The Art of Relaxing & Sinking: Cultivating Embodiment in Tai Chi and in Daily Life Copy

A tai chi friend commented recently how mother nature has equipped him with a faulty nervous system. Why he was so easily triggered into fight, flight, freeze in minor fear situations did not make sense to him. I tried my best to explain why we are instantly stimulated into reacting on automatic pilot rather than responding wisely to challenging situations. From an evolutionary perspective it is a simple survival mechanism we fall back into, I explained. The explanation did not satisfy my friend. He was of the conviction nature had supplied him with what he saw as a maladaptive system. To me it makes sense why we get triggered into the survival mode when even minor forms of danger are perceived. We are being run by older brainstem networks.

What is truly wonderful though is that as human beings we can train ourselves to be more response-able. This can be achieved through relaxing and sinking. It is the ability to deeply relax throughout the body, allowing tensions to release and in doing so remaining grounded. With relaxing and sinking we are able to keep the connection to the more evolved parts of the brain open which allows for the ability to respond to challenges with mindful awareness.

This is an area which I love to explore, both personally, with friends and professionally. More and more it is becoming clear to me how the key to remaining present (especially when things get difficult) is through being embodied, dwelling in the here and now. That is knowing when there is a disconnect and as soon as possible bringing awareness to re-connect through the breath, the body and the senses. As this skill becomes more refined the capacity to be responsive grows.

In tai chi we cultivate the ability to relax and sink in an integral, embodied way so to improve presence, balance and grounding. The solo practice is fundamental to learn to move according to the tai chi principles, balance, connection, lower – upper body co-ordination, synchronization and timing of movements, etc. During partner practice we have the unique opportunity to support each other in developing the skill to be more responsive as our balance is being affected by another person. Interpersonal practice is particularly helpful to untangle patterns of reactivity and disconnection, as our relating is predominantly somatic. Deep holding patterns can be gradually released through the body. It works best when the learning environment is enjoyable and supportive. To make steady progress in partner practice I use a trauma sensitive approach with people I work with.

In the widest sense relaxing & sinking training will improve our ability to deal with whatever comes along in our day to day life.  We increase our chances to respond wisely to challenging situations we may find ourselves in.  Relaxing and sinking helps us to remain more steady and connected to the present moment. Rather than tensing in a reactive auto-pilot mode we become skillful in responding more consciously and ease-fully.

Here are some simple steps to enhance your ability to relax and sink and to cultivate the ability to stay embodied in your practice and in daily life:

Step 1 – Being Aware…

Checking in frequently. One way to do this is by asking yourself: “Am I aware or am I elsewhere?” Classic signs of being elsewhere are mind wandering, getting caught in thinking, distracting yourself, resisting experience, speeding up, growing tense, feeling ungrounded.

Step 2 – Acknowledging what is happening…

Accepting, letting things be as they are, saying to yourself ‘right now it is like this and it’s okay’, giving yourself permission to be how you find yourself and feel what you feel.

Step 3 – Opening to the Breath and Body, and to the Senses…

Feeling the breath throughout the whole body, as best as possible all the way in and all the way out.

Attuning to one sense at a time: smelling, tasting, hearing, seeing, touching without any overlay of interpretations or judgements. Simply being as open as you are able to the full sense experience. Being curious of what you are noticing in the body.

Step 4 – Giving the process space and time…

Relaxing and sinking is a life-long development. There is no end to the level we can relax, open, be balanced and grounded. Resilience grows with time and develops best when we bring a caring, kind, gentle, curious approach.

The benefits are endless. Allow the process to unfold and rejoice in the transformative gifts you will receive on the way.