The T’ai Chi Paradox: Relaxation is Tiring

Once again, it’s Friday! Another round of t’ai chi lessons!

The instructor has stressed that there are two important things about t’ai chi: (1) relaxation, and (2) sinking downwards.

One of the funniest things which has been happening over the lessons taken so far is the instructor’s emphasis on the need to relax. The irony is that you can never get someone to relax by telling him to relax. It’s like me telling you not to think about a pink elephant- oh wait… you just did! That’s the thing! The more you keep asking someone to relax, the more stressed the person will be.

What’s really funny is that our instructor would, at random, go up to each of us to check on our movements. Noticing how we’re not relaxed enough, he would then hold (or press) the tensed limb or region, and then go, “Relax! Relax somemore! Relax! Still not relaxed. Come on! Relax!”

You have absolutely no idea how many times the word “relax” is mentioned at each lesson. It’s hilarious!

It’s already very tiring trying to relax one’s muscles. But it becomes more stressful when one is specifically asked to relaxed while being monitored. It’s like going for a relaxing holiday on a nice tropical island only to be monitored by a researcher who constantly reminds you to be relaxed. How on earth am I supposed to relax that way?!?!?!

Speaking of tropical islands, did you know that Singapore is a tropical island? Yup, that’s right. An island in the middle of the tropics. Ironically, it’s not the most relaxing place to be in. GUYS! We’re on a tropical island! RELAX!!! RELAX SOMEMORE! RELAX!!! WHY STILL NOT RELAXED?! RELAX!!!

Anyway… this island does not look one bit like a stereotypical tropical island. I was told that the government built Sentosa because a lot of foreign (angmoh, i.e. white) investors and businessmen came to Singapore with the impression that they were going to a tropical island filled with coconut trees and village huts, only to find an island full of skyscrappers. Well, this island did look like the stereotypical tropical island, but it underwent massive changes in the 1980s. So, in response to the demands for the stereotypical tropical setting, the government ironically redeveloped the whole island of Pulau Blakang Mati (translation: the Island of Death from Behind – all I can say is ouch!), which once housed political prisoners and an army training barracks, and artificially created a “tropical island” setting, and renamed it to Sentosa. OH THE IRONY!

Relaxation is indeed tiring, especially when you spend 90 minutes trying to relax your muscles on demand. And being true to its Taoist roots, we have exercised without exercising (wuwei, i.e. action by non-action). We ended the session exhausted, legs feeling weak as if we ran up several flights of stairs, and body wet with perspiration. My friend commented that he felt like he completed a 24km army route march after today’s session.

This is what real t’ai chi is. It’s not some lightweight exercise for the elderly. It’s serious stuff. Just trying to relax is already quite something! What more when we have mastered it? You can imagine how strong those old people are, who have spent so many years doing t’ai chi. They probably have enough qi (energy) to beat the crap out of you, your friends, your family and your entire extended family! More so if they are armed with a walking stick (because there is also t’ai chi walking stick fighting techniques).

Muah hahahaha… I look forward to mastering t’ai chi.