Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: mental jujitsu

The Art of Relaxation

My cat, Shadow, has developed a morning ritual since his brother died* in which he meows loudly at me, gently gnaws at me, rubs his head against the blanket in which I’m encased, and then hops up on my hip (I usually sleep on my side) and stands there. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a fifteen-pound cat just stand on you, but it doesn’t feel great. When I try to roll back and forth to get him off, he simply rolls with me. It doesn’t matter how quickly I roll, he sticks like glue. Funny side note: One morning this week, he wasn’t around when I woke up. I was puzzled, but went into the kitchen to get his wet food for breakfast. I open his cabinet, and he still didn’t come. I was starting to get worried and was about to go after him when he came running towards the kitchen as fast as his chubby little legs would take him. He opened his mouth to meow, but it was cut off by a huge yawn. It was ridiculously adorable that he had fallen asleep on the job!

Anyway, I was thinking about that in taiji class yesterday when we were talking about relaxation. It’s one of the most important tenets in taiji, and it’s something I struggle with all the time. I’m a tense person by nature (and nurture), and I carry all my tension is my shoulders and back. It used to be my upper back, but now it’s mostly my lower back. The way to relax your back is to drop your tailbone, and every time I check in with my tailbone, it’s ratcheted up an inch. Every damn time. Even if it’s a minute from the last time I checked in. I think it’s less ‘up’ than it has been in the past, but it’s still tense. The problem is, though, that I can’t always think about my tailbone. If I did, I wouldn’t have time to think of anything else. I get easily frustrated when I can’t do something, which is one reason I love Dark Souls games so much. I’m not inherently good at them, and they’ve taught me not to give up when things get tough. I’m still inordinately proud of beating Biggie & Small (Ornstein & Smough) after almost giving up on the game.

Anyway, we were talking about breathing in class. It’s important, obviously, and there are many different ways to breathe. Our teacher told us about the man who owns the Guinness Book of World Record for holding his breath, and one of his practice techniques is passive breathing. You inhale with your abdomen, and then you just let the breath passively exhale. I’ve tried it, and I’ve ended up feeling choked or lightheaded. I mentioned it to my teacher, and she said not to do it then. She said that focusing on your breathing is important, but it shouldn’t be laborious or painful. My problem is that the passive exhale is an anathema to me, which makes me angry. As I said, I don’t do well with things I don’t understand or can’t do on the first go. While I can conceptually understand what passive breathing is, I can’t do it in practice. I don’t understand how to let my breath out without actively pushing it out if I’m concentrating on it at all.


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