By Dr. Ronald W. Stone
American Dragon Martial Arts Academies
Clermont, Ocoee and Orlando,Florida
Meditation benefits those in the martial arts because it develops both mind, body and spirit. It has a number of health and psychological benefits. Because it reduces stress and lowers heart rate (which is beneficial to the body) meditation prior to training can make the experience more enjoyable.
The most common form of mediation in Hapkido occurs from a particular sitting position. It is inevitable that there will be both physical and physiological benefits, as well as the more recognized mental effects.
The concept of mediation implies obtaining personal control of one’s mental state and entering a higher plane of relaxation. The object is to create a greater awareness of the subconscious mind. To do so requires mentally overcoming and ignoring the body’s aches and pains, and developing a greater control of breathing and circulation.
Physical effects can be noted starting with during initial phase of pre training meditation. Meditations begins with the correct positioning of the body into a sitting position with the legs crossed and the hands resting on the knees. The practitioner should not slouch. In this manner Ki energy centers are aligned, or in more western terms, posture is improved with correct positioning of the spine. Sitting in this manner will strengthen back, neck and abdominal muscles, and help stretch leg muscles. At the same time this position helps flex the knees and hips. Initially this is a slightly painful or stressful position especially for the untrained, the elderly or the infirm (i.e. Arthritis). Eventually the Hapkido practitioner will improve back, leg, and lower joint strength, posture and flexibility.
From a more physiological standpoint meditation will lower blood pressure. According to masters of meditation there are two elements making up meditation: the “jing,” which means calmness and stillness, and the “ding,” which stands for concentration and focus. Calmness is directed towards cutting off external factors of disturbance and enabling one to direct attention towards the inner self. By allowing the mind to concentrate, a state called “one-pointed awareness” is achieved. This state allows a deep concentration, allowing the practitioner a better understanding of any elements that are focused on. There should be no, or very limited, distractions during this heightened awareness state. This technique may be used efficiently to find solutions to problems presented by the outside world. It also prepares one to deal with such difficulties.
There are different thought processes (mental tricks if you will) that can help the practitioner achieve these higher levels of relaxation. One common method is to picture in one’s mind an image of a flowing river with large waves. Concentrating on slowing the river and calming the waves is an effective technique. Another image that is often used is that of a flickering candle. During deep meditation the idea is to slow and eventually stop the movement of the candle light. During such meditation the practitioner must learn to ignore sound, light and smells that might otherwise create distractions. Focusing solely at first on breathing patterns and heartbeat will help in achieving this goal.
In more medical terms, as the mind and body relax and jing is reached the heart rate will slow down and blood pressure will drop. Body tissues metabolism slows thus requiring less energy and oxygen. This allows more oxygen and energy to be diverted to the brain and its thought processes. Endorphins are also released further enhancing this state of calm. As the Hapkido student repeatedly practices mediation the body will become more accustomed to the correct position and less effort will be expended by the mind to overcome physical discomfort, again allowing for more energy to be diverted to the brain.
An important aspect of meditation is the control of breathing. As one learns meditative breathing there will be various results. Correct breathing should include a slower and deeper rhythmic pattern with inhalation occurring through the nose and exhalation through the mouth with a slow yet vocal expulsion of air. The inhalation increases Ki energy, helps slow heart rate and creates the sense of ding,” which stands for concentration and focus. Calmness is directed towards cutting off external factors of disturbance and this enables the practitioner to direct more attention towards the inner self. This pattern of meditative breathing brings Ki energy in and the vocal expulsion eliminates negative energy. In western medical terms such breathing patterns allow for hyper oxygenation of tissues and the strong exhalations eliminate carbon dioxide and prevents detrimental lactic acid buildup.
While trying to achieve a higher mental state of calm and awareness (jing and ding) it is necessary to ignore physical discomfort, focus on breathing and allowing the conscious mind to relax. Through this process one should achieve a state called “one-pointed awareness.” In this state it is easier to achieve a deep level of concentration, allowing a better understanding of any elements that are focused on. There should be no, or very limited, distractions during this heightened awareness state. This technique may be used efficiently to find solutions to problems presented by the outside world. It also prepares one to deal with these difficulties. Creating a rhythmic “drumbeat” breathing pattern helps increase internal energy and helps block out outside interferences. This state is very similar to descriptions of the level achieved during autohypnosis.
The benefits of meditation will to a certain extent vary with the goals and philosophy of the practitioner. The belief system of the martial artist, whether it be Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu or Western cannot help but influence the end results of meditation. Regardless, all those practicing meditation will benefit to one degree or another, whether that benefit be spiritual, medical or corporal.
It is interesting to note that since Hapkido is at the same time both a hard and a soft art; it’s most strenuous and rigorous training regimes are initiated with pre-training medication to prepare mind and body. Meditation during the day will help the strongest and most dedicated to relax and to control their emotions.
Since Hapkido teaches that those who lose their temper, tire first or are overly stressed will suffer most during a fight, medication becomes an essential aspect of training. Meditation benefits Hapkido martial art training because it develops mind, body and spirit. It reduces stress, creates a sense of well being, and makes Hapkido all the more enjoyable.
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