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Shin Shin Toitsu AikidoSaint Louis Ki Society

 

Ki Meditation: good for the mind, good for the body

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. PhD
School of Biological Sciences
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Article published in Aikido Today Magazine 2003, 17(6): 35-36.

Meditation and relaxation benefit our mental and physical health. When adversity affects our lives, a positive attitude is perhaps the first step that should be taken to overcome stress in our minds and pain in our bodies.

Ki meditation is a method of self-development that can help us achieve this goal (Ki = the universal spirit; life energy). While this method is a fundamental component of Ki-Aikido, it is not restricted to those who practice Aikido. This system of mind and body unification emphasizes calmness by means of appropriate posture, breathing, and –of course- mental attitude.

During Ki meditation, an individual actively and consciously elicits the relaxation/meditation state by focusing his or her mind on the center of equilibrium of the body, called the “One Point” (seika-no-itten), which is located in the lower abdomen. Ki meditation can be practiced in different ways, but most people sit in the seiza position (kneeling with the back straight) or cross-legged. (Sitting erect in a chair also works!). Eyes should be closed and a conscious sensation of expansion and contraction of the body (using the One Point as a central reference for this sensation) should match the natural breathing rhythm.

Studies suggest that meditation elicits what in scientific terms is known as the relaxation response, a state of mind-body interaction characterized by a reduced movement of the skeletal musculature, as well as decreased blood pressure and respiratory rate. Four elements are necessary to elicit the relaxation response:

  1. a “mental device”, or constant stimulus (sound, word, phrase, or thought) repeated mentally or out loud (i.e. focusing the mind on the One Point).
  2. an attitude of calmness, which includes disregarding distracting thoughts.
  3. a decreased muscle tone (physical relaxation).
  4. a quiet environment. (The last point seems to be essential for beginners).

Scientific evidence supporting the benefits of meditation and relaxation on well being is based on correlational data. Studies on this subject document improvement in the overall health of patients who suffer a variety of disorders. For example, after a few weeks of daily 20-minute meditation sessions, patients show a significant reduction in anxiety and stress during pregnancy or previous to surgery, labor, or dental care. Anger seems to become milder with moderated practices of meditation (a few times a week). General pain, cold-related pain, and migraine headaches (including PMS migraine) can be minimized with meditation and breathing exercises. Some patients are able to control hypertension thanks to a combination of meditation and minimum medication. Even phobias, tobacco addiction, asthma attacks, and insomnia can almost disappear with adequate meditation routines.

Despite the numerous technical reports published on meditation, the physiological processes involved in the meditative state are still not well understood. Apparently, during meditation the trophotropic zone of the anterior hypothalamus is activated by means of electrical stimuli originating in the parasympathetic nervous system. This phenomenon is responsible for the complex reactions that cause muscle relaxation, reduction in blood pressure and thoraxic ventilation.

Meditation provides its optimum immediate benefits in sports training and physical activity. Athletes practice meditation and concentration to improve performance and minimize fatigue. Perception, judgment, and intuition seem to be enhanced by the meditative state, which influences the outcome of physical actions in a positive way. Not only Aikido, but other martial arts and disciplines, such as weight lifting, parachute jumping, swimming, figure skating, deep diving, marathon running, wrestling, and cross-country hiking also include meditation in their training.

What is fascinating to observe in all these cases is how the psychological environment in which a person lives and interacts with others influences many aspects of the human mind and body. Consequently, a positive mind-set combined with daily meditation, exercise, and balanced diet seem to be the essential ingredients for long-lasting lives and, therefore, long lasting calmness and happiness.