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Mental Health: The true martial art

It’s easy to get bogged down by commitments to our spouses, our children, our careers, our bodies, or to whomever we hold ourselves accountable. That’s part of our journey towards personal excellence. But with these commitments come expectations that, if not met, can potentially invoke a self-deprecating analysis. Both internal and external pressures force us to push through, often neglecting the most vital component in our ability to function, not just as men, but as human beings: the state of our own mental wellness. In today’s climate of patronage towards those suffering mental health deficiencies, it’s important that we understand how the brain rehabilitates in correlation to prescribed physical training. While the anatomical benefits of exercise may be evident, there are a great number of enthusiasts and fitness gym employees who fail to promote the mental conditioning aspect of it. After all, it’s the will of the mind to which the body submits, right? But with so many worldly obligations, is there anything a little less demanding of our time where we can fortify our thoughts and still decompress? Sure. The Karate Kid ring a bell?
We may think of Martial Arts as this physical science where hand-to-hand combatants put a lifetime of rigorous training on display for the world to marvel at. That certainly makes for a great film. But students of the Arts have long been the archetypes for seeking an even deeper mental and spiritual balance than one can achieve after a traditional workout.

Here are a few points of emphasis:
Controlled Breathing
Endorphins
Confidence

Stress is one of the lead contributors to major illnesses such as anxiety and heart disease. It restricts our breathing, preventing organs in the human body from proper function, thus making us more susceptible. In any fighting art, controlled breathing serves as a fundamental practice when relieving tension, as shown in meditation and various other Tanden breathing techniques. This produces chemicals in our brains called Endorphins that, when released, will increase our positive energy, exuding more confidence within ourselves and amongst others. Or perhaps your inner-fuse has been lit and you’d rather dish out your anger? I can’t imagine punching your workout partner is proper gym etiquette. But a sparring partner? Where do I sign? Having a Zen-like environment where focused aggression is not only taught but encouraged, is a much safer, healthier alternative than causing unsanctioned physical harm to another individual or even worse, yourself. This, combined with proper breathing, will counteract any negative bodily effects from the adrenaline. Just remember that when choosing a class to work off that emotional discord, look for a discipline that aligns with your philosophical ideals too. With as little as one session, it’s possible you may acquire enough spiritual cognizance to recalibrate your entire livelihood.

And here’s the kicker. Each class is conducted by a seasoned martial artist/instructor at no additional fee. At one point you may have thought to yourself, “I was a stud athlete in college. Why is it so difficult to stay motivated as an adult?” Maybe life was simpler then. Maybe you received a competitive boost from your peers and coaches. Maybe now it’s time to check your fears at the nearest dojo entrance and utilize the teachings at your disposal. How many of you have joined a gym, then scoffed at the expense of paying for both a membership and the tutelage of a hulking specimen who physically embodies the culmination of time, dedication and patience; the very things that may have intimidated you to begin with. Try putting the cart back behind the horse for a moment and start with the root of the problem. Trade in that unflattering compression shirt for a loose-fitting gi. Let the instructor help guide you to a peace lost deep within your center as your morale begins to resurge. The greatest battles we face are in our very own heads. Why not enlist an expert of mental fortitude to fight alongside you? I guarantee you’ll be taking a bow when it’s over.

–X

 

*Keif “X” McBride is poet, screenwriter, & CL blog contributor

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