Do you ever think about your breathing? Most people don't give it a second thought and why should they? We are not meant to give it a second thought. It is one of those automatic processes that our unconscious mind knows we would be too useless to take of ourselves if we were left with the responsibility. So it does it for us and very well at that.
Breathing however is incredibly important and I am not talking about just keeping us alive here. I am talking about the effect it can have on our state of mind, our sense of equilibrium and our effectiveness in our Martial Arts practice.
The way we breathe can directly influence how we perceive the world around us and can also help us to control our bodily states and runaway feelings which might consume us if we let them. For instance, when very angry or agitated, practising calm, controlled breathing can takes us out of that angry state and into a quieter more resourceful one. If we are nervous or feeling anxiety, say before a competition or sparring session, simple breathing from the abdomen can reduce that anxiety and let a greater sense of poise take its place. I know that before ever learning the art of breath control I could sometimes spend hours consumed with an unhealthy state of mind before gradually coming out of it. With proper breathing, I can now get myself out of an unhelpful frame of mind and back to something more positive in a few minutes.
What mental state we are in when we take action or engage in martial arts combat can help or hinder us during that experience. As martial artists it is vitally important that we set aside time in our training in order to practise this aspect of our development as it can deepen our insight and mastery of our particular style.
Breath control goes hand in hand with other elements of training such as focus and concentration. The so-called internal martial arts, a good example being Tai-chi, have traditionally placed great emphasis on breathing correctly during the precise movements and forms of practise.
Modern martial arts classes tend to place less emphasis on breathing exercises instead going for all out physical training. This is a shame though because gaining mastery over our internal states and emotions can bring all kinds of benefits, not just to our martial arts but to our lives. Greater tolerance of distractions, discipline and stronger will power are all eventual side effects of regular practise. The ultimate goal is self-control in its highest sense. As the great Lao-Tzu is often quoted as saying "He who controls others may be powerful...but he who masters himself is mightier still."
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