A lot of my clients have achieved a measure of physical precision in the execution of movement yet lack the ability to let go of the tension they can so readily exert. The recruitment of muscle fibers, the tensing of muscle, requires a certain amount of focus and will. I've recently, in the last couple years, noticed a popularizing of the phrase "strength is a skill." I think that there are good reasons for adopting this motto. I think it's true that when one sees someone who has achieved a certain level of physical ability, it is the pinnacle of a huge amount of both physical and mental training. That individual hasn't just achieved something but is achieving something and has changed their brain to do it. Not only does one simply learn skills, such as how to execute certain movements to produce force, to activate certain muscles and thus enlarge them through exertion, but one learns how to learn those skills. That is, one learns how one goes about actually activating those muscles. And not as simple as one would when merely following a recipe, one must learn how to follow that recipe, how to activate one's muscle, the right muscle, and to do so sometimes as part of a complicated sequence. Relaxing doesn't come easy to most of us. I don't know if it comes easy to any of us.I think relaxing can be an even greater challenge for those who practice tensing and never practice letting go of that tension. Sometimes, I'll ask a client to relax a certain body part as we're working, such as the shoulder or neck ,and I think there's a definite risk of alienating my client in doing so. I think it's honestly fair for them to say "well... isn't that what I'm here for? For you to relax my shoulder, neck, etc,." And it is, I mean that is what I am there to do but I think it's a misunderstanding that either I am there to do it alone or I am asking them to relax as if I think it is as easy as that—simply relaxing. I'm there to facilitate the letting go of the muscle, to facilitate it relaxing, but the success of that work and the efficiency and effectiveness of that work is greatly increased when my client and I are working together.
Never do I expect a client to simply relax. As much as I can, I try to encourage my client's to breath, to notice the tension in whatever body part is tense, and to focus their attention on it. In doing so, I hope to help them recognize the tension I am noticing and then, through breathing and their mental connection to that body part, help them let it go (in tandem with the work I am doing).
That process can be difficult and take time. But we've got lots of time. Or at least my clients have lots of time. On the table, we're learning skills and acquiring experiences that allow a greater depth of understanding for most people toward their body and the discomfort they may feel. Feeling the difference between holding one's breath while experiencing tenderness and breathing into a tender point with calm, soft and full breaths is, I think for many people, eye opening. Feeling tension dissipate faster when one concentrates on it and on relaxing their hands and face and shoulders, etc, is empowering. I hope for those experiences to be evoked when my clients feel tension or discomfort at times when we are not working together. Perhaps when they are doing self-care or stretching. I hope they remember to breath and try to let go. In that way, I hope that the work we do instills skills that they can then practice later —both during future sessions but also on their own time as they practice self-care skills.