Relaxing the neck and shoulders: In the past when I have been told to “relax” I never liked it. For the most part I found it annoying and it had the exact opposite effect on me. Through Tai Chi I learned a completely different mindset about tension and relaxation. The first homework assignment I give to new students is to check in and “notice” if they are gripping their neck and shoulders. That’s it. Just notice. No self-talk. No telling oneself to relax.  Don’t do anything but notice. Just the  simple act of noticing will change the amount of tension being held. The more often you notice, the better. You can notice when you are driving, doing the dishes, brushing your teeth or sitting at a computer. When I did this the first time I told myself I would do this for a week. I would check in and find myself gripping and tensing my neck and shoulders. Literally, I could check in one minute later and I would be tensing and gripping again. It was completely mind blowing how automatic and constant the gripping and tensing was. What I discovered was that the more I checked in the more my tension subsided. I did it as often as I could remember. Eventually my brain got tired of me checking in and soon I realized that when I checked in I wasn’t gripping and tensing. That was also mind blowing. It is amazing what our minds are capable of. There is a saying in Tai Chi that says the mind leads the Qi and the Qi leads the body. This is but a small example of how we can transform tension in our body by using our minds. Of course, I always couple the “checking in awareness exercise” with proper alignment of the neck and shoulders. Neck and shoulder alignment is a bigger topic but I leave you with this. Notice how by tucking your chin enough to lengthen the back of your neck changes the entire alignment of your spine and also relieves pressure on the neck. I invite you to do the “checking in” exercise for a week and notice what happens. Every student that has actually done this homework has told me it changed their life in a significant way.  Happy Training!!!

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