I think very likely there exists a very common mis-conception about this word that we hear all the time, and one that I use often as well: relaxation. I will make my best attempt to bring your understanding of this subject up to a higher level.
No, it is not true that good players experience a “complete relaxation” when they play, at least not in the sense that many people think of when they use the word “relaxation”. People tend to think of a very passive state, as we might think of in going to sleep, or being hypnotized. Often, this elusive state of “relaxation” is described as such a thing, which is very misleading to those trying to grasp it. It makes them wary of any sensation of “effort” in their playing, and this wariness makes them reject certain approaches and inner sensations that are quite appropriate, and would, if pursued, lead to further development of ability.
First of all, understand this: relaxation is not a state, it is not a condition that you experience. Relaxation is an activity, relaxation is something you do. The failure to perform the action of relaxation does result in a state or condition which we might call “discomfort” or chronic tension. The state that result from performing the action of relaxation may be called “poise”, balance, or “comfort in action”.
Relaxation is something we are either good at, or not so good at. Relaxation, like so many abilities, such as thinking, is something some people never do, and also, again, like thinking, it is something many people believe they are doing when they are NOT doing it.
Look at the word: re-lax. The prefix “re” means to “do again”, as in repeat and repetition. What are we supposed to be “doing again”? “Laxing”, that’s what. Lax means “loose”. The word “relax” is pre-supposing we were loose to begin with, and then, we made some kind of effort, which, when it comes to motor activities, means a contraction of muscle tissue, and then we “re-loosed”, or relaxed, and returned that muscle to it’s original condition of “laxness”, or looseness.
Well, the fact is, many people are NOT loose to begin with. Many people are chronically tense, playing guitar or not. Many people are chronically tense in all the muscles of the playing mechanism during playing, and for these people, there is no possibility of “re-laxing”, since there is no looseness to return to.
Now, you ask “how can I develop this ability if it is not covered in your book”? Well, everything about my book is designed to develop this ability. Everything in my book is designed to DEVELOP this state of looseness, and then train you to return to it after making an effort. (And also to train you to make the smallest effort possible!)
Look at it this way: a person who is chronically tense is like a person who has no “awareness” of their actual condition. They have no communication with their own body. They have no “wiring” between their mind and their body. That is why so often people think they are relaxed when they are not, they think they are loose when they are not. They don’t know what loose is, they have never felt it. Someone with their muscles obviously in knots, perhaps their shoulder up to their earlobe, will happily and sincerely report “Hey, I’m relaxed”! In reality, they are not feeling anything, and they assume this state of numbness is “being relaxed”. They might as well be under general anesthesia!
The way this wiring is created is through the power of the mind, through attention to the body while practicing. Real attention, not “thinking about” the body, but BEING the body, “thinking AS the body”. The second principle of correct practice states “practicing is the infusion of conscious awareness into the body through the mechanism of attention”. Everything about my book shows you how to do this, IF you actually DO what I tell you.
It is important to understand that this “looseness” of the body, and this awareness of the body is a natural thing; every child has it. However, it can be degraded, and it can be lost. Just as it can be developed through attention to the body, it is lost through in-attention to the body, and this in-attention to the body is what most people learn as children, and begin to practice with great fervor. It happens because attention begins to go elsewhere then to our “beingness” in our bodies. It goes into our “beingness” in our minds. As the years go by, we identify not with our bodies, but with the mental and emotional operations going on between our ears, that we call “ourselves”. And a lot of these mental and emotional operations are pretty screwed up! A lot of them are full of tension, negativity and conflict, and the quality of all this energy manifests in the physical body, and that is why there are so many up-tight, constricted people walking around.
So, when someone picks up a guitar and asks their body to start learning and doing all these new things, all of this history comes into play. Of course, we are all going to find ourselves somewhere along the spectrum here, and we will each have our own particulars to deal with, but I have laid out in general what we all go through, and what we all must deal with.
Copyright Jamie Andreas, Guitar Principles.