Earlier this year I took up kickboxing.
It was in the middle of a very grim and gloomy February when I was struggling with lots of demons and feeling unremittingly bleak. Mindfulness practice, sat on my cushion, was struggling to exorcise all the grey, but I had an inkling that exercise might.
Mindfulness is, of course, much involved with the body. One of the five fields of mindfulness is that of the physical body: noticing the pains, creaks, itches and bubbles of the body on a day-to-day basis.
As I’ve mentioned in my courses, mindful people get ill much less. Not because meditation is some snake oil cure-all, but because sitting every day and listening to your body allows you to notice things going wrong sooner. And then do something about it. Very often I sit and notice a tickle in my throat that makes me reach for a fistful of remedial Vitamin C the moment I get up. (This is a good example of mindful awareness sparking mindful action once the meditation is over).
So when I was grappling with February gloom, I suppose a part of me heard the body asking for exercise and so I join the very smart and friendly dojo around the corner from me in Swiss Cottage.
Vigorous exercise, mental challenge (learning all those kick-ass moves) and a sense of teamwork were great tonics and over the year have reaped benefits. I feel easier in a group (something my childhood made quite threatening); I have mastered a complex skill; I’m fitter and I have great lats.
I’m not suggesting that “reverse kick – front punch – roundhouse kick – front punch – reverse!” needs to be a part of your mindfulness practice, but tuning into your body does. And most importantly, learning to listen to it.
I’ve gone back to school this autumn to another term of psychotherapy training and this year we’re looking at body-centred therapies. How the unmindful body can hold and maintain psychic stress and trauma which stops us from living at optimum health. Bringing this frozen ‘body armour’ into consciousness allows us to feel less imprisoned in our flesh.
I think all of us – at some point – have felt good after a brisk walk, a wild wig-out on the dance floor, or a cycle full-tilt down a country lane. The body releases endorphins into the bloodstream and momentarily all is well in the world. Simply going for a ten-minute stroll is a very mild form of exercise that has clinically proven benefits on mood. Walking or running or cycling mindfully – ie. with an awareness of what is happening as we are doing it. Seems to amplify that benefit. We have the endorphin flow but – crucially. We also have a knowledge of our own choice and agency in creating it. If we felt sluggish or down and we did something to counter it. We are not at the mercy of our moods.
I would suggest that this is the true power of mindfulness – regaining that sense of agency in one’s life. No longer running around the perimeter putting out fires and sticking our fingers in the leaking dyke-wall. But sitting in the centre with a sense of authentic control.
Not complete control – we become aware through meditation how much of the world is simply ‘not ours’, is beyond our remit – but a sense of balanced response.
I am feeling down, I can do something about it. I am not a marionette of my moods. And it seems that working with the body is one of the most effective ways to cut those puppet strings. And stand on our own two feet.
I’d love to know your thoughts on kickboxing. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!