[Tai Chi] What is responsible for how fast a muscle tightens? Nerval memory?

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Dear Ones,


I have noticed often that I hold unconscious tension. I relax and whenever I tighten a muscle again, for example in a Qigong practice to create what is known as the Qi-belt, my muscles stay hard.


So I ask myself the question what is responsible for muscles tightening and possibly staying tight? Is this memory in the nerves that flow through our muscles?


It would be wonderful to be able to come out of tension into relaxation in a rather quick and controlled fashion



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To answer your question regarding the tension. I am afraid that it is caused by you and is your responsibility.


Much is made of the term "sung" in the performance of tai chi and this state of energised relaxation is our aim when performing our practice, be it tai chi or any of the associated Taoist Arts.


My own description of sung is "the performance of a given movement using no more muscular tension than is necessary for the movement." When we are in the state of sung our movement will be more fluid and graceful and also (much overlooked) faster when required.


This state of sung is no better exemplified than in the movements of a cat.


To train yourself to reach this state then I would advise standing practice (Zhan Zhuang) as it is far easier to relax when still than when moving - though stillness in movement will be our ultimate aim.


This is also related to the subject of non doing which is also greatly misunderstood. When concerned with sung it means doing only that which is necessary to reach our desired end, in other words doing away with the extraneous.

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From Damo Mitchell:


Sung and Energetic Relaxation in Qigong

"Anybody beginning their study of Qi Gong will at no doubt have been told to either relax, let go or in Chinese Sung/Song. Though seemingly an easy instruction it is in fact one of the most difficult aspects of the internal arts. Rather than simply an instruction which may be carried out immediately, it is a continual process of releasing and then reconnecting which becomes a gradual and constant part of any Qi Gong practitioners daily regime.

I am currently in the United States teaching the process of Sung as it appears within Qi Gong training and it has struck me how difficult it is for many people, especially those new to the internal arts and also how much confusion there is over the process of letting go.

Relaxing the body has to take place on the same three key levels as the rest of Daoist training. Relaxation must first appear within the physical body; from here it is the energetic body which then needs to release its tensions/blockages. These two then form a continuous loop of releasing more to allow the other to release more and in this way the cycle of going Sung builds deeper and deeper into the core of your being. These two then in turn rely on relaxation of the mind which can be the most difficult for many people as this requires deep levels of inner searching and letting go of the minds attachments, projections and motivations.

Sung must take place for there to be effective energetic flow within the body, even if we ignore all of the obvious physical benefits to relaxing the mind and body. Without an adequate level of Sung being reached it is highly unlikely that any real levels of personal transformation can be reached as the information highway of the meridian system will be stuck or flow with a roughness which is not conducive with gaining results in your practice.

If we have to summarize the key energetic flows that are aimed for within the body they would be as so:

*The Qi within the torso needs to sink down towards the lower abdomen so that the natural focal point within your body is the lower abdominal region.

*Within this downward flow needs to be a strong upwards flow through the central channel of the body and up the Governing meridian which runs through the center of your back.

*The downward flow within your torso then needs to extend down towards the ground where it meets the opposite flow of Qi rising from the planet up through Yongquan towards the lower Dan Tien.

*As the Qi from the upper part of your torso reaches the lower abdomen some of it flows back towards your back where it spreads via the shape of your Trapezius to give you an energetic flow which corresponds to the classical principle of adhering to the back.

*From the Dan Tien, various circulations of information take place through the micro-cosmic orbits which run through torso, arms and legs. These require a high kevel of relaxation, fascial unbinding and connected stretching.

*From the core of your body it is important that we develop a gentle expanding feeling meaning that your energetic field expands in all directions. This expansion strengthens the Wei Qi and helps to keep pathogenic factors from entering deep into the body.

*The final key energetic movement is from the core of the body out to the extremities. Your Qi should gently vibrate out towards your hands and feet.

In order for these energetic movements to take place we must first be able to relax the physical body sufficiently so that no tightness gets in the way. Physical tension or misalignments have a negative effect upon our energetic flow which curiously has both a vibratory and a slightly fluid nature to it.

Relaxing the physical body correctly involves understanding the principle of letting go with the muscles whilst at the same time connecting the soft tissues and fascia network together into a single unit.

The soft tissues of the body can connect together into one single unit which takes the form of a kind of biological wetsuit providing we understand how to utilize correct bodily posture in our practice. The Qigong structure is designed to allow this wetsuit to spread out and link into a single unit meaning that any movement within a part of the body has a direct affect upon every other part of the body. Correct connection means that if we carry out a simple motion such as extending a finger we will feel this movement carried across the entire of the rest of the body. This is obviously an important attainment for anybody studying the internal martial arts of Taiji, Xingyi or Bagua as well as Qigong. Not only that, but the connectivity goes deep inside of the body as well. Our connective tissues run not only on the surface but also deep inside the body right through to the fascia surrounding each of our organs and down to the surface of our bones. A high level of connection means that any movement with our physical body will also result in gentle pulls and motions deep within our core. This has profound ramifications upon the level of our physical health as any motion we make will then begin to purge the internal organs of stagnant fluids and energetic pathogens that may have collected around them.

In order to connect this wetsuit together into a whole we must learn how to let the major muscle groups of the body go soft and hang from the bones. As this happens, the level of habitual contraction held within our body will release and this will in turn create more potential for expansion. As we release the tension we can begin to gently pull out the soft tissues using our fingers and toes as the extremes of these stretches. This stretch needs to be long, even and spread across the whole body. Do not overstretch to the point where tension is created though as this will begin to work against your Sung process. Remember that what you train is what you become so continued over-stretching to the point of tension will actually disconnect your body and make you more tense in both body and mind; this is a common issue which I see within the internal arts; people are often either too slack which creates stagnation or too taught which produces tension and blockages.

The result of this process is that as you gradually release more you will find that you begin to disconnect. The soft tissues of your outer being will begin to become slack unless you increase the level of stretch across the body. You are aiming to get to the stage whereby your outer surface become like the skin of a drum. This is an important analogy as the skin of a drum enables vibrations to pass along its surface and this is what we want to happen within our own body. The drum skin of our biological wetsuit is required to be in such a state of connection that it enables the vibratory information of our Qi to pass through it. This is the key method of bringing our internal energy from our core and expressing it within the external world; whether this be for martial, therapeutic or spiritual reasons.

As the body gradually releases more and more we can begin to open up the most difficult line within our body which runs from our hips or Kua region down to the ground and the base of our feet. By opening this line we develop root and enable energetic flow up from the ground into our body. Particular focus should be applied to this region of the body when practicing Sung as it is here that dictates whether or not we will connect effectively with the planet. About 80% of people that I teach actually hold on with their buttocks without realizing during any standing Qigong work and this is obviously a major block to the process of Sung within the lower body.

If you successfully manage to connect with this Sung process you will then discover that the gradual extension of the soft tissues begins to transmit mechanical information into the core of the body, now your adjustments will begin to pull and stretch open the inside of the body automatically giving you the feeling that small movements are taking place inside of your skeletal structure. What is happening is that your biological wetsuit is now starting to pull the bones into a more efficient alignment through micro-adjustments that it would be impossible for you to correctly make if you tried using your conscious mind. It is more effective to allow the process of Sung to make these adjustments for you as you release and reconnect to ever more efficient levels.

At this stage it is possible to start integrating practices such as Sung Breathing which can be read about in my book on Daoist Nei Gong. This will then help the body to remember this state through adjusting the plasticity of the soft tissues into a more affective shape. Through conscious connection of your breathing to your bodys energetic movements it is possible to create a kind of liquid wave of Qi which moves through the soft tissues and vibrates out along the wetsuit you have created. It is at this stage that the drum skin principle becomes particularly important.

The alignment which your body has been put in by this process then begins to adjust your energetic flow to match the key movement principles outlined in bullet points above. As this happens it is wise to simply allow your mind to gently attach to the movements and observe what is taking place. Through giving your energy body a little attention you will enable it to work more efficiently and so the whole process of Sung will take place to a stronger level within the energetic body. You may observe this for some time but eventually you will reach the stage where it feels like this energetic growth can go no further. This is the point where you must re-enter the physical Sung process and work towards making your connection and micro-adjustments even more efficient. When you think you can Sung no more, Sung some more.

Throughout all of this work it is likely that your body will begin to shed some of its imbalances. The physical body can begin to unbind any tensions stored within the physical tissues resulting in feelings of deep bruises, do not worry about this, these are just blockages opening up and passing. They will not last long. Note though that these deep bruises are just that, bruised feelings, not sharp pains. If you get sharp pains then it is likely that you have an incorrect alignment somewhere within your structure which needs resolving before you cause any further injury. Be particularly aware of these misalignments around the region of your knees and spine as when damaged they can take a long time to repair.

As the energy body release stagnation it is likely that you will begin to shake or vibrate, sometimes quite violently. If this happens do not worry, it is quite normal, simply release more against it and allow more space for the energy to come out through. When this has been achieved you will find that the shake becomes a more steady and smooth wave which does not cause such violent reactions for your body. These releases are often accompanied with emotional release which can result in random laughing fits or tears, again do not worry, simply allow them to pass as they are a sign of your body making adjustments to itself through your Sung process.

This has been an introduction to the early stages of Sung; there is a great deal more to the process but hopefully these pointers will help some people to begin exploring this often overlooked aspect of the internal arts. From here there is the Sung process of the mind which is the gateway to achieving varying states of stillness but that is a long topic. It is also something I do not recommend undertaking without the guidance of a trusted teacher as the process can sometimes be difficult for people both technically and emotionally.

Never be satisfied with the amount of Sung you have achieved, relax, connect more, relax more, connect more; this is the way to attaining Sung. It is not a quick or easy process but rather something which becomes a lifelong study in its own right."

(From here)

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"I have noticed often that I hold unconscious tension. I relax and whenever I tighten a muscle again, for example in a Qigong practice to create what is known as the Qi-belt, my muscles stay hard.


So I ask myself the question what is responsible for muscles tightening and possibly staying tight? Is this memory in the nerves that flow through our muscles?"



Muscles contract due to hormone responses to stimuli.


When cells contract and expand, they are responding to differences between intra and inter-cellular fluids. These fluids contain hormones, like neurotransmitters, and salts and minerals (calcium, sodium, potassium, etc).


Some of the minerals that cause contraction, such as sodium and calcium, are used in buffer reactions to overloads of liquid and the metabolism of simple sugars, and also acids like phosphoric acid, lactic acid, etc. When these minerals are depleted, muscles contract strongly to counteract the difference, which produces teporary expansion, and cramping results.


Muscles that stay contracted and hard most of the time - that is the result of imbalance and extremes in intake, with meat and salty foods causing general contraction, and liquids, sugar, and chemicals causing general expansion.


If we stretch and contract a rubber band over and over, it becomes rigid and cracks.



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The best way I have found to understand muscle dynamics is the practice of Feldenkrais movement. Youtube has a variety of videos that are very useful. The movements teach how to relax muscles in a non forced way.

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