You may have noticed a trend for top athletes and coaches to talk about mindfulness in relation to their sport these days. Take world champion tennis player Novak Djokovic as an example. Djokovic is an advocate for practicing daily mindfulness meditation as an aid to his tennis psychology.
“I’ve done so much mindfulness meditation that now my brain functions better automaticlly, even when I’m not mediating”, says Djokovic in his best-selling book ‘Serve to win’.
He says that mindfulness practice enables him to let go of negative emotions such as self-doubt, anger and worry. When he blows a serve, and that has made all the difference to his mental approach on court, turning him into a world champion. Now, instead of letting his throughs spiral downwards in a negative circle, he acknowledges their presence. He lets them go, so he can return to focussing on the most important thing right now – the next point. And you can do this too.
While mindfulness may be a current buzzword in the health and fitness industry, its origins lie in an ancient Buddhist meditation practice. Put simply, mindfulness refers to the practice of keeping your mind on whatever it is you’re doing right now. As distracting thoughts arise you acknowledge their existence, but let them go, returning your focus to the object. Usually in meditation practice that is the breath. That sounds simple enough, and it is, but as with many things in life.
Being simple to understand doesn’t necessarily equate to being easy to do. Even while reading this article you may find that you get to the end of a paragraph with no actual recollection of what you’ve just read. You’ve somehow entered a kind of autopilot mode. You’re still reading, but your mind has drifted off elsewhere. Mindfulness is about reducing this habit and staying on track.
As human beings, we are easily distracted. Our monkey minds jump into the future, where we worry about what’s going to happen, or drift into the past where we regret what has happened. Rarely do we find ourselves in the present, just getting on with whatever it is we are doing.
As Lao Tzu, the great Taoist sage of ancient China, said,
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
And if you are at peace you are living in the present.”
One of the reasons why mindfulness has become popular is that it offers a medication-free solution to stress, anxiety and depression. These problems have become something of an epidemic in recent times. One of the main causes is that people are less in-touch with their physical bodies than they used to be. As work becomes more about dealing with mental problems, not physical ones. When we walk less and sit for longer, we lose touch with our body’s vitality.
Taking up a hobby like Wushu, Yoga, grappling or Taiji can really help, because it helps get you back in touch with your physical body. When you are purely focussed on the physical activity you are doing, you are living in the moment and enjoying the benefits of mindfulness.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of “Full catastrophe living”, “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way. On purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” If you think about it, that’s exactly what you need to do in Wushu, Taiji, or any Chinese movement arts.
Buddhist monks originally devised the martial arts of China. The idea of mindfulness has always been baked into the practice. People often talk about Taiji as being a ‘moving meditation’. That’s because you need to be fully involved in every movement, or you’re just waving your hands in the air. If your mind is wandering off as you do the Taiji form then you’re simply doing it wrong.
In fact, my own Taiji teacher used to tell me to stop practicing if I ever found that my mind had wandered off for more than 3 seconds. No matter how far through the form I was, and start all over again. If you made it all the way through the form using this practice method then you knew you had made great strides in developing your ability to concentrate.
Unlike seated meditation, practicing the routines of Taiji, qigong or Wushu regularly will also give you back your stamina and give your body the exercise it craves. The ancient creators of these arts were well aware that the most important thing was to develop a healthy body and a healthy mind working together in harmony. That important principle is at the heart of the practice of Wushu.
Start your morning routine with a mindful Taiji session and I guarantee you’ll find that your life will flow better.