The most powerful martial arts weapon you’ll ever use is your own mind. And learning how to properly harness that brain of yours is one of the most valuable techniques you’ll ever learn in your training.
This is true regardless of what discipline you participate in and what level you’re at. Whether you’re taking a recreational Tai Chi class once a week or you’re a professional MMA fighter, you won’t reach your full potential—or get the full benefits of your training—if your head is not in the game.
The mental aspect of martial arts is a key component of martial arts training. If you take any classes or participate in any sparring or competition, you’re already doing the work that will improve your clarity, focus, mindset, and overall wellbeing. But there are also activities that you can do outside of your current training regimen to improve your mental game even more. And one of the best options is meditation.
Think of it like cross-training for your brain. If you want to improve your cardiovascular strength and endurance on the mats or in the ring, you can put together a running or cycling program. If you want to feel more centred and more focused, you can start a meditation practice.
Here are five ways that meditation can benefit your martial arts training.
1. Improved performance.
Mindset plays a significant role in martial arts training. The right headspace can be the difference between a win and a loss in a tournament. It can also make the difference between a rewarding training session and a frustrating one.
Unless you’re a naturally competitive person who thrives in high stress environments, getting your mind into the right zone can be a little daunting. Luckily, there is an easy and proven technique that can help you get there.
Visualization is a form of meditation or guided imagery that sports psychologists and athletes use to improve athletic performance. It involves picturing yourself going through your task, going through the details of any issues that might be tripping you up or making you nervous, and imagining yourself performing at a high level. You can do it before and after competitions—and before and after each training session—to remind you of your goals, motivate yourself, and inspire others. Studies show that this method can improve the mental and physical performance of everyone from pros to beginners.
2. Increased body awareness.
A strong mind-body connection is a valuable asset for any martial artist to have. One way to improve that link between your brain and your body—and how they work together—is a meditation practice called the body scan. The method behind the body scan is a lot like the title suggests: you get comfortable, close your eyes, breathe, and slowly focus on one body part at a time. Like a mental full body x-ray.
In addition to improving your body awareness, regular body scan meditation also has the potential to improve your sleep, relieve stress and anxiety, increase your self compassion, and maybe even reduce pain. All of which can help you to become a better—and happier—martial artist.
3. Stronger focus.
Martial arts training itself is an excellent way to improve your focus and concentration. But if you have any issues with how your mind is working, it can sometimes be a catch 22. It’s not easy to improve your focus when you can’t focus on the work that will help you focus better.
This is where a little bit of basic meditation can give you the boost you need to get started. All meditation practices have the ability to improve your concentration and ability to focus. Even something as simple as closing your eyes and drawing attention to your breathing—and bringing your attention back to your breathing every time it starts to wander—has the potential to retrain your brain for better memory, concentration, and focus. With a little regular practice, you can be ready to enjoy even more benefits from your martial arts training.
4. Enhanced problem-solving skills.
Martial arts sparring and competition are all about taking the techniques you’ve carefully studied and practiced and applying them to practical, real time situations. To do this well, you’ll obviously need to have a solid understanding of your martial art. But you’ll also need quick thinking and an ability to adapt. To do that well, you’re going to need to keep your mind sharp and agile.
One way to keep your brain in fighting shape is a regular meditation practice that shuts out information overload and allows your brain to calm down and focus. This can lead to better problem-solving skills, new perspectives, and more creative thinking. Put together, those sharpened mental skills could make you a very effective competitor and sparring partner.
5. Better rest.
Proper rest is important for all martial artists. Rest and recovery is what allows us to develop muscle, prevent injuries, and train with improved mental clarity. Unfortunately, many of us don’t get enough of it
A number of studies on the topic of meditation, mindfulness, and sleep have shown that that meditating before bed can gradually lower your heart rate, decrease stress hormones, increase sleep hormones, and better prepare your brain for sleep. Which could be exactly what you need to replenish your body and mind before your next training session.