Breathing is one of the best ways to relax and reduce stress.
The saying, "Stress Kills" has a lot of truth to it. I believe that how we handle stress is what "kills" and causes many of our problems in life. If you are stressed out it can constrict blood vessels, prevent restful sleep, cause indigestion issues and other health problems. It can also lead to anger and even cause depression. Stress is anything that creates mental, physical or emotional strain in our lives.
There are always going to be things in our lives that cause stress. Unfortunately, it's not possible to eliminate stressful things from happening to us. (Wouldn't life be boring without a little bit of stress?) However, you do have control of how you react to stress.
Martial artists and other warriors, such as military soldiers, are often known for their calm demeanor under extremely stressful situations. When a life or death situation occurs they must be able to quickly evaluate the threat and react instantly. They cannot freeze, hesitate or overreact. Over reaction exerts too much energy that must be conserved to successfully finish out a battle. An experienced warrior often recalls later that, in the heat of battle, things seemed to slow down. It was as if time stopped and allowed them to see each opportunity clearly. Their breathing slowed, things came into focus and their body just naturally reacted. The key to their reaction appeared to be how they handled their stress and specifically, how they breathed.
One of the best ways that I've found to relax and reduce stress is to breathe. You may be chuckling right now thinking, "I already breathe! I'd be dead if I didn't!" True. But, there are certain breathing techniques you can use to reduce stress in your life. If you get in the habit of using breath control techniques, when stressors do come into your life you will have a method of reducing the negative effects on your body.
There are many different methods of breathing. One of which, that we practice in the dojo, is slow meditative breathing. In this type of breathing you breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. It is a cleansing breath that goes deep into your belly and fully exhales out. It's a way to clear your mind before class. There are other types as well, such as in the face of danger, take a quick but deep breath through your mouth and then exhale slowly through your nose. This provides additional oxygen to your muscles.Then, the slower exhale through your nose keeps the oxygen in your body longer to give you necessary energy.
Below is a video that provides several alternative methods of breathing specifically for stress reduction. The video is produced by Sensei Roemke, who runs a dojo in Santa Cruz, California. I have no affiliation with him or his martial arts system, but I thought this particular video segment offered some excellent tips on breath control. Several of the techniques I use myself in my own personal meditations.
If you are having trouble viewing the video, you may access it directly here: http://youtu.be/ZLJ2FJnty64
I am not being endorsed by or promoting the people in this video. I have no affiliation with them. The video was screened and approved for use on this blog based solely on the benefit found in the techniques demonstrated. On January 8, 2013 the videos were found to contain appropriate content for the topic of this blog. As the videos are linked to from YouTube, and can be changed by the owners of the videos at anytime, I am not responsible for any changes or deletions made by the owners. If you find the video no longer works or is not meaningful to this blog, please contact Vashon Borich.
Basic exercises you can do to increase overall body strength.
In a past blog entry I discussed exercises you can do to increase flexibility. In this entry I will discuss some basic exercises you can do to increase overall body strength. The exercises I chose have been selected for their simplicity and use of little to no training equipment. I also have narrowed it down to four main exercises that produce excellent results for overall strength in muscle groups needed for the martial arts. Finally, I've provided a work out plan for beginners, intermediate and advanced students.
1. Push ups: start on the ground, feet apart for balance, hands positioned directly under your shoulders. Keeping your back and legs straight, push up with your arms and slowly lower yourself touching your chest to the floor for each count.
2. Air squats: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart with your toes, knees and hips in a straight line. Grasp your hands together and hold them straight out parallel to the floor. Pull your belly button toward your spine and contract your abdominal muscles. Slowly lower your body, as though you are sitting in a chair. Lower until your bottom is in line with your knees (knees at 90-degree angles). Make sure your knees are BEHIND your toes, your back is straight, and the weight is in your heels.
3. Leg lifts: lay on your back on the ground with legs fully extended. Tuck palms of hands under your bottom. Keeping legs straight and together, slowly lift heels about four inches off the ground. Tightening tummy, lift legs up further to 45 degree angle. That's one count. Slowly repeat to the four inch position. Do these reps very slowly to a cadence of 3 seconds per rep.
4. Pull ups: locate a pull up bar, kids jungle gym or sturdy rafter in your home. Grip the bar with fingers pointed away from you. Pull your body up so your chin goes over the bar.
After performing all four exercises, rest for one minute. That means you have completed one circuit. Repeat the circuit a minimum of twice and work up to repeating the circuit five times. Once you can repeat the beginning level five times, go ahead and bump up to intermediate. Once you can perform five circuits at the intermediate level, bump up to the advanced level. If five circuits at the advanced level is a snap for you then contact me for a new set of exercises to challenge you!
For the best results perform all four exercises in circuits twice a week.
Vashon Borich, Sensei teaches traditional karate & kobudo in Branson, Missouri. She considers herself a life-time student of the arts. Her blog is an open journal of lessons learned in the martial arts. If you are a martial artist and would like to contribute to her blog please contact her.
©2012 Branson Karate & Kobudo™