Last week my girlfriend and I attended a Systema Russian Martial Art seminar. We learned some simple breathing exercises and developed skills that allowed us to be calm and relaxed under stress.
At one point during the seminar the teacher stabbed me with a training knife. In my Aikido training and teaching we sometimes work with practice knives, but physical contact with the knife on the body in Aikido is rare.
The four stabs I received were quick and very powerful and felt like a heavy punch with a bite to it. The knife even cut the skin and left some bruises and I was aware of some fear.
Because of the work we had done all morning, I was more in touch with my body and breath. Even though the stabs were extremely intense, I was surprised to see that the attacks hardly disturbed me. I just moved, continuing my breathing and being aware. The exercise left me feeling more confident, energized, and inspired about what I had just learned: “Being able to handle ‘stress’ with skill.”
Most of us don’t have to deal with ‘knife stabs to the body’, but to me they represent the challenges we face in our day-to-day life. Critical feedback, monthly bills, and the tons of emails we receive on a regular basis, can stab at us with unforgiving power.
This martial experience confirmed my belief that through proper breathing anyone can be more empowered and inspired to deal with the challenges they face.
There is an old Chinese proverb ”Running water never goes stale” and it points to how life can be experienced as an effortless stream of changes.
We often get stuck and are attached to our ideas and beliefs about how life should be, which creates a tremendous amount of suffering. We can experience this condition in our bodies as tension and in our psyches as fear.
By paying attention to our breath in every moment and learning how to continue to breathe when the stakes go up, we make it possible for our minds to be calm and our bodies to be relaxed. And this sets the ground for being more skillful in our actions.