With Sam Seghers –
Are you still searching for a meditation or mindfulness technique that ‘works’ for you? I’ve finally found mine after a few years of trying different things. More active techniques give me more peace than silent sitting for example.
Have you considered the mindful practices of Japan?
You travel to broaden your mind, expand your experiences, understand a little more of this diverse and wonderful world.
You meditate, or think you should, so you can be. Be healthier, be a bit more relaxed, be more in the moment and less rushed.
We know how mindful activities can bring us into the moment, allowing the space and time for the body to repair itself. When we stop, and be, we move away from the fight or flight mode and more towards rest, digest and repair.
This switches on the digestive system which turns off under stress. Better digestion leads to better absorption of nutrients, leading to better body, brain and immune function.
When you take this space and time for yourself, you also sleep better, giving your brain time to clean up – to clear out the damaged cells, clean up unneeded connections allowing more space for creativity and clarity of thought.
How can you find this time, this space? What is the best way for you to bring mindfulness into your life?
In Japan, traditional mindful activities are taken up early, with meditation taught at schools. Students can choose to take up the martial arts or other traditional mindful activities at school.
Of those traditional activities, the martial arts, such as Judo, Japanese archery (Kyudo), Japanese swordsmanship (Kendo) are most popular, but some schools also offer tea ceremony (Sado), flower arrangement (Kado) or calligraphy (Shodo).
All of these arts finish with ‘do’, in Japanese: 道. Do, means ‘the way’ – as Bushido is ‘the way of the warrior’ so sado is ‘the way of tea’. Kyudo is ‘the way of the bow’ etc.
In each of these ‘do’ you learn discipline, the importance of process, attention to detail, and letting go of outcome. You learn humility and respect for others, hone your physical dexterity, constantly challenge yourself to improve, both in what you do and how you do it.
In Kyudo, archers must enter the arena in a particular way, prepare the arrows following particular steps, and within that shot must not display any effort towards hitting the target.
The focus is on how the arrow is placed on the string and bow, how the arms move in preparation to shoot, and how the arrow is released. If the archer clearly adjusts to ensure they hit the target they lose points in a competition or will not move to the next level if grading.
Scientists have compared the brain waves of meditating monks and high level Kyudo practitioners in Japan. They found that as the arrow is released, the brainwaves of the archer were like those of a meditating monk.
Function MRI (fMRI) has also been used. A beginner will show a spike of brain activity as the arrow is released, whereas experienced practitioners show no change – the brain stays calm and focussed through the entire process.
If you love to be more creative, unbound to procedure, you may like a more artistic pursuit like Shodo – Japanese calligraphy. While you will need to learn the different techniques, you can bring your artistic air into play, your calligraphy reflecting the meaning you draw from each character.
Imagine yourself, relaxed and in the flow of any of these, or similar, activities.
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SO HOW CAN YOU BRING SOME OF THESE ASPECTS OF THE JAPANESE MINDFUL ACTIVITIES
INTO YOUR DAILY LIFE?
» Find your ‘yoga’, for want of a better term. An activity that brings you to stillness, or ow, that place of calm that settles you
• Is that yoga, taichi, qi gong, fishing, cooking, or a traditional art
• Try some of the traditional arts, locally or when travelling
» Start by becoming more aware of how your body responds
• To output – exercise, yoga, stillness – both constructive and boredom, to work
• To input – different food and drinks, the things you watch and listen to
» Move towards those things that bring you calm and ease
• Sometimes you may need to go hard, other times you may need to be still
• Spend more time each week with the calming influences
» Practice regularly
• Even 5 minutes a few times a week is a great start if practicing alone
• Find a club if available
» Savour the stillness, the calm, the peace that this time brings you
• Journal if that’s your thing
• Remind yourself regularly of how you feel when you do that activity, and bring that feeling back to you when you feel stress levels increasing.