Martial Arts, Yoga, Internal Energy systems, and Meditation. In addition to their Eastern roots, for me there’s a common theme to these pursuits – they are all about integrity. The formal definition of “Integrity” has two main meanings:
- the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
- the state of being whole and undivided, including the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction. (Source: https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/integrity)
All of these practices are meant to promote a healthy body, mind, and spirit with a strong sense of ethics; and to foster a healthy mental awareness of how you inhabit the body that serves you and that assists you in serving others. None of these pursuits involves “instant” results – all require a commitment to invest of time and energy, first to learn but then to maintain and refine the results one achieves. Lack of practice results in atrophy.
My martial arts practice is about protecting the integrity of my body and mind – not letting an external person affect my health through their aggression or even from the fear of aggression. The physical practice of Yoga and the internal energy practices (such as those we share in the Health Defense sessions) are about maintaining and restoring integrity of the mind and body – using movement, sound, and visualization. Finally, the practice of insight meditation is really about restoring the original integrity of the mind and spirit, through the examination of habits and errors in perception that cloud the engagement of the spirit with the world.
Not everyone has the resources to pursue all of these practices; and for those of you who have very full schedules and significant commitments, there’s also the integrity of knowing your own limits and of accepting that the time for learning some of them may not be now. So this essay isn’t trying to guilt you into the belief that your efforts aren’t “enough”. I am hoping that it’ll help you understand my own motivations, though, and perhaps spark an interest in something you might not have considered. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on how you address your own integrity of mind, body, and spirit.
People often pursue the martial arts for one or more of the following goals: enjoyment from sport competition and training, freedom from fear through self-defense training (this is my primary driver), or to serve a larger group’s goals that involve the risk of physical conflict. (My teaching partner Jim Sheeran, serves as a police officer, for example.)
Any one of these goals will require a sustained investment over time. Even “quick” solutions require practice! I’m always a bit skeptical, for example, when I see self-defense products being marketed to women. I’ve yet to hear a salesperson discuss the physical changes that occur under high stress including reduced dexterity and accuracy, changes in the scope of hearing and sight, and the general response of freeze, flight, or fight to a sudden threat. Whether it be the act of spraying mace into an attacker’s face, responding to a strike or hold from an aggressor, or even simply using one’s voice assertively, the ability to do any of these can be significantly impaired without practice under different situations so that the action is stored in “muscle memory”.
I want to be able to discourage anyone trying to hurt me (or hurt someone I care for) by having the skills to make them question who will come out on top and whether it’s worth it to threaten me. It’s why I still practice and study with my teacher, and why I continue to offer classes so that others have an opportunity to regularly practice and hone their own self-defense skills.
Yoga and Eastern Energy Practices
The practice of yoga is one of many ways to maintain a healthy body. (I’m using the word “yoga” in this essay to refer to the physical aspects associated with “asana”, a sanskrit word meaning “pose”, and the transitions between asanas.) And being part of a community of practice has let to new friendships. Having friends also helps me to stay on track, knowing that they will look forward to my presence in a shared practice.
I’ve had to take breaks in my yoga practice, and I’ve had to confront my own reluctance of returning to practice knowing that I have likely lost some mobility or stamina during that period. There’s also a part of me that is discouraged and wants to quit based on the very unhelpful comparison of myself with an image of someone more flexible, or stronger than me, as if I’ve already “lost”. Those times, I remind myself that whatever practice I do helps me feel better and to live as full as I can, and that there are no “winners” in Yoga.
I’ve also been studying Eastern energy practices for a number of years. Through Bando, I’ve learned of Min Zin (energy practices) and also of the use of (hand) mudras that can be used for internal energy and internal harmonization. And since then, I’ve been working with Joe Manley on integrating these with his extensive knowledge of Chi Gong. The mind has a tremendous ability to impact health for good or ill, and all of these practices engage the mind to bring healing and wholeness. There’s much we don’t know yet about the mechanisms, and there’s still a role for Western Medicine. I practice (and share) mudras, visualization, movement, and vocalization to help maintain my internal health so that I can continue to be a positive presence in the world.
Insight meditation can bring a deep sense of calmness and connectedness. It can also be uncomfortable when I start looking at patterns of behavior that might have developed in response to events and stresses experienced many years back. Some of these behavior patterns aren’t helpful to my present situation, and if I’m not mindful of my tendencies, I’m likely to repeat them. Meditation has helped me be less reactive and more able to “go with the flow” and to embrace the world as it is, not as I think it ought to be. That doesn’t mean giving up on making the world a better place, it means bringing a sense of kindness and compassion to whatever one encounters.
Meditation is a path to my own spiritual growth. Right now, I’m working on bringing awareness to all of the ways I “lock away” parts of myself from others, not sharing (or even admitting to) my own pain or fears, and conversely, not always allowing empathy that leads to sharing the pain or fears of others and compassionate action. It’s a bit scary, looking at this “spiritual armor” and the implications of letting it go.
In meditation, there’s a concept called “calm staying”. Its the willingness to stay with something uncomfortable and accept it for what it is. Sometimes calm staying is needed to address physical discomfort; sometimes it’s looking at a past action that requires calm staying to be able to own my own contributions to a problem or to see a problem not as something to resist but to learn from.
One of my teachers recently talked to me about the principle of magnetization, in that your intent will invite and create opportunities to make progress towards that intent without the need for a “grand plan”. If I were to make one suggestion to you, dear Reader, it’s that you practice your own magnetization. Have a deep intent that you can share with others, and see what comes your way! For me, it’s the goal of leaving this world a better place. I hope that some of my small contributions find their way to you.