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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Throwing out the myths of....Meditation

While meditation practice is commonplace in my Tai Chi classes, I've been slow in implementing it into my Wushu and Kung Fu classes. Not because I don't think it is beneficial (I believe meditation is HIGHLY beneficial), but because I didn't think it was something my hardcore Wushu and Kung Fu classes *wanted*.

I know, I know....."teach what you feel is important for the arts, not just what the students want" you might be saying. However, many things popped up into my head, such as "What if the students think I'm trying to 'convert' them to some modality of belief?", "What if they think its too 'woo woo' or 'new agey'?", "How would I convince the die-hard 'kick ass and take names' students that love an intense workout, that meditation is as good for their body as the physical workouts?"

Truth is, I thought too much about what I thought the students *didn't think they wanted* as opposed to *what I know will be beneficial to their training!

So, much as the exercises, sweat, and toil are important to your physical fitness, meditation is just as important to your mental fitness as well. So, lets debunk some common meditation myths that might be holding you back from this great activity:

Myth 1: I have to be flexible enough to sit in lotus position for long periods:
Although some methods of practice do use the lotus position, you don't have to worry about tying yourself in knots to meditate. Meditation can be done while standing ("zhan zhuang"), sitting in a chair, while moving (as in Tai Chi), or even laying down (however, sleep usually happens after a while!). You can even "meditate" while doing your forms!

Myth 2: Meditation is solely a religious thing:
Sorry to bust your balloon, but it is not. While members in systems such as Zen Buddhism utilize meditation as a part of their practice, meditation itself is NOT solely a religious practice. While some people use the phrase "contemplative meditation" in reference to "prayer", that's just how their particular belief system might label it. However, not all meditation is prayer, so everyone...including Athiests, can benefit from meditation.

Myth 3: Meditation is all about chanting Mantras and putting my fingers together in odd ways:
The use of Mantras and Mudras are just but a few methods that people use while meditating, but are not used as the standard rule for all. Remember, there are many ways to meditate.

Myth 4: Meditation will allow me to get into altered states or give me special powers:
If your only goal in meditation is to get into altered states (much like with the use of drugs) or to attain super powers, then you're missing the point of meditation. To fixate on a goal too much, will take away the benefits if you get stressed out about not meeting a goal. While your mind may give you the sensation of floating, you're not flying. While you might see colors or images, unless you've already taken a drug, you won't "trip out". Does meditation change your brainwaves, though? YES. Scientific studies have shown that the brain undergoes changes from Beta (wakeful) waves to Alpha (relaxed physical and mental state) , and with some practitioners, to Theta (a state of very deep relaxation).

Myth 5: Meditation's goal is true enlightenment and connection to the Universe:
This is where many people think meditation is too "woo woo" or "new agey". Again, if you fixate on the goal of enlightenment you're being too goal oriented and will most likely become frustrated when enlightenment doesn't come (besides, how do you recognize it? Do you wake up one day and just say "Wow, I'm enlightened! I know the Truth!!"). One of my teachers once told me, that people tend to see others as "enlightened"....the enlightened person just goes on about his/her business, never bragging they've reached enlightenment. Any knowledge they have, is simply knowledge, and is normal to the "enlightened" person, not some big, fame-producing thing. So, apparently, if you say you're enlightened, you're really not, its just your Ego talking. Recognizing that you've reached one of many "A-ha!" moments is one of the perks of meditation....enlightenment comes when it comes.

Myth 6: I have to train myself to think of absolutely nothing to meditate:
Your brain will naturally form thoughts.....some you don't acknowledge, and many you do acknowledge. These thoughts are a natural result of our biases, beliefs, upbringing, experiences, expectations, emotions, etc. Many people mistake non-committal meditation as "thinking of nothing". In fact, when we say "clear your mind", we mean "don't attach to your thoughts, fears, concerns, etc". Acknowledge a thought, don't hold onto it, and let it go. Ever watch a DVD and think "Oh! Rewind that! I want to see that again!"?? That's what we do in our minds, many times a day......we hold on to a particular "scene" and replay it, sometimes over and over. Meditation is the opposite....we just watch the whole DVD without rewinding and without getting stuck on any one particular scene.

So...What IS meditation, anyway? It is a form of awareness. Some methods use mantras to focus their minds, some use relaxing music, some sit in silence, some may practice while walking and paying attention to the ground beneath their feet and how their body feels during movement, some may focus on the sound and sensation of their breathing.....there are so many ways to bring a relaxed state of awareness to the body. If you feel sleepy after meditation, then you just weren't "aware". While meditation does help the body relax (which is conducive to sleep), if you are sleepy after meditation then you were merely just going to sleep, not meditating. :)

The benefits are wonderful....less stress,more relaxation, refreshed mental state, broader outlook on personal problems, etc ....although I must point out, these are benefits to the practice, NOT the goal of the practice.

However, for those of you that are dead set on having a "goal" in meditation.....the only goal I can think of, is *well deserved time for yourself* !

I'd love to hear from the readers....Please add your thoughts about other myths of meditation, how your meditate, etc! Looking forward to hearing from you.


Brainwaves and meditation: (Science Daily)

Meditation research, scientific findings: 

Scientific American:

International Journal of Psychophysiology: Study- "Effects of Transcendental Meditation practice on brain functioning and stress reactivity in college students" of TM on brain functioning and stress in students.pdf         Alternate link:

Header image courtesy of:
Stock Photos from 123RF
Image license purchased by Restita DeJesus

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sorry about tripping into you, I must've stumbled on my own Ego.....

I was watching a video on YouTube about Aikido, and reading some of the comments about the video. "Aikido is fake", "this is lame!",  "No wonder why the guys got beat up, why are they always holding on? Grab something else! so dumb!". Two people got into it over who knew more and arguing about semantics. 

However, nice video, by the way.........

In a way, we all think we're experts "after the fact".....after watching a video or demonstration and then thinking "Pfff...that sucked, I could do way better", "Geez, that person's form sucks!", or "I could beat that guy". Come mean to say you've never at least *thought* it?     Liar Liar pants on fire! 

I've seen people watch other martial artists sparring at a martial arts event, then find everything wrong with someone's techniques or choices. Usually I find this behavior from people in the audience (not other competitors), and sometimes I want to ask them "How long have YOU been training?".  But you have to remember, its relatively easy to be an armchair critique *after* the match....but wait till you're *in* the action, in real time....its a whole different story. They just don't realize that knowing what to do and applying it are two different things.

There's no use in trying to argue with the audience "martial arts master"....they've got it all figured out and will go out of their way to teach anyone that will listen about their superior knowledge. There they are, barking orders at the martial artists in the ring, telling what to do, what techniques to throw, and what weaknesses the opponent has. Some people will even be so bold as to go to the martial arts official and dispute what they thought was a "bad call.

For these people, I often want to tell them to "shut up and sit down", but in their minds, they know what they're talking about and will refuse to see they're being jerks.

Our minds do funny things when we're right in the thick of the takes training to be able to think on your feet under pressure of a tournament, freestyle demonstration or self defense encounters. What we thought we were so better at, all of a sudden goes out the window when a little stress shows up, and we're forced to eat a little humble pie or put our foot in our mouth.

So for order for me to prevent my putting my foot in my mouth, I try to keep my mouth shut and remember that in the end, it doesn't really matter that I think I'm better, smarter, faster, more logical or have more of a grasp on the science behind martial arts.  What matters is that I improve yourself for the sake of improving, and not necessarily to make other people look like "they suck".  I've stumbled over my own Ego and arrogance more than once, and still do sometimes....its just that now I try to not be so biased and try to see the good in everybody's ways of practice.

Besides, the truly confident people won't give a hoot about what I think anyway.  :)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Who ya gonna call....STRESS BUSTERS!

Even the best of us can have stressful days. That project at work, schoolwork, obligations, too many places to take the kids and not enough hours in a day, being pressured by your supervisor, stressing out about finals.....there's a lot of stuff that can tax our patience.

Stress is just our body's way of dealing with changes around us or demands on our body or our time. Some stress is good (Eustress), which is associated with good emotions. For example, getting a new're excited, probably trying hard to keep up with the new information, wondering how you can into the lunch crowd with the employees, trying not to get lost in the new building, etc. Performing in front of an audience for the first time can also be "stressful", but in a good way. Even though we might be nervous at first, it allows us to keep motivated to do a good job in front of the audience and feels great when the job gets done. Eustress is commonly a short term thing when it comes to situations and activities, and the "stress" fades with time and practice in the activity.

However, when the stress is negative (Distress), it can affect our bodies in less than favorable ways. Chronic stress can manifest as anxiety, depression, bursts of anger, decreases our ability to cope, and may lead to physical or mental problems problems (depression, pain, problems with sleep, lack of libido, mental breakdowns, etc). Negative stress may be caused by such things as divorce, death of a loved one, loss of job, money problems, etc. Stress may be exascerbated by oneself by negative talk to oneself, an "all or nothing (perfectionist)" attitude, and decreased self esteem.  If not nipped in the bud, negative stress can turn into a chronic problem and make life difficult. When it gets to the point where making even simple everyday decisions is difficult, then its a sign that the stress has gotten out of hand.

How can we combat the effects of the daily pressures? Just a few suggestions:
  1. Obviously, I'll say... Tai Chi.  :) Tai Chi requires that we become aware of each slow movement. As we focus our attention and energy to the movement and let go of the urge to "get it done already!", we give ourselves the enjoyment of  no deadlines, no perfectionist expectations, no judgment from others, and great exercise.
  2. Meditate: Even 5 minutes of quiet time, where that 5 minutes is all about just "being' instead of "Oh my gosh why am I wasting time when I could be (working, driving, planning, exam cramming, etc)!!" Try not to get into the hype about the "right" method to use to alleviate stress. All methods are beneficial! Try to get some instruction from a qualified teacher on meditation techniques.
  3. Breathe: When we're stressed, we tend to breathe in  a shallow manner. Take about 10 seconds to take deep slow breaths. Come on, that 10 seconds is NOT going to completely ruin your important schedule!
  4. Take breaks: It IS allowed, don't worry. :)  Go outside and walk for a few minutes to clear your head for the next mode of action. Sometimes, just getting out of the immediate area of the area of stress will make a difference.
  5. Take the time to have fun: Do an en activity you some gardening, have a girls-night-out or boys-night-out, go to a comedy club, go dancing, etc. If you're saying "I don't have time to have fun", then you're in a stressful *lifestyle* where you are choosing to keep in the stressful cycle.
  6. Exercise: Any type of exercise. Not only will it benefit your body, it will work off some of that stress.
  7. Know that activities such as these are part of your "YOU" time: It is important to spend some time on YOU, regardless of the deadlines and pressures. I'm not suggesting that you ignore the deadlines, what I'm suggesting is that you block away a little time each day for YOU....not  behind the computer, not worrying about bills or deadlines, not running around like a chicken with your head cut off.  Just 5 to 10 minutes every day (I actually believe in 10 minutes every 3 hours) will make your day so much more bearabel!
There are many more ways to beat stress....I'm interested in hearing your input about what works as a stress-buster. Please post your thoughts here!

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    Great article on how to beat the winter blues....

    Just wanted to share this interesting article forwarded to me from Roxanne McCann of, about 50 natural antidepressants that can help curb the winter blues....

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    4 letter words that are not allowed in my martial arts school.....

    Of course, we wouldn't allow curse words in our martial arts schools, would we? But what about the other 4 letter words that our students sometimes put in their heads, or that we as instructors sometimes use during a class? Words that, if used with a negative mindset, can stall one's progress. Words like...

    Can't: Limiting oneself by resigning to "I can't do it"

    Won't: "Well I can't, so I won't try..."

    Fail: "What if I fail?"

    Fear: "Wow, that's scary, I don't think I do that."

    Self Talk (Okay so its two words. But they're both in 4 letter format!): "Why can't I do this technique yet? Everyone else can, why not me?"

    Need: "Sensei says I *need* to stop looking so floppy with my kicks". (for some people, this can put a sense of value on the word "need", and makes the student feel like they're not accomplishing the "mandatory" skill). While we do expect certain standards, the way students practice those standards can be affected by one's mindset.


    How can we as instructors combat the 4 letter words that are almost just as bad as cussing? By adding in "power words" in our dialogue when correcting the students. Words like...

    And: "That's a great outward block, Timmy. I like how you're trying your best with it! And, now let's stop the block in front of your shoulder, and it will lock in and feel great!". The word "But" separates a sentence into two ideas for a student, such as "That's a great outward block, Timmy, but you need to stop the block in front of your shoulder". This phrase says "My block is okay, but its still wrong."

    Know: "Wow, I know you're coming right along with your kata! You've practiced well to know your kata, will you show it to me?" (notice how the word is used by the instructor to acknowledge the student, and the word is used in the student's experience.). Use this word when you've seen a student work hard at something.

    Gain: "Mary! I noticed that you gained some speed in your hand-drills!" (doesn't matter that Mary's forearm block isn't quite perfected yet, but she got faster with a drill that she struggled with the previous class....acknowledge this!)

    Glad: "I'm glad to see you came a little early to get extra practice before class!"

    Excited: "I'm excited about tonight's class, folks! We've got some great drills that will enhance your kata and strength tonight!" (set the tone of the class....if students are excited, then corrections are very much welcomed)


    Teachers, I'm curious as to what 4 letter words your school's students might be harboring in their heads that might be holding them back, or what 4 letter words you use while teaching.  Also, what "power" words do you like to employ in your teaching? This discussion is open to any teacher, not just martial arts.

    The inner speech, your thoughts, can cause you to be rich or poor,
    loved or unloved,happy or unhappy, attractive or unattractive, powerful or weak. 
    - Ralph Charrell

    In Good Training....