So in my early days of practicing Taiji I pretty much felt like how Jerry (from Rick and Morty) feels when I was told to "RELAX":
I completely agree, with relaxation you either have it or you dont. It is similar to sleep, if you try to make yourself sleep it is often very difficult, it just sort of happens. So like sleep the best way to achieve relaxation is to set yourself up in the condition to let it arise naturally.
The good news
The good news is that by standing and following the alignments mentioned in Article 2 you will be setting up the perfect conditions for you to acheive relaxation. Many people who have difficulty sleeping set up a little sleep ritual and make sure that their sleep setting is noise, phone and distraction free. The proccess of standing and settling into your alignments and doing a quick body scan from top to bottom serves the same function. It works as a little mental and physical cue to encoruage you to enter into a relaxed state. So great, you are already doing step one!
The maybe less than good news
If you are a Wai Guo Ren like me (literally outside country person, which is pretty accurate in this case meaning someone who is not ethnically and culturally Chinese) and you speak and read English as your first language, you probably dont really understand how to relax.
What! How can you say that?! Well I dont mean you can't relax at all if you arent asian! Rather, we lack a word in English that really describes what relaxation in Taiji means. If you ask a western person to relax they normally look like this:
Just chillin, feet up, eyes closed.
This type of complete relaxation is great (oh so great). You become soft, give up all your force in your postural and other muscles, your features soften and your energy goes quiet and soft. The problem is you cant do anything except rest in this state. You cant work, you cant sit, you cant walk about, you cant do the dishes or play with your kids. This leads to a very damaging and binary way of thinking and being that you can only really rest when you are lying on the sofa or asleep and the rest of your existence is the fierce and hard grind of work. This type of relaxation is all Yin without the seed of Yang as such it is not Taiji (but as I said is great sometimes!).
The word "sung" is normally translated into English as relax. But, it does not cover the whole meaning. As the late master T. T. Liang once put it:
"From the Taiji point of view, however, the word relax can represent only a part of the meaning of the Chinese sung. Since I cannot find an equivilant in English to express fully the meaning of sung, I must use the word relax, which is about the closest word to it."
I agree with master Liang but come to the exact oppoiste conclusion, I must use the Chinese word sung in order to differentiate clearly in the mind of the westerner.
Sung implies loosening the muscles and releasing tension. It suggests giving up ones energy externally but preserving it internally. For example just in the eyes; the gaze is soft and not strained, but it is also alert and not sleepy. The body maintains its structure but does so using the absolute minimum amount of effort. Loose and floppy is not sung, slouched on the sofa is not sung. Going for a liesurely walk and taking the time to breathe deeply and look freely is sung. Having a cuddle with your kid is sung. Sitting up and drinking a nice cup of tea and looking out of window calmly is sung.
So when your tai chi teacher was telling you to relax it wasn't really accurate. They were telling you to adopt a way of being, a way of moving and feeling we dont have a word for in English...no wonder it was hard!
Have a try
So now have a go yourself. Next time you practice standing, stand for a moment and settle in. Then do the body scan and adjust your alignments as in the last article. Now just try to stand and feel that feeling of sung. Feel like you are holding yourself in place with the minimum amount of force, as if you relaxed even a little bit more you would loose your structure. Let the relaxed focus and intent penetrate every part of your body. Give sung a go today!