

What do you think is the most important thing about practicing martial arts?  Tell us about it below in the comments section!

*Editor’s note – Iron arm kung fu isn’t a part of the Taiji Zen curriculum.  I just enjoy practicing weird/crazy things.