The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Saturday, October 08, 2016

Martial Arts Shapes Us

Below is an excerpt that appeared in NYMAG.Com's Science of US section: How Exercise Shapes You.

It absolutely applied to martial arts practice. The full article may be read here.

When I first started training for marathons a little over ten years ago, my coach told me something I’ve never forgotten: that I would need to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I didn’t know it at the time, but that skill, cultivated through running, would help me as much, if not more, off the road as it would on it.
It’s not just me, and it’s not just running. Ask anyone whose day regularly includes a hard bike ride, sprints in the pool, a complex problem on the climbing wall, or a progressive powerlifting circuit, and they’ll likely tell you the same: A difficult conversation just doesn’t seem so difficult anymore. A tight deadline not so intimidating. Relationship problems not so problematic.

Maybe it’s that if you’re regularly working out, you’re simply too tired to care. But that’s probably not the case. Research shows that, if anything, physical activity boosts short-term brain function and heightens awareness. And even on days they don’t train — which rules out fatigue as a factor — those who habitually push their bodies tend to confront daily stressors with a stoic demeanor. While the traditional benefits of vigorous exercise — like prevention and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and osteoporosis — are well known and often reported, the most powerful benefit might be the lesson that my coach imparted to me: In a world where comfort is king, arduous physical activity provides a rare opportunity to practice suffering.

Few hone this skill better than professional endurance and adventure athletes, who make a living withstanding conditions others cannot. For my column with Outside Magazine, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the world’s top endurance and adventure athletes on the practices underlying their success. Regardless of sport, the most resounding theme, by far, is that they’ve all learned how to embrace uncomfortable situations:

• Olympic marathoner Des Linden told me that at mile 20 of 26.2, when the inevitable suffering kicks in, through years of practice she’s learned to stay relaxed and in the moment. She repeats the mantra: “calm, calm, calm; relax, relax, relax.”

• World-champion big-wave surfer Nic Lamb says being uncomfortable, and even afraid, is a prerequisite to riding four-story waves. But he also knows it’s “the path to personal development.” He’s learned that while you can pull back, you can almost always push through. “Pushing through is courage. Pulling back is regret,” he says.

• Free-soloist Alex Honnold explains that, “The only way to deal with [pain] is practice. [I] get used to it during training so that when it happens on big climbs, it feels normal.”

• Evelyn Stevens, the women’s record holder for most miles cycled in an hour (29.81 – yes, that’s nuts), says that during her hardest training intervals, “instead of thinking I want these to be over, I try to feel and sit with the pain. Heck, I even try to embrace it.”

• Big-mountain climber Jimmy Chin, the first American to climb up — and then ski down — Mt. Everest’s South Pillar Route, told me an element of fear is there in everything he does, but he’s learned how to manage it: “It’s about sorting out perceived risk from real risk, and then being as rational as possible with what’s left.”

But you don’t need to scale massive vertical pitches or run five-minute miles to reap the benefits. Simply training for your first half marathon or CrossFit competition can also yield huge dividends that carry over into other areas of life. In the words of Kelly Starrett, one of the founding fathers of the CrossFit movement, “Anyone can benefit from cultivating a physical practice.” Science backs him up.

A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that college students who went from not exercising at all to even a modest program (just two to three gym visits per week) reported a decrease in stress, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, an increase in healthy eating and maintenance of household chores, and better spending and study habits. In addition to these real-life improvements, after two months of regular exercise, the students also performed better on laboratory tests of self-control. This led the researchers to speculate that exercise had a powerful impact on the students’ “capacity for self-regulation.” In laypeople’s terms, pushing through the discomfort associated with exercise — saying “yes” when their bodies and minds were telling them to say “no” — taught the students to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of difficulty, whether that meant better managing stress, drinking less, or studying more.

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