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In any given activity, beginners usually apply 100% of their strength when only 1% is needed.
This wears them, tiring their muscles and limiting joint/vertebra movement.
Beginners must work at using the absolute threadbare amount of strength on an everyday basis.
There should be absolutely no discernable tension whatsoever.
When your muscles are functioning efficiently, you no longer even notice them.
If your muscles are working optimally, they should move your body around without there being any sense of work taking place.
Everything will feel comfortable, easy and smooth.
When you are chronically over-working your muscles, this is not the case at all.
You exert constantly.
You apply vast amounts of energy to the performance of simplistic tasks that require almost no energy to accomplish.
Quite often emotional stress and overuse causes our muscles to clench involuntarily.
Many people experience stiffness and shortened muscles; these both reduce joint flexibility.
Relaxing the muscles
Muscles work better unclenched.
In tai chi we discover how to work without clenching. This enables the joints to move properly and tension dissipates.
Tense muscles are in fact weak muscles.
They are not healthy, balanced and toned. They are over-working and straining.
Your nervous system is sending and receiving faulty information from the muscles.
This is not good for your tai chi.
Trapped (potential) energy
If you took a towel and twisted it very tightly; the towel would contain stored energy for as long as you held it.
Like a loaded spring...
This is called 'potential' energy.
When the towel is released, it will unfurl; producing kinetic energy.
Our muscles operate in a similar way to the towel...
An inefficient muscle holds trapped energy because it is tense and weak.
Relaxing the muscle releases that energy.
Maintaining a tense muscle costs energy.
The body is required to sustain the contraction indefinitely.
This is burning energy non stop.
Tai chi encourages ergonomic body use.
It is concerned with good alignment, comfort, strain, exertion, range and reach.
By using the body in a healthy, energy efficient manner, the body is allowed to work without exertion or muscular tension.
Body building and weight lifting are fashionable
activities today. The emphasis is upon developing external muscles which
creates an armouring effect that can eventually distort the bony structure.
It is the over developed musculature that actually torque's the bones and
discourages them from bearing additional weight. The body attempts to
compensate and problems arise.
Running does not necessarily in and of itself improve posture that is already poor and constricted. It often exaggerates problems due to the substitution of inappropriate muscles. The repetitive inappropriate development of the musculature (as in body building or weight lifting) often leads to diminished sensitivity. Stress occurs in the knees and lower back, encouraging injury.
Swimming is an activity that can either create structural problems or release them depending upon the way it is taught and practiced. Professional swimmers are known to develop shoulder tendonitis and kyphosis. Overriding head/neck righting reflexes (as occurs when the head is repeatedly turned but the body does not follow) eventually result in overdeveloping shoulder muscles, pinching nerves and distorting the rib cage.
Various sport activities emphasize strength, endurance and speed. Development of muscle control rather than skeletal balance takes precedence. Gaining speed at the expense of mounting tension, is too often the goal.
12 January 1995
Last updated 17 September 2019