There are many misconceptions concerning meditation; “you just sit there thinking about nothing”, “you have to sit and listen to weird music”, “its just about going to sleep”, “it’s religious”, “its for levitation”, “you have to make strange noises”.
In fact, the ancient Pali language translates the word meditation to “bhavanna” which simply means, “developing, growing or to cultivate”. Through meditation, we can develop calmness and learn to transform the way the mind works.
Most of us spend a large percentage of our lives worrying about things that are beyond our control that might happen in the future or worrying about what has already happened in the past. Through mediation, we discover how to disassociate ourselves from the negative aspects of life, and learn how to just live in the “now”.
We usually spend around 5 minutes at the end of each Aikido class in “zazen” (sitting meditation). Zazen is the ultimate form of meditation and helps us to clear and settle the mind after the activity of practice.
For some students meditation is a principal aspect of their Aikido practice while others give it less credence. Those that do embrace meditation have the potential to develop a profound perception of their self.
Meditation adds a spiritual perspective to Aikido as well as helping with our focus and concentration. It puts us in a state where we are more able to achieve the coordination of our mind, body and spirit.
Aikido is a way of living in the moment and being totally focused in our movement and actions, which is in itself a form of meditation.
Both during practice and in times of potential threat, our aim is to remain aware whilst maintaining an empty mind (mushin – no mind), so that when reacting to attacks, we are able to do so without a pre planned response. The practice of zazen is one factor amongst others that helps us to achieve this state of mushin. This is a concept familiar to all martial arts, but in Aikido particularly, mushin creates the conditions where we can harmonise and become one with the attacker.
Aikido has often been referred to as moving meditation.
The son of O Sensei, 2nd Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba said in an interview; “In Aikido, we constantly train to control our partner’s Ki freely through the movement of our own Ki, by drawing the partner into our own movement.”
“Ki” (Japan), or “Chi” (China) or “Prana” (India) is found throughout beliefs and cultures within Asia but also found to a lesser or a less known level within other civilizations for example “Pneuma” (ancient Greece).
Ki can be a difficult concept to pin down and put into words. Even the Japanese and Chinese have differing ideas.
The kanji for Ki represents the vapours rising from steaming rice and symbolises a more metaphysical idea of the energy that we have in the body and that exists everywhere. There is a close association through breath with the circulation of energy from the universe around one’s body.
Culturally Ki is a belief in a universal energy that is in everything and is taken in from the breath and from food (Chinese medicine is said to have foods that can increase or decrease the level of Ki/Chi). People can cultivate strong or weak Ki depending on their life style and activities.
From a pragmatic point of view, there are many claims about what can and cannot be done with Ki. From our point of view when harnessed and coordinated correctly with mind and body function, Ki contributes to the driving force behind the very basics of the Aikido concept.
This is the synchronisation of the body, mind spirit intention and the breath through the hara (centre/abdomen) to perform an action or technique. Without this combination, our technique will be less effective and rely more on physical strength therefore defeating one of the core objectives of the art of Aikido.
Correct breathing, especially in meditation and letting go of thoughts causes a change in the brain waves that create a positive effect within the brain that can alter the brains structure. Therefore, in Aikido, we aim to be relaxed in body and mind, breathing correctly from our diaphragm and moving through our centre of gravity in harmony with ourselves our partner and our environment. This helps us become closer to the essence of Ki.
Whether we believe that Ki is true universal energy or not, this is a way of harnessing our inner energy or a way of using ourselves to reach our full potential.