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Which Ancient Exercise Gives Focus and Concentration?

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People often meditate by staring at a candle but tense their shoulders preparing dinner and driving, hold their breath to lift things, and are easily distressed when someone cuts in front of them.

My husband Paul and I studied martial arts in several training centers, and in temples and monasteries in Asia. The monks told us a secret. Sitting quietly, starting at something, or nothing, or counting, is the first five minutes of the first lesson. After this simple start, you are supposed to *use* the concentration and focus to do everything else. The fact that some people take years to master the first five minutes, or spend their life doing only this minor introductory part is another story.

Sometimes students come to my classes talking all about how yoga and martial arts gives you discipline, but can't seem to organize themselves to get their paperwork filled out or their things put away off the floor. They claim the Arts give you patience and awareness, then get angry when someone's cell phone goes off during class and when I show them how to bend and sit in a way that helps rather than harms their health. People use the catch phrase "mind-body" then sit in poor posture not using their body, and losing their mind.

Long ago, only the rich and subsidized could sit idly to meditate. The rest had chores to do and families to raise. There are stories of ancient monks who sat and meditated unmoving for years, then got up and ran marathons. Those turned out to be folk tales and fables. The monks actually soon found they had trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, and that their joints hurt. They needed exercise. They developed systems of using their body while practicing concentrating because they had to defend the temple and their emperor. When bad guys attacked they couldn't say, "Oh I can't work under pressure." They had to unfalteringly see and do frightening things to win bloody defenses. They had to be able to lie down that night and sleep, not lie awake saying, "Oh I'll have such nightmares. How could he yell at me? I am so ruined by what I saw and what happened to me." They had to practice being mentally strong while they practiced fighting. Their meditation was done raking leaves from monastery paths, preparing dinner, chopping wood, and during all their strenuous training.

All exercise is supposed to train focus and concentration. All household chores too. Work too. Use meditative action for all you do. Can you stay healthy and keep your blood pressure from rising in real life when the phone is ringing and the babies (of all kinds) are screaming? Or when nothing is happening externally to make you focus and get things done. Instead of only practicing meditation sitting, get up and get healthy by turning away negative thoughts, staying on track, and breathing easily when doing housework, during interactions with others, and all exercise you do.

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Photo by stevekwandot, Creative Commons
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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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