What Does Song Mean in Tai Chi?

Improving your Tai Chi is like climbing a mountain.  The four “directions” to help you reach the summit are jing, song, chen, and huo. In this article “song” will be our focus for reaching the summit. 

Song is frequently defined as relaxation.  However, in Chinese, it means “loosening and stretching out” the joints from within. To get to song: visualize and loosen the upper limbs, elbows, wrists, fingers by gently stretching them open. Stretch your spine by lengthening vertically. Hips and knee joints gently stretch outwards.  Opening in this fashion removes tension and results in controlled relaxation, improved flexibility, and flow of qi.

Song is not the “limp, collapsed, let-go feeling you get from flopping on to the couch after a long day.” In Tai Chi, even when you have achieved song, you continue to be “energized and alert.” Louis Swaim, in his translator’s introduction to “Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan”, warns that we should not confuse song with total relaxation.  Song is “the partial contraction of the musculature, which allows one to maintain equilibrium and upright posture.” Imagine being “suspended” from the crown of the head.

“Feng Song” or loosening of the body by relaxing the joints is one of the most important skills of a beginning Tai Chi student. Mr. Jun uses both “Feng” and “Fang”.  He feels it is the “first, most basic skill in taijiquan(sic).” The five skills (more discussion on the others in future articles) are the foundation to learning and training. These skills are learned slowly. Regular practice leads to more progress. Mr. Jun states that the body should be like a “solid piece of rubber, strong but not stiff.”

According to Mr. Jun, feng/fang translates to remaining under control, while song translates to “put something down, away from you.” Song is about moving all the joints without stiffness. He states that most adults and children are more stiff than they realize. Stiffness is hard to recognize but the effects are easy to see. A loose joint is “free to rotate or turn without hindrance or resistance.” Unless a joint can rotate freely, skill in taijiquan(sic) will suffer. Mr. Jun states that “Many people get the basic idea in their mind but do not practice enough to realise(sic) it in their body.”

When an instructor looks at a student and says “relax” and the student thinks “I am.” Taoist thinking means releasing “tension on a mental, emotional, and physical level.” Tension zaps our clarity of thought, feeling of calm, and energy. When our bodies truly are in a state of “song”, we don’t feel sleepy but “truly right”. Once we understand and learn how to achieve song, we not only do it through the practice of Tai Chi, but we can conjure it up throughout the day.  

Our first step is concentrating on our breathing and letting our lungs and abdomen fill with air. Being aware of our breath moving in and out will begin the process. We separate the upper and lower body and loosen the lower back while elongating the spine. Scott recommends sinking “one inch lower as you pull up the top of your head.”

Have we worked on song in our classes? If not, let’s do it. Try to be conscious of song before and during our session. And you may not realize it, but we are working on it at the end of our classes during our cool down, when we tense and then relax.  If done consciously, we have achieved song!