Relax Those Shoulders!

One of the consistent mantras I use when I am teaching the adult class is “take a deep breath and relax your shoulders.” My favorite time to bring it up is just before our students are starting a form. As well, when I am practicing my forms it is usually the first thing I do after joon be. I ground myself, take a deep breath, and relax my shoulders. I still don’t do this automatically - I need to remind myself every time. Which is why, if I am standing in front of the class in our dojang, you will very likely hear me say it to you every single time.

So, why is Mrs. Ekmark reminding you about relaxing your darn shoulders all the time? Good question! What location in our bodies do we consistently carry tension? We clench our jaws, crunch our brows together...  tension has many homes in our  bodies. Our shoulders, though, are usually where adults carry the most tension in general. If we relax one thing (or a set of things) in our bodies, shoulders would definitely be an excellent and effective choice because of the amount of tension we tend to carry in them.

What does this relaxation do for your form, or even for your martial art in general? A person with a lot of unresolved tension is going to use up energy more quickly, and thus get more tired and have less endurance. The power we develop when tense is going to be hindered - when tense, we tend to muscle our techniques instead of allowing hip motion and flow to generate power. We lose fluidity of motion. Tension slows us down, and adds stressors to our bodies we don’t need. We make more foot noise, rise up and down instead of maintaining our belt levels - all sorts of things. Relaxing into the movement isn’t going to make all these things go away, but it will certainly help, and as well give us the added benefit of being able to work longer, develop more power, and move more effectively.

I’ve covered the relaxation part - what about the breath? A deep grounding breath from the danjun, when done with relaxation on the exhale, helps with the whole relaxation process. It also helps clear the mind and bring focus. When I’m teaching the little dragons, we often step into joon be while saying “I’m ready to go!” Basically, that is what is happening with the breath - my shoulders are relaxed, my mind is present, I’m ready to go.

Would relaxing your shoulders and taking a grounding breath work outside of the dojang? Good question! Of course it would! I use the grounding breath when I am riding - staying calm and relaxed helps my connection with my horse. As well, it works when I am in traffic, behind the coupon shopper in line, before, during, and after a stress event... basically all the time. The more we practice, the more it becomes a healthy habit. When you are practicing your forms (or step drills), remember to breathe and relax first. Let go of the tension, and let the movements happen. You and your instructors will see the difference and be happy you did!