I started the forms this morning with a stiff shoulder. It’s still a bit tight, but it’s a lot better than it was.
One of the things I’ve learned about tai chi is the importance of holding each pose for a bit. Each muscle consists of two kinds of tissue; we learned this in science, in biology class, right, back in high school? There’s tissue that is quick response, and tissue which is long-response. You need both to have a strong and well-balanced muscle. But the last few days I’ve been favoring the reaction, the withdrawal of the left arm, rather than the extension and the hold. The result is that my left shoulder is tight, because the quick-response tissue in the muscles is overworked. And the solution this morning was to extend the left arm several times and hold it there, so that the countervailing forces in the long, slow-response tissues in the opposite muscle group stretched out the tension.
All of that is a fancy way of saying, slow down. The slowness in tai chi is annoying. I totally get that. But it turns out that all of the system’s subtleties are rooted in those bundles of slow- and fast-reaction muscle tissues, and the goal is to work them equally and in a balanced way. When we rush, we risk overdeveloping one group or another, and developing soreness and tension. When we slow down, the body works more groups of muscles and tissues within muscles more thoroughly — and when we go too fast, soreness and stiffness appears in the places that have been improperly worked. It’s nice to have a self-correcting system like this.