The Art of Releasing Tension – A complement to the mantra of deliberate practice

26 Aug

If I were to tell you to pay attention to the tension in your body, where would you start?The Art of Releasing Tension

It’s hard to detect tension when it’s been with you for a long time.You cease to notice it; it becomes part of you. And it literally becomes part of you, manifesting itself as knots in your muscles, in your neck, your shoulders, your hips, your back, your wrists, and even your feet.

If you were to notice this tension and try to let it go, you would likely find it hard to do.The tension has become the way you compensate with simply living in your body. Instead of a relaxed state of being, your body has likely picked up habits of carrying tension. And these habits die hard.

I first became aware of the power of tension when I was in college studying guitar. My guitar professor was not one to reveal “secrets” of playing guitar to me. He was a great teacher, yet his style was one of self-discovery, I think. I never really knew if my self-discoveries were by his design or not. But I came to appreciate that space and freedom to develop my own style and habits of practice.

So I will never forget the day he practically yelled at me to let the tension go while I was playing. I still wasn’t getting it so he gave me a visualization. He said:

Imagine all of that tension you are holding in your left hand falling directly to the ground when you release your hand from the fretboard. And you should be releasing all of that tension each and every time you relax your grip on the neck of the guitar.

OK. That was probably the most direct mandate he ever gave me. And it was one of the most powerful. This changed forever the way I thought about playing a musical instrument, or doing anything with my body, for that matter.

I realized that when we say experts make things look “effortless” we are really saying, “look at how they masterfully release tension and utilize effort while they perform their art.”

This effortless comes from knowing the perfect balance between tension and relaxation. Unneeded tension is wasted effort. And if we are wasting effort, we have not perfected are craft. We practice to perfect our movements, whether it be playing the guitar, playing basketball, running, painting, coding, designing, taking photographs,or any other art we take on.We practice to release unneeded tension.

Now this isn’t to say we can’t waste effort. Sometimes our wasted effort provides beauty. It is the Little Prince who said:

It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.

But we must waste effort, or time, knowingly. We need to bring an awareness to what we are doing. It is only when we have mastered the art of releasing tension that we can bring that tension back into our art to make it even more beautiful.

So don’t just deliberately practice. Deliberately practice the art of releasing tension. Bring a new awareness to your body so that you know when and where you bring tension to your art. Learn to master this tension so that you can use to bring even more beauty to the world.

One Response to “The Art of Releasing Tension – A complement to the mantra of deliberate practice”

  1. D. Roman January 31, 2014 at 1:54 AM #

    This reminds me of a term a friend of my told me about that led me to a similar realization, just more recently. Its called proprioceptive (from wikipedi “Proprioception (/ˌproʊpri.ɵˈsɛpʃən/ pro-pree-o-sep-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.”) I never even thought about it but I was always giving maximum tension to actions in which I thought I was giving appropriate effort, when in fact the tension was way beyond the effort needed. If my muscles in my shoulder were tense it meant I was trying hard…. but when the effort is to wash dishes, your shoulder muscles don’t need to be at maximum tension, and this is only wasted energy. Unneeded tension. Now I try to apply the appropriate pressure to things like typing or washing the dishes, where added effort/tension does not increase effectiveness. I don’t type faster just because I press the keys harder. My chords don’t sound better on the guitar just because I am pressing the strings as hard as I can…. in fact, detriment is usually partner of added tension.

    Thank you for sharing your guitar “lesson”, much appreciated!

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