The Art Of Kung Fu Meditation
When you hear about martial arts, the first thing you think of is probably a blazing fast flurry of fists and kicks, or maybe a pair of nunchakus flying through the air. But one of the largest aspects of the entire culture of martial arts has much more to do with the mind than with the body that holds it – and it’s arguably one of the most important skills to master. We are, of course, talking about meditation.
What Is Meditation?
At its core, meditation is the art of shutting out distractions and focusing intensely on what your body is telling you: breathing, heartbeat, temperature, sensations, and all the minute details that are all too often overlooked. While it is normally associated with “clearing your mind” and thinking of nothing in particular, the actual emphasis of meditation is quite the opposite. You want to reflect on yourself, and connect the deep, innate parts of your consciousness with the chaotic and complex side that interacts with the everyday world. By bridging the two together, and strengthening the bond over time, you gain a better understanding of who you are, your place in the world, and how you can live the best life for you.
The original creator of the Shaolin martial arts is said to have spent seven whole years meditating in a cave by the first Shaolin temples, and for much of it simply sat in place – eventually developing the stretching and movement exercises that allowed him to recover afterwards. These exercises are still used today to maintain continuity between the mental meditative state, and the physical motion afterward, because martial arts are all about bridging the gap between not only conscious and subconscious, but mental and physical. As you develop the connections between both sides, they will become more synchronized – and it follows that your “intuitions” will get better, your “instincts” will improve, and your awareness of yourself and the world around you will sharpen. This is because your subconscious mind will be able to express itself more easily to your conscious mind, and vice versa. Experienced meditators can even use their conscious mind to tell their subconscious self how to deal with bodily problems or injuries, and see results by bringing the two into alignment over time. It all comes down to communicating within yourself and trusting that you can overcome problems together!
Benefits to Meditation
Research shows that even small amounts of meditation have beneficial effects for practitioners. Even five minutes a day can bring noticeable improvements! Regular meditators see benefits to their blood pressure, stress levels, focus and attention, productivity, sleeping patterns, emotional health, social interactions, immune systems, and so much more – but don’t just take our word for it; here’s an article from Psychology Today that links off to study after study discussing this very topic. Experienced meditators, who have dedicated thousands of hours to this activity, have even been shown to use every region of their brain at the same time when they are in a full meditative state – a phenomenon that cannot occur without practice and discipline.
Reducing Stress with Meditation
Considering how much is going on in the world, if you’re feeling a bit anxious – know that you’re definitely not alone! It’s a very stressful time, and it’s okay to feel uneasy about it. Meditation is actually very helpful in calming frayed nerves and reducing stress and anxiety, and functions as a great first step towards keeping yourself centred and making things a little more manageable.
Meditation: Where to Start
The first thing to understand when getting into meditation is that it doesn’t require perfect stillness, complete silence, or hours and hours of time – forget the Hollywood version that you’ve seen in movies. It’s not about reaching some grand realization or having a life-changing revelation. It’s simply a way to re-centre yourself, stay aligned with your situation and your goals, and be mindful of what your body is telling you. There are no expectations, so don’t feel pressured.
A good time to meditate is right before bed, so it can clear your mind and prep you for a nice, restful sleep. Alternately, some people find it useful to get up early and spend a bit of time each morning preparing for their day.
If you feel like you don’t have the time, or that you aren’t sure what to do, there are some excellent apps like HeadSpace to get you started. Remember, even a few minutes a day is better than none at all, and the science backs that up. As the saying goes, “If you can’t fit five minutes of meditation into your day, you should do 20!”
Our most crucial piece of advice for new meditators? Be consistent with it, every day, and keep your mind open. Use it to relax your mind. After all, meditation is a release, not a chore. Let yourself be immersed and enjoy the benefits that come your way.
Meditating for Beginners
There’s no single “right” way to meditate, as there are dozens and dozens of techniques you can use. The intention and the commitment are half of the process, so by just choosing to sit and do it every day, you’re already well on your way to the positive impact. It’s more about focusing and mindfulness than it is about perfection.
You don’t have to sit still, if that’s difficult. You don’t even have to sit at all – the “upright monk” posture can get distractingly uncomfortable. Find a position that you don’t have to think about holding too hard.
And if you can’t clear your thoughts, don’t panic. Just let them come! Meditation allows you to embrace and work around your conscious thoughts, which are very difficult to stop entirely, so as long as you’re not having an internal argument or thinking about everything else you need to be doing, you’re just fine.
Here are some of the most frequently asked meditation questions we get:
Can I lie down?
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. Try to be consistent, but if you miss a day you can make it up the next day.
A good recommendation is 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 – try not to internally argue or worry.
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. 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 useful for all 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.
Can I meditate before bed?
Yes! It’s a very beneficial practice. It 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.
You can also wake up a few minutes early 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.
Am I meditating correctly?
Consistency itself is half the battle, so just by doing it regularly, you’re already doing well. 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.
Why Meditation is Important
Learning how to meditate is one of the most important life skills we teach at Kung Fu for Life. Meditation is the focus of one’s own mind in order control oneself, build confidence, renew motivation, and increase mental strength. After all, how does a monk stand in the cold for hours, or sit in a horse stance far longer than should be possible? It all comes down to mental strength – a mental strength gained through hours of meditation and disciplined, regular practice.
When you meditate with us here during class at Kung Fu for Life, you engage not only with your mind, but also the rest of you – body, breathing, and chi. An active relationship with chi, (instead of the inactive, passive approach that we usually have) is the key to true self-discovery, and when you do our meditation, your brain is 100% engaged with the motions of timing and breathing, repeating full and satisfying breaths, over and over again.
When you think about it, great achievements of the body are really just great achievements of the mind, and dedicated minds achieve what others think is impossible!