6 January 2014

Mindfulness and Martial Arts - Good for Mind, Body and Soul

by Amanda Williamson 

I often recommend a mindfulness based exercise, such as yoga, pilates or a martial art to my clients because this type of exercise "flexes" our frontal lobe as well as our muscles, and it is in doing so that we pop out of our automated way of thinking and provide our minds with the space to change. That is what learning is all about - forming new neural connections. This is also what unlearning is about - severing the neural links that have been long established and which cause us to react in the same old unwanted ways…unless we utilise our incredible frontal lobes and literally change our minds. This process is known as neuroplasticity and was introduced as an idea in the West by William James  in 1890, and was largely rejected until the 1970's. James stated:

"The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind". 

It took us a while to get with the programme but getting there we are with the NHS embracing mindfulness and the University of Exeter investing in the clinical development and research of mindfulness based therapies.  

Here is a short video by Professor Williams from Oxford Mindfulness Centre, on The Science of Mindfulness:

Mindfulness alters our perspective and gives us the mental space to develop a new way of thinking, as well as calming down our emotional reactionary circuits.

Several years ago I tried kenjutsu which is the art of the Japanese sword.  I joined whilst I was training as a counsellor and tried weekly for about three years. It was helpful when I have been stressed, or busier than I'd like to be, or had challenging times in my life.

I am fortunate in that my counselling work is very mindful in that I am aware and present in the moment with my clients. It is easier to be mindful when we are doing activities which promote mindfulness. My enabling work with an autistic teenager is also very mindful. William is perpetually mindful of the immediate here and now. I had a dream about him several years ago; I was in a forest, taking part in a gruelling assault course. I was struggling to climb over and under things at breakneck speed. I glanced over at the other competitors and all I could see was William, skipping up and down on a tree stump, flicking a ribbon, whistling and smiling, totally at peace with the world.

I have many clients who are aware of the concept of mindfulness and have read books or attended a course but struggle to integrate it into everyday life. There are ways of weaving mindfulness into our everyday lives. Walking is an excellent way - thinking about what we can see and hear right now as we walk, rather than losing ourselves in thoughts/concerns/worries that are miles away from where our feet are…

A great martial arts class can be a highly effective way of developing strength of body and mind, of switching off the old, habitual thought processes and turning on that part of us that makes us uniquely human - our frontal lobes. Flex that frequently and you'll have a young mind as well as a young body.

Finally, I asked many people I know who do a martial art to tell what their Myers-Briggs type is. I was hoping to see a pattern. I had assumed that they would be mainly introverts rather than extroverts but actually, there was a fairly even spread. However, the majority of martial artists were *NF* types, that is intuitive and feeling (as opposed to sensing and thinking). Hmmn. Food for thought.


Francis said...

Not a martial art as such, but I've recently taken up indoor bouldering which has many of the same helpful attributes - a supportive community, a physically and mentally demanding activity, and a clear sense of progression. For someone with dismissive-avoidant attachment (ex-boarder!) and emotion regulation styles, dealing with the fear and failure involved in taking on the next level is I feel quite helpful.

On the Myers-Briggs question, I fit the pattern you spotted - it seems I'm INFP (Introvert(12%) iNtuitive(50%) Feeling(12%) Perceiving(28%)), though I'm not sure what I'd have been before I completed my counselling diploma last Summer.

Amanda Williamson (She/her) said...

Interesting point, Francis, I wondered about how counselling training impacts on Myers Briggs type. It changed mine,
Thank you for your comment. I hadn’t previously heard of indoor bouldering so thank you for the education.

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