Martial arts practice has many benefits, including some that may not be immediately apparent to a casual observer. While the physical benefits are obvious, there are mental and emotional benefits that might surprise you.
Students who learn the martial arts may experience significant changes in the way they think, and that’s because martial arts training is a form of mindfulness practice. Here’s what you need to know about the mindfulness benefits of studying the martial arts.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention and emotions on what is happening in the present moment. People who are mindful do not get distracted by regrets about the past or worries about the future. They keep their hearts and minds with their bodies, something that may also be referred to as a mind-body connection.
Mindfulness practice is a form of therapy that has been shown to be useful for people who struggle with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression as well as for long-term caretakers and even prisoners.
What Does Martial Arts Practice Have in Common with Meditation?
Meditation practice is a form of mindfulness. For meditation to be helpful, the practitioner must maintain focus, keeping their thoughts on their breathing or, sometimes, on a visual focal point. They may sometimes employ a mantra, but it is possible to meditate without one.
In both meditation and martial arts training, practitioners must learn to accept their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in a detached manner, not allowing these things to break their focus.
A martial arts student who is not mindful may lack the focus to master new skills. It requires a great deal of mindfulness to execute a perfect kick or punch, or to break a board with only your hand.
Any martial artist can tell you that one of the biggest benefits of martial arts training is that it helps practitioners develop a strong connection between their minds and bodies. Many martial arts have a contemplative element to them; one good example is Tai Chi.
How Does Martial Arts Training Enhance Mindfulness?
There are several important ways that training in the martial arts enhances the connection between body and mind, increasing overall well-being thanks to an increase in mindfulness.
It can be difficult to embrace mindfulness when your mind is constantly being stimulated and interrupted with new information.
Any repetitive movement can help to quiet the mind and improve mindfulness. Some people who have a meditation practice incorporate movement–most often walking–into their meditation.
In martial arts training, students master new movements by repeating them in class until they become second nature. The process of repetition also builds mindfulness.
Concentration and focus are both important in martial arts training, whether you’re learning martial arts to get in shape, defend yourself, or build strength to reduce chronic pain.
When students are learning or testing for a new belt, they must concentrate on the task at hand, not letting their minds get distracted by thoughts or feelings unrelated to the practice of martial arts.
Over time, as students’ concentration improves, they become more mindful and less likely to be distracted from what is most important to them.
Discipline is one of the five tenets of martial arts training and it’s something that serves students well both in martial arts class and in their daily lives.
Students who are persistent in martial arts training make significant gains in their mindfulness and may experience decreases in stress and anxiety as a result.
Mindfulness can help people of all ages improve their well-being. Whether a student chooses a traditional martial art such as Aikido or a more modern practice like Krav Maga, the mindfulness benefits of martial arts training are undeniable.