Do Not Feed The Devil
Everyone has heard the saying “mind over matter”, but few people actually take the time to think about what it really means. Far from being an annoying mantra that means you should never feel down about anything, it’s intended as a guiding principle that will help you overcome negativity in a healthy and useful way.
To illustrate this point, let’s change gears for a moment and talk about an old folk tale. In it, a bedridden prince is stuck in bed with a mysterious illness, and nothing seems to help. One day, he and his attendants see, lurking in the corner of the room, a demon that seems to be at the root of all the trouble. Frightened and angry, they scream and they curse, but it does no good – the demon grows, every day, until it takes up most of the room. Soon it will be too late for the prince, unless they can think of a solution.
So out of curiosity – and because they could think of nothing else – the prince and the attendants try being kind to the demon. They reach out to it, they offer food and drink, and they refuse to let its increasing anger faze them. As the demon shrinks down again, it becomes more violent and unpredictable, but the people continue…and before long, the demon is gone, and they have all learned a valuable lesson.
So what does this mean for our students?
When we encounter difficult situations – especially ones over which we feel we have little or no control – our main gut reaction is to get upset. We might lash out, turn negative, or push away the people who care about us. This begins a cycle of anger that reinforces itself and continues the behaviour, which seems increasingly unfair, so we get even more angry….and before long, we have turned a setback (which are always going to happen) into something insurmountable. What this story tells us is that instead, we should step back and consider all the other sides of the problem: who else is affected by our actions? Realistically, will being angry change anything? Is it worth losing patience over this? Often we will find that we can calm ourselves and remain steady if we choose not to give in to those base reactions.
It is nicely summed up in the legendary story of the “Two Wolves”, which are in constant battle inside every person: one made of darkness and despair, and the other light and hope. The winner depends on which one you choose to feed!
Meditative martial arts like kung fu can help you reach a point of tranquility, where your emotions are better balanced and you carefully consider the impacts of your actions. The mind and the body are tied together, and when they improve in tandem, you will find that you are capable of great changes in your life that you may have never thought possible. It’s just one more benefit to studying martial arts!
Am I Meditating Properly?
If you’re only going by what you’ve seen in the movies, you may think of meditation as something that only monks or masters do – an exercise in discipline where you must sit perfectly upright for hours, clear your mind of every last thought, and always have a grand revelation or uncover some deep divine wisdom. In reality, meditation is nothing nearly so fancy. It is simply a way to re-centre yourself, be more aligned with your body and surroundings, and to be more mindful of what your senses are telling you. In other words – don’t feel pressured to have an epiphany, because there are no expectations!
Here are some of the questions we get asked most often about the best way to meditate. If you’re curious about this ancient (and provably beneficial) practice, read on for more information.
Can I lie down?
If that’s what works for you, sure! Some people believe it enhances your chi energy if you sit upright with a straight back, which is where the traditional “meditating monk” image comes from. But if that’s uncomfortable or not working for you, feel free to lie down and stretch out.
How long do I have to do it?
The length of a session depends on what you want to achieve. To overcome depression or sadness, 5-10 minutes a day is a good place to start, and it’s short enough to easily set aside the time, even in a busy schedule. For anxiety, go a little longer to get in the practice of letting go of worries – 15 minutes or so per day. If you have a focus on healing injuries, 30-60 minutes is best. For all of these, if you miss a day you can make it up the next day, which is nice to know!
A good recommendation is that you should meditate one minute for every year of your age.
Is it okay to think my thoughts?
Absolutely! It’s very difficult to stop conscious thoughts altogether, so embrace them and allow them to continue. Our only guideline is to make sure that the thoughts don’t take over, or bring you to a negative place – if you’re having an internal argument, or only thinking about all the other things you have to be doing, those are not constructive and you should refocus.
What’s the best way to control breathing?
When you are new to the process, you should control your breathing to be as slow and steady as possible, for as long as you can. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth, all while compressing your abdomen from the top downward. Over time, and with more experience, this will get easier, and the breathing itself will become a tool you can use to reach a meditative mind state. An ultimate goal is to eventually be able to reach that mind state first, with the breathing following automatically.
Are guided meditations as good as individual ones?
Guided meditations are excellent for beginners, and can still be useful for intermediate and advanced practitioners. Once you are more familiar with the practice and your own capabilities, you will develop better control and will eventually reach a state where you can meditate without outside assistance – but everyone is different, so don’t feel rushed.
Is it wasteful to meditate before bed?
No! It is actually extremely beneficial. It completely clears your mind and gives you more peaceful, restful sleep. In addition, if you put a healing intention behind it, your body can heal better during sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
Alternately, if you wake up before your alarm, use those extra few minutes to meditate – for about twenty minutes before we sleep and after we wake, our brains are in transition to a different state and are a lot more open to suggestions.
How do I know if I’m meditating correctly?
Actually committing to the act of meditation is half the battle, so just by sitting to do it, you’re already on your way! Despite what martial arts movies might say, there is no such thing as doing it “correctly”. There are 100+ methods of meditation if you look into it – you can do it while driving, standing, walking, reading, anything. Why?
Because meditation is simply focusing. It is being completely focused on what you’re doing, even if that is nothing in particular. You will know if you are doing it incorrectly, because your mind will be jumping back and forth between ideas and you’ll have a hard time concentrating. If you are getting angry or emotionally attached to your thoughts, then you’re further from a state of meditation.
What’s the best advice you have for improving my meditation?
Be consistent with it daily, be immersed, and keep your mind open. Don’t let yourself get attached to thoughts or everyday stress when you’re trying to relax your mind, but in turn, don’t beat yourself up if every session isn’t a 100% success.
Meditating is a release, not a chore. Let yourself go, see where it takes you, and enjoy the benefits that follow!
The Importance Of The Mind
Our past two blogs have been about the importance of the mind-body link, and we’re going to finish off that series today with this final entry. You may want to read the first and second parts at these links before jumping in to this one, but feel free to start here if you really want to!
When it comes to getting your mind and your body trained to perfection, it’s all about discipline and consistency. Intermittent fasting is something people build up in this way; some people do this with TV and purposely cut themselves off after an hour or two so that they can focus on their bigger goals. You can even start with just 15 minutes of reading, training, practice, or meditation a day, because it’s not about going from 0 to 100% all at once. It’s about the habit and the constant improvement. Build up in small steps, and you’ll be flexing your mind power and your willpower. A goal that starts with “No more junk food or TV ever again, with 4 hours of exercise a day!” is bound to fail because the ego has taken over. And one that doesn’t even bother trying has no ego at all. The key is finding the sweet spot in the middle.
One of the things that can break people in the early stages of training is stress, and therefore it’s important for you to have a plan to deal with it. Physiological stresses in the body can be relieved by simple stretches, a walk around the block, or even a good belly laugh at a good sitcom joke. Bad stresses that dig in and cause negative effects – worry about debts, emotional turmoil, etc. – can really have the opposite effect, though. Use your mind, keep your head up, and know that you’ll get through. It’s up to you if your mind is strong enough, if you’re up to the challenge – but remember that there’s always stress in this world, and the better you can deal with it, the better off you’ll be overall.
Another thing to keep in mind is the importance of quiet time for health and reflection. It’s not always about your mind and your external body; you can go inside your own head too. Take time to be okay when you’re alone and quiet, to be comfortable with yourself, and to strengthen your mental abilities through meditation and focus. You’ll see benefits almost immediately! One great side effect of this is that it can help avoid reliving past negative emotions or trauma, and allow you to overcome things that you may have thought would always effect you, possibly giving you a freedom you thought you’d never have. Yet one more bonus to building up the strength of your mind.
Once you’re comfortable doing this, you can even use your mind to control your energy level. Just like when devoted parents work two jobs for their kids and somehow still find time to cook dinner and help with homework, you too can draw on your inner abilities once you’ve allowed them to flourish. It isn’t always easy, and it definitely takes dedication, but it’s possible because the mind creates your energy and perseveres when you consciously tell it to. Build up this strength and watch your life get better in uncountable ways.
Continuing with that point – you can elevate this habit to a whole new level when you use your mind to control the chi (your own inner energy force that radiates outward from you) inside the body. With meditation, and a lot of practice, you can control your lungs, heart rate, or even temperature. There is an energy inside the body that is only used naturally, but by concentrating, it can be moved around the body (just remember – we’re saying outright this requires consistent training!). Chi is very real and can be used for what you want; we use this largely in kung fu at our studio for healing. Doctors have proven that electrical energy can increase healing, and since our cells function on electric signals from our brain, it stands to reason that we can channel it into very positive effects.
Let your imagination go: use your mind power to control and overcome addiction and negative behaviours, by being honest and up front about your actions. Build up your mental endurance to hard situations or seemingly hopeless ones. Become a better person to be around by considering yourself from other people’s points of view. All of this, and so much more, is done by training your mind to do its best.
If we can leave you with one thought, it’s this: nothing worth doing is easy or quick. People respect masters because they have put in the time and effort over years and decades to become masters at what they do, and they have earned it. The journey of learning and improvement is far more important than any goal, as our natural human state is to want to constantly grow in our abilities.
So in one, or five, or ten or twenty years, when you look back at all the things you could have done, what will be on your list? Will you be consistently moving forward? Or will you always be looking back
The Importance Of The Mind
In our last blog we talked about how your mind and your ego can affect your body, your strength, and your capabilities. We’re going to continue on that idea, and today we’ll discuss some ways that we can optimize our thought patterns, reduce our negative egos, and build up good habits to ensure responsive and effective physical reactions.
Let’s start with how we train our minds – our conscious choices to align our thoughts to certain ways of thinking, and to focus on where we want to be with our mindsets. Just like any other skill, it takes practice and commitment and dedication, but eventually it leads to high mental endurance, which is something that greatly benefits us throughout our lives (just like control of our muscles, our breathing, our emotions, etc). The more you do it, the better at it you’ll become. And what’s one of the best ways to practice these methods? Martial arts! Kung fu helps focus your attention and avoid distractions, cultivating a higher threshold of mental ability. This means better control over every situation and a refreshingly calm approach to any of the many encounters – both positive and negative – that you may have on any day. This kind of control is why it’s often said that the greatest martial artists learn the discipline so that they don’t have to use it. The focus on mental strength is so high that physical violence is a last resort.
So what are some ways to “pre-program” your mind for dealing with stressful situations? And how does that lead to physical results?
Think of it this way: no matter what people who are always trying to be constantly positive say, adversity is unavoidable in life. There are instances when you’ll have to deal with not being the winner, and not getting everything that you want. But rather than disheartening you, that should simply allow you to tell yourself that it’s okay! This is how we grow. Nobody is perfect 100% of the time. And furthermore, not doing 100% of something all at once doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It means that you’re learning – that you’re training. Allowing this, and embracing it, is where the true strength of your mind lies.
Use this strength to develop a proper mindset in training. Off the bat, know that you can do anything you’re determined to – if, and only if, you’re willing to work to get a little closer to it every day. It’s not all-or-nothing; and just because you didn’t become a kung fu master overnight doesn’t mean you should spend the next week on the couch watching TV. Every big success is rooted in many more small ones, and those are the victories that you should aim for and celebrate. Each one sharpens your skills and gives you a little more control over your mind and body.
Start with small things. Whether it’s doing ten push-ups a day, or not checking Facebook while you’re at work, or committing to eating less fast food, everything big is manageable by breaking it down into smaller pieces. The details don’t matter as much as the fact that you make a goal and stick to it. When you reach those goals, the next ones – the slightly bigger ones every time – don’t seem so bad, and before you know it you’ve done something you never thought you could.
In a few weeks, join us again when we dive deeper into how to train our minds, and what the results and benefits can be. Remember, kung fu is as much about how you think as it is about how you move. Understanding this is lesson #1!
The Importance Of The Mind
A lot of people focus on how they look and what their bodies can do, but less actually consider how they think and how it affects everything else. The old saying “mind over matter” can come across as a tired platitude about the power of positive thinking, but it turns out that there’s actually a fair amount of truth to it.
The first thing that a truly successful person understands about the mind is the role that the ego plays in it. This is, essentially, your perception of yourself and how you use that perception to interact with the environment – including how you see your own skills and abilities. Obviously, this is rather important for training in martial arts classes! Your ego, for example, plays a huge part in how you defend yourself: if your hands are down because you’re overconfident that you can react in time, you could be a multi-degree black belt and still get hit in the face by someone new.
But there’s a flip side to the ego, if used in proper moderation and that is self-confidence. If you’ve got your hands up in defense, and you’re sure you have trained enough and that your muscle memory is in place, you could be a yellow belt and walk away without a scratch.
There’s a fine balancing act with ego – you don’t want to get too cocky, but you don’t want to be negative and overcritical of yourself, either. You have to find a middle ground, and be confident that you are getting better as you practice, all the time. This doesn’t just apply to martial arts, either – it’s good advice for everything you want in life! Learning to control your ego, even when you get really good at something you’ve practiced at, is a skill that will allow you to unlock the true mastery of what your mind can do with it.
Your mind, at a macro level, controls your body – what time you get up or go to bed, what you eat, what you do from one moment to the next. All of those are decisions made, at some level of consciousness. Further down, on a more personal level, it controls the fine movements that you do in any sport, martial art, action, etc. and so a fine-tuned mind/body connection is crucial to success. The most successful people are those who make both sides of this coin work for the benefit of the whole! The strongest man on earth likely can’t hold his arms straight out for more than a minute or two, but there are martial arts masters who do it for longer as a warm up, without hesitation.
That’s the power of the mind, and of proper ego training. It’s the power inside all of us to achieve better, if we believe that we always can. If we consciously choose to train our mind – just as we would choose to train our muscles, our lungs, our cravings, our sleep patterns, and so on – we gain greater control in the end. We bridge the subconscious interface of the body with the conscious methodology of the mind.
But how are some ways that we can change our thinking, reduce our negative egos, and alter our habits for the better? In the next blog, we’ll talk about all of that – so be sure to check back in a few weeks for that one!
Kung Fu For Life
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