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The Chinese word song (pronounced sung) has different connotations from the equivalent English word, “relaxation”. In English the word relax often means to relax all tension, becoming almost limp. Song is not merely the absence of tension, but rather the absence of all unnecessary tension. In the book, “The Way of Qigong” by Kenneth S. Cohen, Song is described as “the art of becoming aware of and inhibiting the habitual contraction of muscles due to emotional stresses and poor habits of posture, breathing, and movement”. Tai Chi is a form of active relaxation that includes the following attributes: awareness and tranquility, effortlessness, sensitivity, warmth and rootedness.

In active relaxation you reach a state where you become aware and alert to both oneself and the external environment. Vitality is not wasted on unnecessary tension.

In Tai Chi we learn to pay attention to what we are doing, setting aside worries and thoughts. We become familiar with the feeling of relaxation and learn to let go of unnecessary tensions. We learn from Tai Chi that relaxation is a matter of effortlessness with intent.

In the late 1960s, Harvard cardiologist Herbert Bensen became intrigued by the incidence of high blood pressure in patients were under stress. When researching this phenomenon he noticed that BP levels were lower for people who meditate than for those who didn’t. Eventually he identified a mechanism in the body that helps reduce stress. Benson called this the relaxation response. Relaxation is one of the goals of mind body medicine because it helps reduce the negative effects of stress, which has been linked to many serious and chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and depression. The relaxation response also lowers the respiration rate and relaxes muscle tension.

It has been found that regular use of relaxation techniques decreases the effects of norepinephrine, a stress hormone that increases BP and heart rate. Studies have also shown an increase in immune cell activity after relaxation training. Relaxation techniques such as yoga or Tai Chi focus on the breath. This deep breathing can release tension and speed delivery of oxygen to the body and relax the nervous system.

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