Now Try Half As Hard

Pelican With Wings Halfway Spread

After I had been doing tai chi for about a year, I had much less pain and stiffness in my back and throughout my body. However, tension would still accumulate as the day went on, and sometimes it would grow into pain.

Often, when I practiced, the tension would seem to just melt away. But some days, I just couldn’t get rid of it. I would practice and my body would seem to get more and more tense and stiff as I went along.  

It was one of those days, and I was trying to fight my way through the movements of the short form when Bill appeared next to me and asked how I was doing. When I told him what was going on, he suggested that I put half as much effort into doing the form, and see if it felt better.

I followed his instruction as best I could, and as I was finishing the form he came around again and said, “that’s good, now try half as hard as that. Don’t worry about getting the shape of the movements right.”

When I finished the form once more, he said, “Good, now try half as hard again.” We repeated this process several times, until I was barely trying at all, and my body and mind were finally letting go. I was barely doing the tai chi form at all, but I was starting to feel relaxed.

Then Bill told me to try putting the shape of the movements back in, but only as much as I could with out starting to tense up again. As soon as I started to feel any tension creeping back in, I was to let go of the form and go back to barely trying.

After sometime following these instructions, I found I was able to put much of the details of the form back in without tensing up.

This is one of the most important lessons I have learned in tai chi. I still use this method when I find I am becoming tense working on a particular movement, or when it’s just one of those days.

I had simply been trying too hard. I wasn’t giving myself a chance to relax into what I was doing, because I was so focused on doing it right. It’s an understandable mistake. Tai chi helps relieve tension, so the more tense I’m feeling, the harder I should try to do tai chi really well, right?

But that’s not how relaxation works, and relaxation is an essential element of tai chi. As Bill is fond of saying, relaxation is something you have to sneak up on. If you charge at it head first, it will usually just run further away.

This has been a good life lesson, too. In life, there are a lot of things we have to get right. Most of the time, we can’t just stop trying for awhile until we feel relaxed. But this lesson caused me to start looking for places in my life where I didn’t need to try so hard. Where maybe just a little less effort, a little less striving to get it right, would allow me to flow better, relax into what I was doing, and get a more desirable result by doing so. But then again, I can be kind of a perfectionist sometimes. I’m sure none of you have that issue, right?