Mastering Your Breathing is Mastering Your Life
by Grand Master Gregory V. Glover
As a young U.S. Airman station in Thailand studying Taekwondo and basic Kick Boxing, I learned an important lesson. In our day-to-day lives, we are constantly bombarded with an enormous number of sensory experiences that are beginning to overload our sympathetic nervous system: loud noises, flashing lights, crowds, advertisements, anything that is trying to gain our attention, which begins to activate that fight-or-flight mechanism within our body, throwing us out of balance.
However, what if there was a tool that you as a martial artist could tap into every single day. A tool that you can use that happens naturally in your body. A tool that we can use to reverse that and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. A tool that we could come back to, that rest-and-digest mechanism within our bodies, restores our balance, reduces blood pressure, and slow down the breath/heart rate before, during, and after a stressful event. Would you be interested in learning how to use that tool?
What if I told you this tool is as simple as just breathing? Is your life worth taking five minutes out of your day just to focus on breathing? You may think sitting in silence, focusing on your breathing for five to ten minutes a day seems boring. You have too many things to do and you need that five to ten minutes to get those things done. Yes, It’s a daily indulgence and you cannot afford to miss a day.
You might be thinking, “Nobody has time for that.” However, what if it was a crucial regiment for your health? What if by taking that five minutes a day it would make a major difference in your life day to day?
So, where do we start? Let’s begin here right now with your breathing. Take a moment wherever you are. Choose what feels right to you, standing or sitting. Stretch a little if you must but choose where you want to be and relax. Once you make that decision, take a couple of moments to shift a little bit, get comfortable, and allow the eyes to softly close. You should hear and sense the shifting.
As a practitioner of martial arts, you should learn to let your mind, body, and spirit settle. Let the eyes softly close. Take a moment as you’re here to feel the feet firmly planted into the ground, maybe feel the hip bones dropping in if you’re seated, start to feel the spine lengthening up to the sky as you take a deep breath in, start to feel the shoulder softening down the back, start to soften the muscles into the neck, into the face, into the jaw.
Take a moment here to feel the beginner’s mind of emptiness. Begin to allow yourself permission to let go. Let go of everything outside of this space, let go of anything that might have happened before this very moment, let go of anything that you might have to do afterwards, let go of any judgments, any expectations about yourself and of this practice of breathing consciously.
As a martial artist, we learn to allow the mind to settle into the heart, and body. Begin to listen to the beat of your heart. Welcome yourself as you are now, physically, emotionally and mentally.
Begin to bring your awareness to your breathing, to the deep sensations of the breathing to its full capacity. Notice the rise of your chest as you inhale. Notice the dropping back down as you exhale. Notice the lengthening effect of your inhale and the deepening effect of the exhale. Now notice the natural, spontaneous breathing movement.
Historically our greatest warriors from the ancient Chinese army to the Japanese Samurai have practiced this technique daily. Imagine those ancient warriors seated beside you. Notice that without doing anything other than bringing your awareness to your breathing, automatically you have lengthen your inhale and deepen your exhale. Now notice yourself maybe sitting up a little straighter or standing a little taller on the inhale. Also, notice yourself rooting down deeper on that exhale.
The Samurai did this breathing to calm the mind of any fear before going into battle. You too can begin to bring in a sense of peace, calmness, serenity on your inhale. Begin to let go of tension, fear, and anxiety. Exhale. Allow your internal vision to move your breath throughout your body.
Take five deep breaths in. Take five deep breaths out. After your personal fifth breath, on that next inhale, count how many times it takes to get to the very top of that inhale. To balance it out, count that same number down on your exhale. You might be working with several four, five, six, seven, eight, or higher, whatever your number is, stay with it.
After your personal fifth cycle of breath, allow the count to drop away, even allow the internal vision of the breath to drop away. Allow your awareness to empty completely of any images, thoughts, sensations, impressions, experiences.
Take a moment here to notice smoothness of the breath, quietness of the mind, even the stillness of the physical body. Begin to bring your awareness back to the room, back to your physical body. Begin to draw a deeper breath in to the belly, into the chest.
Slowly begin to blink the eyes open and close as you transition back to this room. Image those images of the ancient warrior fading away. Notice within yourself, just within a matter of minutes, that your mind has become calmer and quieter. That you are breathing smoother. Do you feel a genuine sense of peace and calmness within yourself?
You as a martial artist are now more aware of this present moment that everything seemed a little more vivid, a little more alive. Do you feel refreshed, recharged, rejuvenated? Are you ready to take on the rest of your day? Just imagine starting each day this way.
Once you have mastered the ancient technique of deep breathing you will begin to experience the higher level of consciousness achieved by Shaolin Monks, Samurai Warriors, and the greatest martial arts Grand Masters of our time.
Respectfully yours in Taekwondo,
KwanJangNim Gregory V. Glover
Chief Operating Officer USNTA
About the Author: Grand Master Gregory Glover is a full time professional martial arts instructor with a strong background in Korea martial arts. He is the Head Coach of the USNTA National Team and owner of the US Martial Arts Academy in Conyers, GA. Grand Master Glover is the Director of the US National Taekwondo Association www.usnta.net.
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