In daily life we are often taught that we should be doing and striving and making things happen, otherwise we're just being lazy. But we often mistakenly take that to mean force and excessive effort rather than just the appropriate amount of effort; enough to get the job done without wasting energy.
If, in your Taiji and/or Qigong practice, you use excessive effort you create unnecessary tension, it becomes a battle, you are at war with yourself.
(see Stretch Reflex)
Many of us feel a certain level of tiredness almost continuously as there is so much mental pressure and stimulus in modern life. However, the amount of energy within the average human is quite phenomenal. For example, ever had a 'Stupid Computer' day? I've yet to meet a computer that responds well to being shouted at, or a keyboard that responds well to being prodded repeatedly harder, or a 'mouse' that responds well to being slammed onto a desk! But I imagine anyone who owns a computer has tried at least one of these methods to encourage their machine to pay attention when it seems to be ignoring you.
These situations mostly happen when we're tired and not thinking clearly, when we apparently have little energy, but a 'misbehaving' computer can very quickly generate tremendous amounts of energy in what we thought was a tired person!
This is mental tiredness where the mind and body are disconnected, we're trapped in thinking processes that drain energy away. The above example shows that the body has huge reserves of energy, but we are unable to access it because we are relying too much on thinking (Mind) and have forgotten the feeling (Body) aspect of ourselves. From this place of disconnect the only option, again mistakenly, seems to be the use of force.
Soft Limit is the key to greater awareness
The following qualities are important in giving you the opportunity to become more present and aware as you play Taiji, and as you live your life:
Are you fighting against yourself? Where is the resistance? Can you feel the cause of any resistance or tension? How important is it? Can it be dealt with now, and if not can you let it go until it can be dealt with?
Response to those feelings
If a friend of yours was struggling with doubt and stress, what could you do to help? Can you respond with the same kindness towards yourself? Can you soften those tensions by doing less?
Releasing stress, tension, and struggle, won't happen instantly, but if you practise softly with presence and intention, change is inevitable. Through Taiji and/or Qigong you are exploring and getting to know yourself in new ways that can benefit all areas of your life if that's how you choose to use your practice.
Which of these is more appealing - Limpness, Tension, or Relaxation?
In Taiji terms these would be defined as:
- Limpness: dull, static, exhausted - Too Yin
When you are limp, you don't feel the aliveness of your body, you only feel the heaviness of a structure that's collapsed in on itself.
- Tension: hard, immobile, exhausting - Too Yang
When you are tense, you can't feel the aliveness of your body, you only feel tension.
- Relaxed: soft, flowing, moving, alive - Taiji
Taiji is the harmonious balance of relaxation and effort – yin and yang.
When playing Taiji, the term 'Soft Limit', encourages us to listen and feel the appropriate amount of effort required to move through each posture, some of which require more effort, some less. Because the movements are slow and purposeful your sensitivity is being consciously refined and deepened, and inevitably this will spill over into everyday tasks, giving you access to greater energy reserves because you are moving more efficiently and effectively, wasting less energy. Your mind and body are working together rather than against each other.
“The soft Taiji method is the true Taiji.”
Dr. Chi Chang Tao
Whatever your level of experience, the use of Soft Limit allows you to be more present and to appreciate where you are right now in learning this new way of feeling/being with yourself. Remember: balance and kindness are also essential.
Also see the 5 Rules for Beginners