Relaxation is not as easy as it sounds. It involves physical and mental transformation.
Physical rigidity always produces mental rigidity and vice versa. Obsessive patterns of thinking accompany repetitive internal tensions. Sometimes these tensions are very subtle, as with tension in the jaw, tongue, or deep connective tissue. People who are constantly thinking, who have forgotten the location of the off switch in their internal TV, are usually speaking to themselves as well. The tongue and jaw contract, release, and make extremely small, invisible movements continuously. The fact that tension is often unconscious or chronic does not make it any less damaging. What you don’t know can hurt you! Continuous tension, whether conscious or not, is a continuous drain on the vitality and qi. Chinese medicine considers these tensions to be the root of most psychological problems..
Sometimes, even when obsessive thoughts or emotional behavior have ceased, the physical rigidity continues and eventually re-creates the pathological condition. This becomes a vicious circle, a negative feedback loop. The situation can become quite complex, considering the way muscular tension also affects the functioning of the internal organs, particularly the liver. For instance, according to Chinese medicine, the liver controls tension in the muscles and ligaments and also helps spread qi through the body. When the body is tense, the liver is not able to function optimally. When the liver is unhealthy, the body becomes tense. Again we have a vicious circle.
Mental / Emotional Tension ↔ Physical Tension ↔ Liver Imbalance ↔ Qi Stagnation.
The only way out of this loop is by focusing attention. Awareness is the essential ingredient in relaxation. Once the student is aware, it is possible to feel what is wrong and to exercise some control. This is called ting jing, ‘listening to the energy”. Listening to the energy leads to dong jing, “comprehending and controlling the energy”. However, since tension and effort are the problems, awareness and relaxation, although certainly involving focus and intent, should be effortless, a process of surrendering. Can you try to relax? I think not.
Relaxation is a matter of paying attention and not doing.
Mastery of relaxation is an ongoing challenge at every stage of qigong training. There always seems to be a deeper level of relaxation we can attain, further places where we can let go and do less. The shift from tension to relaxation parallels a shift from distraction and lack of focus to silent awareness. The brain waves slow down, moving from quick beta waves, which characterize the use of language and intellect, to the slow alpha and there, demonstrating a focused, aware, and intuitive state.
The strong presence of slow alpha and theta waves, commonly seen in the EEFs of qigong practitioners, also suggests that repressed images and feelings can rise more easily to the surface of consciousness.
Thus we can look at how relaxation can encourage the release and resolution of emotional issues from two complementary perspectives.
On the one hand, as tension is released, the emotions locked into tense muscles are also released. On the other hand, physical relaxation creates a slower metabolism, slower pulse, slower and more relaxed respiration, and slower brain waves. The slow brain waves correspond to the opening of rigid boundaries between the unconscious and conscious mind, so that, again we can become aware of repressed and inhibited emotions and, hopefully, express and release them in an appropriate way.
Relaxation, although the boundaries of qi gong training, is not the only principle with psychological implications.
The art and science of Chinese Energy Healing – author Kenneth Cohen