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Aikido Training and Women: What is the Value of Meditation? Part 1
Meditation: Unify your mind and body
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Stress is Harmful - So Start to Control It
Can Aikido techniques reduce stress in women?
Our lives are filled with stresses of every variety and it doesn't matter whether you are a businesswoman, a stay-at-home mom, or trying to be both - stress can take both a physical and mental toll on us. Every day there are chores to be done, meals to prepare, and kids to pick up to say nothing of business deadlines. The effects of stress can not only have an emotional effect, it can suppress the immune system and well. The tel-tale signs of stress include a hair-trigger temper, and overreactions to even the smallest of disappointments. How is it that a martial art help a woman deal with stresses of daily living?
Take a deep breath and medtate. Meditation, in its most basic form, can be thought of as the art of becoming calm and looking inward rather than outward. Meditation is a part of the Aikido training in many schools and may take many forms from Zen meditation, to chanting, to Misogi breathing, which is the topic of this article. It is through these exercises that we can begin to gain a measure of control over our minds which, in turn, allows us to gain control of our bodies.
"Too Many Mind"
Kihon Waza: Techniques can flow smoothly when the mind is relaxed
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True Victory is Victory Over Ones Self
A Calm Lake - A Calm Mind: In the same way an Alpine lake creates a mirror-like reflection of its surrondings on a calm day, a mind that is calm sees things clearly. On the other hand, the images seen by a mind that is stressed are distorted in the same way that ripples created by the wind distort a lake's image. The goal of Misogi breathing is to create this mental calmness so that our reactions are base on an accurate view of our surroundings and situation. This form of meditations helps the students begin their journey by viewing inward rather than outward. This inward view permits the student to "let go" of the cares and stressors of the external environment and, in doing so, gain a state of relaxation which is difficult to achieve under most circumstances. Through relaxation the mind can gain control of the body and create an environment where the mind truly controls the body. Unification of mind and body is at the heart of all Aikido techniques. It makes it much easier for the smooth application of these techniques. When we have achived this unification, we can feel closer to O'Sensei's goal which is that "True Victory is Victory Over One's Self"
"Too Many Mind" - Those who saw the movie "The Last Samurai" will remember the son of the Rebel Leader giving Tom Cruise's character advice for letting go of these external influences. He said you have "too many mind", which meant that his mind was on what his opponents next move might be, what his move should be, and what the observers would think. His mind, clouded with all these thoughts, was unable to react appropriately to his opponent's strategy - causing him to lose the contest. When he calmed his mind, letting go of all the "minds", he was able to focus on and react to the attacks appropriately. Our mind and body can only be unified when we "let go" of these extraneous and counter productive thoughts and allow our bodies to relax.
Aikido Techniques and Women - Demonstration
Misogi Breathing: To Breathe is To Relax
Just Breathe: Many aikido schools practice a technique called Misogi breathing. It begins by assuming a relaxed sitting position either seiza (Japanese style) or zazen(Indian style). Maintaining good posture, with eyes half-closed the breath is drawn in through the nose as one imagines that it moves up through the mind, then down through the lungs, and finally into your center or hara, which expands in your minds eye throughout the full inspiration. The instructor claps to begin exhalation. The breth moves in reverse and exits the mouth in an "ahh" sound as the one-point is imagined to contract to an infinitely small size. As the cycle is repeated, the students begin the process of letting go of extraneous thoughts.
New students have a tendency to gasp because they feel out of breath (particularly if they have just completed a strenuous workout and are in some degree of oxygen debt). For this reason, the breathing exercise trains the student to seize control of their mind and body so that the urge to gasp can be overcome. When this has been accomplished, the process of relaxation can actually begin. If the mind is in control, it tells the body to continue the inhalation or the exhalation until the next clap is heard even if the urge is to take the breath. As the body becomes relaxed thoughts to turn inward as stressful thoughts are released.
So it is that placing the focus on breathing can actually help an individual gain control of their mind so that the mind and body can be unified. This permits thoughts to be directed inward and allows tension to be released. In the next article, the application of these priciples in daily life will be discussed.