Martial artists are often recognized for their bodily strength, but although this is a crucial element to any competitor’s arsenal, the power of the mind should not be taken for granted. One of the best methods of strengthening a shinobi’s mental state may be relaxation.
Warrior classes across cultures and eras have used meditation to instill in their soldiers a keen mind and a fearless heart. Though Hindu’s were the first of record, ancient Samurai are perhaps the most famous warriors that practiced meditation. They meditated upon death daily so that they could fight without fear.
Meditation is used to clear the mind and create focus. It can be used to heal the body and strengthen the immune system. It is also said to relieve stress, help with emotional stability and help with sleep. Numerous scientific studies have been conducted to determine what actually happens when we consciously tune the world out.
A study conducted by Dr. Joshua Grant in 2011 found that practicing mindfulness while being administered a painfully hot sensation on the arm resulted in a 27% lower pain sensation than without the technique. The study also reported 45% less brain activity in the pain matrix after participants used the mindfulness technique. This was also confirmed by research done by Kober and Associates.
These studies are in the company of several others, all of which indicate that focusing the mind can result in a higher pain tolerance.
The amygdala is the region of the brain that is activated by stress, and it grows denser as a result of stressful situations. Meditation has shown to decrease activity in this area during stressful moments; and with less activity over time, this area can begin to reduce in density.
A study done by the University of California, Los Angeles found mediation to cause a reduction in the expression of a group of genes that serve to activate inflammation.
It is easy to become fatigued and malnourished during long hours of training and, which can lead to a compromised immune system. Mediation can serve as a natural boost.
Awareness and Contentment
Meditation has also been directly linked to the calming of the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), which is the area of the brain associated with undistracted awareness, concentration and observing sensory experience and contentment. A study done by Judson Brewer at the Mind & Life Institute found that people who meditate frequently have more control in these areas.
There is no right or wrong way to achieve a meditative state, but here are some basic steps to follow if you are new to the practice:
- Find a comfortable quite place and get into comfortable position. This is traditionally cross-legged or sitting on the knees, but can be sitting, standing or lying down as well. The important part is to make sure you core and chest are not compressed.
- Close your eyes and breath deeply through the nose and out the mouth, filling the air all the way through past your chest into your dan tein (the area just below your belly button). Sometimes it is beneficial to visualize the airflow.
- Relax and repeat.
- Once you are comfortable with your breathing rhythm, clear your mind of all thoughts. You may choose to stay in this “empty” state for the entire mediation. Some may choose to focus on a concept such as thankfulness, or special awareness. Another option is to visualize energy from your breath flowing into areas of pain to promote healing.
Soke Masaaki Hatsumi has described the art of Ninjutsu as moving meditation. “The thing that makes it meditation is that the movement must be done without the will to make it happen. Make your movement smooth.”
Even without all of the scientific backing available today, ancient warriors understood the benefits of meditation. They believed it to give them an extra edge in battle. It didn’t come from a supplement or a specific exercise regime, but from the sincere ability to focus the mind.