There is no need to highlight the importance of 鬆 (sōng) for the practice of internal martial arts and qigong. To relax, to loose is probably the most common and first instruction that is given in any class. Just to motivate the need to understand well the term, Dong Yingjie (董英傑) describes its importance in the following way in his book Taiji Boxing Explained (太極拳釋義):

"The secrets of the old masters can be summed up in a mere eight words: light & sensitive, loose & supple, external soft, internally hard. Keep these eight words in mind while studying the classics and you will easily grasp everything."

Sōng (鬆) is usually translated as to relax. Indeed, if we look in the dictionary, many of the words it composes point to that sense: gentle, effortles or uncomplicated (輕鬆), flexible (鬆軟), to relaxe one's efforts (鬆氣), slack (鬆動). Sōng (鬆) also has a meaning of to loose (疏鬆), like when untie a knot (鬆綁), when relinquish our grip on something (鬆手), when we release or let go (鬆開) or even when a peasant loosen the soil (鬆土).

Too much of something is also not good, and Sōng (鬆) also points to a too relaxed attitude like slacking off (鬆懈), undisciplined (鬆垮) or not rigorous (鬆散).

This is how Zhèng Mànqīng (鄭曼青 defines Sōng (鬆) in his thirteenth treatise, Explanation of the Oral Secrets with Forward and Commentary (述口訣第十三附序及按語) :

鬆。要全身筋絡鬆開。不可有 絲毫紧張。所謂柔腰百折若無骨。若無骨。只有筋耳。筋能鬆開。其餘尚有不鬆之理乎。
"Relax means to soften the tendons and blood vessels of the whole body. You cannot permit even a little tension. This is known as "a soft waist that can fold a hundred times as if it had no bones". If you had no bones and only ligaments, the ligaments could then relax and open up."


Sōng (鬆) is a consequence of the initial pair of instructions - stretching, extending, opening up on one hand, sinking and becoming heavy on the other.

Wú Gōngzǎo (吴公藻) relays its relationship with stretching very clearly in Taiji Boxing Explained (太極拳講義):

"Comfortable: having a sense of being stretched out.
  It is said: “First strive to open up, then strive to close up.” When beginning to learn the solo set, the postures and movements should all be opened up, causing every joint in the body to get stretched one after another. However, this is not a matter of deliberately using any effort to extend the sinews and bones, just naturally and gradually loosening. Then after a long time, you will easily feel very relaxed and settled."

And Zhèng Mànqīng (鄭曼青) equates Relaxing (鬆) and Heaviness, Sinking (沉) in his thirteenth treatise, Explanation of the Oral Secrets with Forward and Commentary (述口訣第十三附序及按語) equates Relaxing (鬆) and Heaviness, Sinking (沉):

"If someone can relax completely, then this is heavy. If the ligaments and blood vessels relax, then the whole body (of which they are a part) sinks down. Basically, heaviness and relaxing are the same thing. Heavy means not floating."

Relaxation comes from the natural process of aligning the body and letting gravity to the work. This is clearly spelled out by Will Johnson in the "The Posture of Meditation":
"Relaxation is a function of the body’s ability to surrender its weight to the pull of gravity. "

Song (鬆) in the Body

The whole body is concerned by Song (鬆), and still the Masters called out specific points of the body where attention has to be paid in the practice. There is an specific indication of this point in the Liuhebafa literature, for example in the book by Chén Yìrén (陳亦人) A Study of Liuhebafa Boxing (六合八法拳學):

"Loosening and tensing should be deliberate actions rather than unconscious reactions."

The shoulder is the first and most frequently part of the body that is mentioned. It is everywhere, for example in the Essentials of Wu Yuxiang Style Taiji Boxing (武式太極拳要點) transmited by Hǎo Yuèrú (郝月如), where the point of intentionality is also mentioned:

"Use intention to get your shoulders to loosen, sinking energy downward. Within the intention add a thought of tranquility. This is what is meant by loosening your shoulders."

In Jiāng Róngqiáo's (姜容樵) Bagua Palms Practice Method (八卦掌練習法), relaxing the shoulder is linked to sinking both the shoulders and the elbows:

"Relax the Shoulders; Sink the Elbows: “Relax the Shoulders” is to make both shoulders tilt downwards and kept down; during practice one should not let them escape up. “Sink the Elbows” is to maintain the elbow explicitly down as weighing down; during practice it must always bend in a half-moon shape. "

Other parts of the body, like the upper arms are also mentioned - in this example, in the tenth of the 36 Songs of Baguazhang: (八卦掌三十六歌)

"Loosen the uppen arms, extend the waist towards the heels, a step to jump."

Another part of the body that is specially emphasized for loosening is the waist, Yáng Chéngfǔ (杨澄甫), a point that was specific made in point three of his ten essentials of Taichi Boxing (太極拳十要) as reported by Chén Wēi​míng (陳微明) in his Art of Taichi Boxing (太極拳術):

The waist is the controller of the whole body. If you can loosen your waist, then your feet will have strength, and your stance will be stable. The transformations between empty and full all come from the turning of your waist. Thus it is said [in the Thirteen Dynamics Song] that the “command comes from your lower back”, and if you do not have the advantage, the problem “must be in the waist and legs, so look for it there”.

Song (鬆) as the Prerequisit for Issuing Power (發勁)

A direct relationship is given between the relaxation of the body and the ability to project power. In his Lessons from Experience (經驗談), Dǒng Yīngjié (董英傑) makes the direct link:

"To express at your fingers, loosen your whole body, then hard power will manifest at the fingers like a steel chain with an iron hammer on the end, whipping out forward unstoppably."

In the text Understanding How to Practice the Thirteen Dynamics (十三勢行工心解) attributed to Wu Yuxiang (武禹襄) and reported by Jūhào (居浩) in his book Sun Style Taiji Boxing (孫氏太極拳)

"When issuing power, you must sink and relax, concentrating it in one direction. Your posture must be upright and comfortable, bracing in all directions."

Or in a more detailed explanation by Dǒng Yīngjié (董英傑) on Wang Zong Yue's Treatise on How to Practice (王宗岳行功論)

It is also said:If he takes no action, I take no action, but once he takes even the slightest action, I have already acted. My power seems to be relaxed but not relaxed, about to extend but not fully extending. Although the power finishes, the intent of it continues.

王宗岳行功論詳解: 發勁須沉著鬆淨。專主一方。
Explanations to the text: When issuing power, you must sink and relax, concentrating it in one direction.
When facing an opponent, first get him under your control, looking for the direction that his balance will be most easily compromised, then issue power. Whatever technique you are using, your shoulders and elbows have to be sinking down and your mind has to be calm and clear. Without letting your power scatter, focus it in a single direction, and then it will not be difficult to send him stumbling away more than ten feet.

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