As with any routine you might learn on the dojo floor, meditation requires practice. The body must learn to accept the centering effects of meditation. Thus, I highly recommend every Martial Arts student take time to learn to meditate.
Despite pop cultural images, there are many ways to meditate. Some are more spiritual than others. Some require more involvement than others. Some work better for certain people than others. Picking the right type of meditation is like picking the right style of Martial Arts, you have to get to know a few and try a few before you find the one that best suits you.
If you're interested in learning more in depth information about meditation, I highly recommend heading over to our Meditation editor's site. There are some wonderful articles there illustrating different techniques and types.
But to get you started, here are some basics:
Types of Meditation
Pop culture would have us believe that meditation is this guy sitting in lotus style with hands in prayer position and "om"ing. While this definitely is a means of meditation, it isn't the only one. Meditation can be performed in many different positions, including laying down and standing. In fact, you can even achieve a state of meditation while in motion. Many Tai Chi practioners work hard to achieve this very state.
How do you know if it's working?
While each of us meditates differently and it's an individual journey, there are some characteristics that are relatively universal. During meditation, the mind is empty. The worries of the day or the surroundings are gone. Emerging from meditation, one has a sense of feeling awakened as if just coming out of a restful sleep. Breathing becomes easier and there's a sense of openness and awareness of all around you.
My mind never quiets
I hear this a lot from students who try to practice meditation. For whatever reason, we as Martial Artists are constantly thinking and working out our next steps. Perhaps it's not a unique characteristic to us, but I find I often have students who struggle to quiet their minds.
What I recommend to help them is to go through a series of steps:
Step 1: Close your eyes. Closing at least one of your sensory inputs helps to quiet the mind a bit. If this isn't enough, you can even deaden your hearing by playing calming music to drown out any other sounds.
Step 2: Once you've gotten into your meditative position, start to focus your mind on different parts of the body. Start with your extremities, fingers, toes, hands, feet, and work your way towards the core of your body.
Step 3: Focus on your breathing. Pay particular attention to when you inhale and when you exhale. When you find your mind wandering, try to draw that focus back to your breathing and thinking about how you are breathing. Slow your breathing down. Try to keep your inhale and exhale at the same speeds.
Step 4: Try to visualize the calming. What type of place seems calm to you? What does it look, sound, taste, feel like? The more real you can make it in your mind, the quicker you will find yourself mentally in that calm place.
The more you practice reaching this meditative state, the easier it becomes to attain. In some cases, it becomes so easy that just a single though of your calm place will trigger a meditative reaction.
How to use meditation in Martial Arts
I can't stress this enough but meditation can be used in all aspects of Martial Arts. I find it particularly helpful for our fighters, who are very much focused on the exertion and battle ahead. But even those that just do forms or just come to class can benefit from meditation as well. Those that practice find it easier to absorb what they are learning. They have clarity of thought which makes it easier to focus on their targets or goals. In the case of fighters, it helps them to drown out the rest of the audience and focus on the opponent ahead of them. Through having that clarity, they can often see signs in their opponents much faster and react much faster than if their mind were too busy.
So if you get a chance, I highly recommend all Martial Arts students take a time to include meditation into their normal training routine.