When you think of meditation, chances are you probably think of sitting with your legs crossed and ‘ohmming’ your way to a calmer, better you. But if you’re anything like me, you’re not exactly the best at sitting still for longer than a few minutes, moving meditation might be the thing you’re looking for. When it comes to being zen and using the negative for good, we need not look further than martial arts — Karate to be more specific.
Moving meditation is much like normal meditation, the only difference is that instead of being still, you’re performing a sequence of actions while focusing on your breathing. Meditation has great benefits — and they’re backed by science, too! By focusing on your breathing, you can shift your focus from the chaos of everything around you to just focus on you. There are various studies on how deep, purposeful breathing can aid in increasing pain tolerance, reduce stress and anxiety, and assist in healing on a cellular level. One example of moving meditation is Karate.
If most of your karate knowledge was learnt from The Karate Kid, let us tell you that it’s way more than just ‘wax on; wax off’. Karate has three elements: Kihon, Kata and Kumite. Kihon is your basics like punches, kicks and blocks. Kata is a combination of all the movements together and Kumite is about applying it in a fight. While all three elements are important, practising Kata helps karate students become better fighters. This is because Kata helps to perfect techniques.
In Funakoshi karate, there are five principles that each student lives by: seek perfection of character, endeavour, be faithful, respect others and refrain from violent behaviour. Ilzé says that these principles are something that everyone can carry into their daily lives. “It becomes a lifestyle — I seek perfection in everything I do. It’s taught me not to give up and always be persistent. To be in a state of control and calmness as I walk through life, to stay grounded and focused. And also, most importantly, to respect those around me”.
If there’s one thing Karate is known for, it’s the many metaphors and principals. A Kata is done from the ground up, which Ilzé says is a symbol of being rooted. “From the low stances to the powerful movements in the arms, if we are calm, grounded and in control of ourselves, we can firmly take control of any situation in life,” explains Ilzé. Besides the fact that focused breathing does help increase pain tolerance, martial arts teaches you that pain is a message you don’t have to listen to. That the power of the mind is greater than any stress we may face. It encourages you to do better and be better.
According to Ilzé, Kata is a very successful tool for stress management. The reason meditation does so well is because you place emphasis on your breathing. “When you breathe deeply, the body releases endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones and a natural painkiller created by the body itself. When we take deep breaths, the upward and downward movement of the diaphragm helps remove the toxins from the body, promoting better blood flow,” says Ilzé
How To Do A Kata
When performing a Kata, imagine that you are fighting someone. Each punch, kick and block should be done while inhaling and exhaling. “For example, let’s take a simple punch,” says Ilzé. “As you pull back your fist to the side of your body, inhale. As you punch forward, exhale with force. The better the breathing, the better the movement is performed. If you keep your breath in while punching, you will have a tight and ineffective punch.” Try this demonstration to help you understand the basics. Notice how, with each movement, Ilzé is inhaling and exhaling deeply.
There is no set way to do a Kata, so, you have complete freedom to move how you want (although you can follow along with the video). A Kata is normally performed for one to two minutes, but Ilzé advises that when doing it for stress relief, you should take your time. “You should take it slow, focus your mind on perfecting the inhale and exhale of the breath as you perform each movement with perfection. Repeat the Kata with deep breathing at least three times. This will ensure that you only focus on the task at hand and forget about all the troubles around you. Listen to your breathing and in return, release your stress within minutes”.
Kids Kicking Cancer
If anyone knows about the amazing benefits of martial arts and the breathing techniques it teaches, it’s the kids from Kids Kicking Cancer (KCC). KCC is an NGO that seeks to empower and uplift children who are suffering from diseases that cause them pain and discomfort. Through Karate, the kids are offered a distraction from their illness and given tools to help them manage stress and pain. Check out this inspiring video about the power of karate. If you would like to learn more about the organisation or help them by donating, you can find out more at www.kidskickingcancer.co.za.