Friday, January 30, 2009

Reality Check – Get Calm and Centered - Breathe

“I tell you fellas, you got breathe, Breathe, BREATHE!!!” - Shinichi Suzuki

I first met Suzuki Sensei in Scottsdale, Arizona at a Ki Society seminar in 1989. I was just starting out in Aikido and had determined that I wanted to learn all that I could about this fascinating martial art. From the very beginning of his seminar he uttered the quote you see above and truthfully, he lived it everyday. He showed three different forms of breathing, but practiced one of these everyday. The one called Ki Breathing as taught by Koichi Tohei the founder of Ki Aikido.

Breath is so important to us. We can live several weeks without food, a few days without water, but only about five minutes without air. However, it is one vital body function that we often take for granted. Ki in Japanese means energy and it is from the air that we derive our energy. We breathe air for the same reason that our cars do: we need it for combustion to burn our fuel. If we are not getting enough oxygen our bodies don’t move well and our minds can’t think.

When I say to someone that I have been doing my breathing (meaning my Ki Breathing) they will usually respond, “I’m glad you’re still breathing.” and then snicker to themselves. The reason that I tell them about the habit is because I am proud of the times when I do Ki Breathing religiously. It is simply the hardest thing I have ever attempted to do in my life. To sit in a darkened room for 20-30 minutes and slowly breathe in and out.

Briefly, here are the steps for Ki Breathing

1. Sit slightly forward on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Your back should be straight and your hands placed lightly on your knees.

2. Open your mouth by gently dropping your lower jaw and place the tip your tongue against your lower teeth.

3. Slowly begin to exhale the air in your lungs through your mouth while making a soft “Ha” sound. Push the air from the bottom of your lungs first with your diaphragm. One image you can use is to imagine that you are a tube of toothpaste being squeezed from your feet all the way up to your mouth. Continue until all the air in your lungs has been pushed out. Once the air has been pushed from your lungs lean forward slightly by bending at the hips. Pause briefly at the end of this cycle.

4. Gently close your mouth and begin to inhale slowly through your nose. Fill your lungs from the bottom up so that when the air gets to the top of your lungs you cannot take any more in. Using the toothpaste tube analogy feel the air first filling you at your feet. Once you have filled your lungs move at the hips and sit up straight in the chair. Pause briefly at the end of this cycle.

5. Continue steps 2-4 until you have come to the end of your breathing session. Each inhalation or exhalation can take from 10 – 50 seconds depending on your lung capacity. It is important to do what you can without judgment because your cycles will get longer with practice. It just takes time.

Once you have learned to control your breath in this way you will find that it is easier to control your breathing in stressful situations. We will elaborate more on this in later posts about the connection with they way we are breathing and the emotions we have.

Coming up in the next post – Be Relaxed.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reality Check – Get Calm and Centered.

Please allow me to apologize in advance for the long wait between posts. This group of posts took a while to get just right. Now to the post.

The fact of the matter is our bodies and minds only work properly when we are calm, relaxed and centered. The martial artist, and actor, know this and study constantly to train body and mind to remain relaxed and calm in even the most extreme circumstances. What usually stops us from achieving this is our emotions.

Our emotions are a wonderful thing. They can tell us that something is wrong before we can consciously determine what that might be. They are the bellwether that gives us an uneasy feeling when we walk into a room that has just had a conflict in it. Even if the participants are no longer in conflict or even in the room.

But, they are just feelings and they should not run our lives and often we let them do just that. We must have control over our emotions so that we will be better able to determine what they are really telling us.

If we look at a calm pond on a clear day with no wind and toss a pebble into the water, we will be able to see each ripple that our stone has created. Take the same pond and toss the stone in on a stormy day with the wind whipping up the waves and it will be almost impossible to see the ripples we made with the stone even though they will still be there. In fact, we will be hard pressed to see even the initial splash our stone makes.

In order for us to understand what our emotions are telling us we must become like that still, calm pond. When we are calm, we can feel the faintest nuances of our feelings telling us about everything that is going on around us. We can then pick and choose what is important and what is not because we have all the information needed. When we are frenzied, we can barely understand what we are feeling through a cacophony of mixed emotions let alone tell what is going on around us.

Therefore, we must calm our emotions so that we, not they, are in charge. This is easy enough to say in a world that continuously tries to whip us into a frenzy over even the least little thing. So then, how do we achieve that calm state even when the world around us is anything but calm? It is easy with three simple things:

• Breathe and Be Still
• Be Relaxed
• Find Center and Balance

We will examine each of these in turn in the next few posts and then return to examining “How the Martial Artist Sees What is Really There - Maintain proper distance”. Coming up in the next post, Breathe.