Most students of the Martial Arts will have heard their instructor tell them to relax more. When relaxing, most students shake off their bodies and “try” to relax their muscles. Some of them may think of relaxing in terms of going dead or limp. However, soon they will realize that relaxing is a state of being that is also present when they move.

Modern life adds a tremendous about of stress and tension on the body-soul and relaxing is but the first step towards something far more important and valuable: Softening.

Before we go on to softening, let us look at what tension does to the the body and quality of life:

Freezes the joints: The joints freeze into unnatural positions and loose their natural pliability. Tension inhibits the flow of blood and other fluids through the joints leading to poor joint health. 

Bad body alignments:  Tension locks muscle groups into permenent patterns. At the very least this causesinefficient movement, bad posture, and freezes emotional content deep into the body.(For more information on how tension locks into your body you may want to look at the work of Stanley Keleman and Wilhelm Reich. No serious lifetime student of the Martial & Healing arts can afford to ignore the works of these brilliant pioneers. Their books are a good primer.) 

CNS hyperactivity: In tension, the Central Nervous System becomes hyperactive leading to a whole array of problems including Attention Defecit Disorder (ADD), chronic Insomnia, hyper agitation etc. 

Martial Arts is a wonderful way to getting the system functioning sans tension. The secret to this is Deep Softening. Softening is takes relaxation to a whole new level. Softening is a process that works on removing tension from the depths of the mind-body. In turn this softening removes the blockages in the neurology and energy flow within the body-soul. "Soften, and then soften some more,” I keep reminding myself. 

How To Soften

Release physical tension in the body by breathing into the tight spaces. Inhaling tenses the body, and exhaling relaxes the body. Work on the combination of the four kinds of breaths (another post on these forthcoming).

Pay close attention to the soft tissues, the fascia, and work on actively releasing them. The body is a lattice and the fascia run along the body in what some have called “Anatomy Trains.” One simple release could reformat your body.

Lengthen your body, the muscles, and the structure from the inside out. This is what real stretching is really about. Think Lengthen, not just stretch

Open and close your joints. This is a skill that must be taught by a qualified teacher. As your open the joints (spine, hips, shoulders, knees and elbows) you will begin to feel the natural pulsing in a synchornized fashion. Congratulations! You are on the way to greater health as you begin to feel the expanding and condensing energy down into your bones.

Soften your vision. Become aware of the back of your eyes and relax them. Keep repeating this process. The constant arousal of the eyes from electronic screens needs to be reversed and relaxed as well. Pay special attention to not going to bed with the “blue light” of your phones, kindles etc. It may be hard to do, but it will be worth it.  

Use your Nose. Smell is the oldest, most powerful and primal sense, connecting very deeply into your deep (limbic) brain. Find soothing scents and diffuse essential oils to bring about a softening of your being.

Cut out Caffeine. Replace coffee, sodas and energy drinks with teas, fresh juices and lots of water. 

Benefits to the Martial Artists

  1. Efficient Movement: A relaxed and soft body moves using the least amount of effort
  2. Pliable muscles and tissues reduce the likelihood of injuries while making motion more enjoyable
  3. Healthier joints increase the overall careerspan/lifespan of the martial artist. If you are in a grappling art this is essential to heal lock damage
  4. Reduce Response Time: As your eyes soften, you will more easily move into peripherial vision and be able to catch more of your opponent’s movements as they happen thereby making your response time shorter
  5. Better decision and scenario planning: As your CNS releaxes, you will have unhindered access to more of your own brain and mind. This enables you to make better decisions and to resist the fight/flight response.

To truly take your performance to the next level, I encourage you to soften magnificently and learn to luxuriate in your whole body proper, into your very Being. As your muscles and tissues soften, you will have more access to your skills. Soften more and access your perfect weapon: The whole of YOU!

Mahipal Lunia, Sensei