What is the connection between Bridgerton and my tai chi practice?

Like many millions of people over the last couple of months I’ve been enjoying a bit of escapism and romance, getting away from the dreary winter lockdown and into the colourful world of the netflix series Bridgerton.

If you’ve seen it, you will remember that the women wear an ever changing array of colourful dresses, waists pinched in with corsets. There is one scene of a mother exhorting a servant to lace her debutant daughter’s corset ever tighter, trussing her up ready for the marriage market. No wonder they are prone to fainting in front of handsome princes, it’s not so much about the attractiveness of the man as the fact that they can barely breathe!

Anyway, you might be wondering, what on earth does this have to do with tai chi?

A huge part of tai chi practice is about learning to relax, to let go of bodily tension. To focus awareness on the body, become aware of any tension, let it go.

Recently I’ve been focussing on my breathing as I do the tai chi form. I have realized that, although my belly is relaxed, rising on the in breath and falling on the out breath, I have a tendancy to hold my ribs and the area around my breastbone so they don’t move as much when I breathe.

If I focus for long enough on that area I feel tension, and if I let that tension go my ribs actually expand outward, creating more space inside my chest.

When I am locked in worry or anxiety or too much thinking, it’s like there are tight bands around my ribs, chest locked in place as surely as if I was wearing a corset. When this tight corset is removed with awareness and attention, there is a feeling of release, of worries and thoughts receeding, of returning to a comfortable body.

And it got me wondering. We don’t wear actual whalebone corsets any more (thankfully, both for us and for the whales!), but how many of us live within corsets of our own making? Luckily, with a bit of awareness, we can assign those corsets to the history books too.

Tension and relaxation

Tension is who you think you should be,

Relaxation is who you are.

So they say, and I would agree

And I have practiced being relaxed, and gone deep in that practice.

And yet….

And yet….

Despite knowing, in my body, in my mind

How good relaxation feels,

In my daily life tension still wins.

At work, behind a computer,

Trying to get things done, getting irritated by the little things,

Or worrying, or wondering why it’s just not all done better, or quicker.

My muscles tighten as my mind tightens.

This is the real me in so many moments of my life,

The me with tension.

And to relax requires an effort of will, a decision, a choice.

It’s a choice I fail to make, over and over again.

I’ve just come back from tai chi class

And I feel great

The feeling will carry over into tomorrow

Then it will gradually dissolve back into tension and forgetfulness

Using too much effort, and trying too hard.

One of these days I’ll make a different choice. 

Until then, tension is who I am, relaxation is who I am not allowing myself to be.

Sometimes I wonder, as I practice tai chi, 

Just why I keep going,

What I’m achieving

It is me, coming back to the choice between tension and relaxation.

Learning to choose relaxation in each moment,

So that one day I will truly be able to say

That relaxation is who I am.