I meditate almost daily. Mostly in the mornings before starting my day, sometimes a little later.
I stated meditating in earnest when I was 20 years old, that makes it about 37 years now.
I’ve been taught by a Jain Guru, A Zen Master, a TM renegade, and a couple of other gurus. I’ve been in the presence of the Dalai Lama, followed the teachings of Yogananda with Kriya Yoga, and been hugged by a Yogi/Saint named Amma. I once took almost a year off training martial arts to devote to yoga and meditation.
How do I blend meditation and martial arts now? Like I said, I meditate almost daily, but I don’t meditate just before a practice session, or even right after. I find the two activities counterproductive. It has to do with what I feel is the goal, and after effects of meditation.
Some clarification is called for at this point. Meditation refers to both an activity, and a state of being, and often both simultaneously. As an activity, it is not “wordy.” It is not telling yourself a message over and over, that is affirmation and is a different thing. It is not “talking to god” or praying. It is not reciting prose or scripture. Meditation as I’ve been taught, regardless of method used, is about stillness, awakened, alert, stillness.
I once visited a Zen master after having already studied some meditation with others. When in the meditation hall, before we started, I asked what technique should I use, a particular breathing pattern, a visualization, an internal or external mantra..? In classic Zen master fashion the answer came: “Shut up, don’t move muscle, don’t move mind!” It was a shock to my system. It also helped solidify the idea that meditation as an activity is mostly non activity. You don’t do affirmation, you don’t “psyche yourself up,” you don’t go into trance or do self hypnosis, you don’t read or memorize texts. All these other activities have their own merits, in their own time, but are not truly meditation. Attempts to define them as meditation are wrong, and including them in the slot of time we give for meditation is a disservice to the practice.
So why don’t I meditate right before or after practice? I’ll mention a few reasons.
First, spending a bit of quality time in the practice of stillness should have a lingering after effect of calmness and tranquility. My martial arts practices are very dynamic, energetic, driven, physically and mentally demanding, and often require a quality of explosiveness. Usually coming out of a meditation session I feel a kind of bliss that I am not eager to just toss aside. I want as much bliss as I can get for as long as I can get it. But I am a a reasonable person with a material life, and can’t go about my day with a spaced out look in my eye, smile on my face and holding a flower. So for a couple of minutes after meditation, sometimes longer, I’ll ease my way into my worldly affairs. I don’t just bounce from meditation to sparring, like I know some do or try. I think its kind of a waste of the meditation activity.
Second, one of my gurus understood that we are not in the time and place where everyone can just retire to a cave and just come out with a begging bowl for daily food. He taught us that your meditation activity (and state of being) should infuse your whole day and life, not occupy it. He taught us that 24 minutes meditation a day could be sufficient to affect your 24 hours. Sure, more is better, but how much more? For what? If you really want so much more then become a monk…
Third, I accept a distinction between concentration, meditation, and absorption. They are all part of the meditation experience. When we start the training we generally start by concentrating, whether on a sound, sight, idea, breath concept, or even on “not move mind, not move muscle.” Concentration can progress or morph to the state of meditation. This is where what you were concentrating on has arrived, where stillness is not a word or an attempted goal, but the state of being. You are still, alert and aware, tranquil. Absorption is a deeper still state, and one that you might functionally carry with you 24/7, the meditative state and your “normal” state are one and without conflict.
I don’t have my reference handy, a translation and commentary on Patanjali‘s Sutras called “How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali by Swami Prabhavananda, Christopher Isherwood” but somewhere in there they state something like a few seconds of the meditative state may be called concentration, a few minutes of the meditative state, may be called meditation, and longer may be called absorption (samhadi for those into exotic words).
That all said, I meditate regularly but not just pre or post martial arts. That, I think, would be like going on a diet this afternoon to look great on a date tonight, or exercising the whole body to loose weight on just one arm…
For martial arts practice and training I take a couple of deep breaths, “psych myself up” sometimes, affirm my goals or desires, all this taking only a few seconds, then go into raising my heart rate, oxygenating my blood and brain with breathing, warming up my muscles with bouncing and stretching, then proceeding to the learning and practice of explosive, violent, combative skills training I also have as a part of my life.
Meditation, I did it eight hours ago, I still have some of that with me and I’m on to other stuff, like hitting and trying not to get hit…