When my first child was born I began my journey into a healthier mindset and lifestyle. There were many forks and roadside attractions, but a significant point of interest was when I stepped into Three Rivers Martial Arts Academy. A place of camaraderie, higher learning, and perpetual humility. I entered a young father, with a rather “goo-ish” body, and an abundance of slightly inappropriate enthusiasm. *For the record, I am currently residing as a weathered father, in the best shape of my life with a stubborn layer of middle aged goo on top of what I hope are functional core muscles, while slightly more strategic with my enthusiasm but still often inappropriate.
A reoccurring theme at the academy was and still is “relax”. Typically this is not a term that one associates with a martial art, but one of the first arts I studied was Tai Chi. Tai Chi was usually practiced slow, so I thought I could make some sense of relaxation when I practiced. Then I started taking Brazillian Jiu Jitsu as well. In Jiu Jitsu grappling and realistic street fighting were the main methods of training, and yet the idea of “relaxing” was thrown around just as much. Now I was confused at best. Same story in the yoga classes I was beginning to take. How was I going to relax in these poses! Then I’d go home and try to be a father, raising two small children whose development I placed like a boulder on my mind and shoulders. Yet, I knew that somewhere that this elusive “relax” might be applicable in the parenting arena as well.
I thoroughly misused, overused and abused the concept of relaxation in my practice and life for years. Since then, through countless failures, submissions and injuries I have been able to refine my understanding of this concept… slightly.
The best definition I’ve heard so far is “Relaxation is the absence of unnecessary effort.”
We often think of relaxation as the absence of stress, but this is because stress is viewed mainly as a negative thing in our culture. In fact, stress is absolutely essential to anything we deem positive in our lives. Without stress there is atrophy and eventually death. Unfortunately, in our culture stress is usually too high and deteriorative. It would be more accurate to call this level distress, or in some cases even trauma.
In many ways the path of a great athlete, yogi, or any highly effective human being for that matter- is a continually refined relationship with stress. Someone who places stress on their body, mind, and nervous system in appropriate doses in order to learn to adapt and grow as an individual.
Relaxation is precision. It consists of many elements such as structure, alignment, and timing among many other things. And like all other things, if you train properly you will receive the corresponding skill set. Now when I exercise and train I am more aware that I am really just self-inducing stress, and evolving my response to these elevated stressors is the primary goal of my training.
When we are able to keep our wits and our fine motor skills under higher levels of stress we are then beginning to realize the skill of relaxation and the gentleness that comes from true strength. When I really step back and think about it I am almost overwhelmed by such a beautiful idea. Bravo to the architect!
*I can never take full credit for the content of my work. With deep gratitude, I stand on the shoulders of all my teachers as they stand on the shoulders of their teachers before them. If I can take credit for anything, it is the particular mosaic in which I have decided to present the ideas.