Being a martial artist, I enjoy my time “on the mat” training hard.
Because training hard is so enjoyable, this can easily lead to overtraining. And this applies to athletes of any sport out there. Serious athletes always seem to feel that they don’t train enough and there is a mistaken notion that the higher volume of training will lead to a proportional increase in skill and performance.
I have definitely been guilty of chronic overtraining, in fact, although I recognized the foolishness of this a few years ago, I feel I am still paying off the “health debt” that I incurred from overtaxing my nervous system for years on end.
This is a common phenomena in athletes, many times they feel that ‘something is not right’ but they cannot identify exactly what it is and choose to ‘tough it out’.
This results in a state of ‘excess yang’ and can lead to burn out, injuries and lower performance.
I’ve seen this a lot in athletes and in my own martial arts students. It is common knowledge in athletic circles that we make leaps in our performance when we are recovering and not when we are working out. But still, many don’t practice what they know.
So now that we recognize the importance of recovery, how do we go about doing it?
Just lying around on the couch does help and at times we all need some of that, but there are other more active (and enjoyable) ways to help out body and mind recover. When speaking of recovery, the most common methods seen in the West include massages, ice baths, cryotherapy and yoga etc.
These are all nice ways to recover, but personally, I found that a daily regime of meditation and traditional Chinese medicine Daoyin (qigong) practice has allowed me to speed up my recovery after a hard martial arts session and it has also improved my health and vitality.
The practice of meditation and Daoyin (qigong) is largely overlooked by athletes in the West, I think this is a pity because these modalities are very beneficial in the recovery process and they also have a “side effect” of improving your health and well-being.
Although volumes of books can be written on the subjects of meditation and Daoyin (qigong), I will quickly say that they benefit the athlete by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which controls homeostasis of bodily functions and is responsible for our rest and recovery function.
The PNS is activated through a combination of the “Three Regulations”, namely regulating the body (keeping the body in a structurally aligned but relaxed state), regulating the breath (adjusting the breath so that it is slow and deep) and regulating the mind (calming the mind).
Once the Three Regulations are achieved, our vital energy or Qi will flow in our body.
With correct practice the Qi will flow freely in our meridians and clear obstructions in our body (which are responsible for pain and discomfort).
The end result points towards increased health and well-being, which allows us to get back to training hard in our respective sports or activities.
Meditation and Daoyin (qigong) is just like recharging a phone, if you use it you must also recharge it.
On the flip side, I feel it is also necessary for everyone to participate in some form of general strength training, which falls into the ‘external’ training category. This is especially true for those in the higher age group because numerous studies have shown that strength training helps maintain bone density and slow down sarcopenia (muscle loss with aging).
When I talk about strength training, I am not referring to Olympic lifts (a sport), doing a human flag (stunt) or Crossfit (looking to get injured?); Rather I am referring to general strength training, which should be simple and does not involve mastering any particular set of skills. Examples would be your basic push up, pull up, bodyweight squat etc.
I feel quite strongly about this point because both in the West and in China I see many teachers of Daoyin (qigong) who are, lack of a better word, either fat and/or flabby.