What are the benefits of meditation practice?
Firstly you are able to find peace. At any time, in any situation. You can become stable like a mountain and nothing will rattle you. You can maintain an effortless vigilance and alertness from where you can act spontaneously according to your training. What is it that causes you to do badly in your kung fu practice? When you look you will find that it is one thing and nothing else – it is the mind. When the mind is upset and carried away, when the mind is scattered then your kung fu is poor. When the mind is relaxed, the attention is focused, the qi flows harmoniously and your kung fu is good.
Many years ago I heard Master Yau talk about the proper way to practise kung fu: firstly for health; then graceful movements; then speed, power and effectiveness. In all these areas meditation practice can make the difference between actually doing it and either wondering if you’re doing it or (worse) pretending that you’re doing it when you’re not. Looking around the martial arts world today, I think there are a lot of people who pretend.
Even the most basic meditation practice will increase your ability to focus, to concentrate, and also to relax. What could be better for kung fu practice? In oriental medicine it is a universal maxim that the energy of the body follows the energy of the mind. The rlung/ prana / qi of body and mind are interdependent. The Chinese internal arts say that the qi follows the mind. With regular meditation practice the energy of the mind becomes more and more even. Following on from this the energy flowing in the subtle channels becomes more harmonious and so the actual physical body can become stronger, more flexible. Even movements can become quicker and more powerful.
So how to control the qi? It is the mind. And how to work with the mind? The supreme practice is meditation. And when I say meditation I don’t just mean anything – I mean specifically a practice called shyiné (Tibetan), shamatha (Sanskrit) or ‘calm abiding through the practice of mindfulness’.
Let’s look at this using a slightly more detailed example: in physical terms we talk of agonist and antagonist muscles. In order to move effectively we need the right balance between action (agonist) and tension (antagonist). Through the systems of oriental medicine, yogas and so on, we can see this situation in terms of the energy flow in the subtle channels – is it harmonious or not? If your punch is too slow or not very powerful it is normal to look first to the muscle development and the physical structure, stance and so on. Improper weight training, for example, is often a factor in slow or clumsy punching technique. From there you can, if you know how, look to the energy of the channels – are there blocks to the flow of qi? The energy of the channels will mirror the physical structure. How could it do otherwise?
From there you can go more subtly again: In the mind there is a tension, a ‘blockage’ to the free flow of mental and emotional energy. This is why the flow of energy in the channels is inharmonious. There is an intention to punch, for example – this is the equivalent of the’ agonist muscle’. There is also the equivalent of the ‘antagonist muscle’ – and this may be expressed in the mind in the form of a negative or limiting belief, habit, attitude and so on. The negative/ limiting pattern within the mind stream may be obvious as soon as you look or it may be slightly submerged below usual conscious awareness. It is through the gradually deeper and more inclusive view of your mindfulness and awareness, as it develops through shyiné, that brings patterns firstly to light and then to resolution. The harmony of the mind at all levels, whether conscious, subconscious or unconscious, affects the qi and the channels, which in turn determines the quality of the physical structure and movement. So we can say that the basis of the inability to perform martial technique well, lies in the mind. If the limitation is released first at the level of the mind, the flow of qi in the channels is proper, and the physical structure and movement become smooth, harmonious, powerful – the correct balance is found between agonist and antagonist: not too tight, nor too loose. It’s actually very straightforward, isn’t it? The only way to train this level of subtlety, this level of power, is through meditation practice.
The good news is that working directly at the level of the mind and its projections, using meditation, you will naturally and without further knowledge or effort bring the level of the channels and energies into balance. This will reflect directly in your physical body and movements. Moreover, if working at the level of channels and energies (like with qigong, for example) attracts you, by working directly at the level of mind, your understanding and experience of the channels and energies becomes fuller, richer, more rounded or profound.
Working with the mind means working from the inside. While different psychologies, therapies and so on can be very useful for this life, this is working with the mind from the outside. Working with the mind from the inside means meditation and nothing else.
Does it begin to make sense to you why meditation practice has always gone hand in hand with martial practice? And why martial practice has always been thought of as a way to promote good health?
If you train properly in kung fu, that is with a master who has been trained traditionally and properly, you are already training some of the principles of meditation practice. Remember that traditionally kung fu is not separate from meditation practice – like the branches of a tree they have a common root. But you don’t know what you know, do you? You don’t know what are the principles and techniques that you already use, which link directly with meditation practice. So be careful. You cannot say that you know how to meditate just because you do kung fu, or even taiji or qigong. You have a slight head start in learning meditation compared to a non-kung fu/ taiji practitioner, but will you use this happy circumstance or will you waste it? Maybe you’ll give it to your ego…
I have tried to explain a little of how meditation is very useful in martial practice as in life generally. I have attempted to make it sound straightforward, commonsensical, even quite easy. Actually, it is! In this we must remember also that the development of ‘supernormal’ abilities, throughout history, is attributed to shyiné. In the yogic traditions of India and Tibet, as well as China, the appearance of ‘common siddhis’ (what we would call miraculous healing and other powers) comes through shyiné. The practice of the great and accomplished masters of the past is no different from the practice we are still able to learn – if we make the effort. I include this to remind you that within shyiné, though it is easy enough to learn the basic method in one day, there is a great mystery and a great power – the mystery and power of the true nature of the mind itself.
Article Credit: This article is written by David Harris and is endorsed by the ‘Lau Gar uardians’.