Today marks Day 8 of beta testing the first tier of my fitness program, and I'd like to share with you some of the benefits I've taken away so far. Get ready for some fit talk.
The first thing I do every morning is take 5-15 minutes to myself and meditate.
Meditation is equally one of the most foreign yet essential things for a modern human existence. It was used since antiquity to foster a stronger link between mind, body, and soul, and helps to focus and fortify our spirit to tackle whatever challenges are going thrown at us each day.
I recently recommended meditation to a good friend of mine, and, as she puts it, she's "only been able to relax her face so far," (which is huge, btw) but it makes a massive difference to her day and she feels it when she doesn't do it. The more consistently she practices the skill, the more effective it is, and the more effective she is throughout her day.
There's a funny thing about meditation. Everyone has their own image of what it looks like and what it's supposed to do, and how fast that should work. Thing is, each of us is a unique organism. We all have different stresses, habits (good and bad), education, paradigms - yet each of us can benefit from mindfulness, and relaxing our bodies, and fortifying our souls. So many people can benefit from meditation, but they give up before they really reap the big benefits, and often the reasoning is: "I'm not good at it" or "I'm not doing it correctly, so why try?"
If you feel like that, here are some questions to consider:
1) Are you in a space that is comfortable, quiet, and free of our digital distractors? - Yes
Then you're meditating. We have a saying here in the center: Disconnect to Connect. We use it to remind ourselves to put our devices away when we're in a class, or in the cafe, or in a game session; to free ourselves from that pull and open the door to connect with the people physically with us. What we're doing here is allowing our mind to reconnect with our bodies by creating space for this to occur.
2) Are you focusing on your breathing? - Yes
Then you are meditating. Our brain can be a stupid, blind, chittering monkey recently stung by a hornet - but we interrupt its strange path with breath. Breath is essential for every facet of your being; by focusing on it - even if you're only successful in bursts of a few seconds - you interrupt your panic pattern and bring what is most pressing forward. If everything is small details, imagine it flowing out of you, to rest instead next to you, to be sorted later. Not now - you're breathing.
If you are following those two practices, you ARE meditating. Everyone starts in different places, but everyone can benefit from taking just a few minutes each morning to focus their spirit and relax their body. Do not get discouraged; never compare your "skill" to another - we're all different, and there is no point in getting down on yourself because you're not doing it like him, or her, or them. Meditation is a muscle, and it needs to be trained. Best thing about it? You can train it every day and the workout's real short. :)
Here's what I do:
Working Title - Flowing Circuit
I sit on my couch so my feet can rest on the floor (as opposed to cross-legged). I allow my back and my neck (most of all) to rest against the pillows of my comfy couch. *Now, this usually prompts my cat to come over, but I won't shoo her away; she just wants to sit with me.*
1) Start with three long and slow breaths, in and out through my mouth, careful to use my diaphragm to open up my lungs from the resting state of sleep.
2) Eyes closed, I breathe slowly through my nose.
3) I reach out with my mind and try "feel" the tip of my nose. (I know, I know, stay with me) It's going to tingle a little, especially the first time, but find it. Now, I imagine a bead of energy, like a warm mote of light, at the tip. It enters my skin, and I begin to follow its spreading path as it courses slowly through my face, stopping to observe all the intricate pieces along the way.
4) If I get stuck, or a random thought sneaks in...the mote pauses, warming the spaces it has already touched. I focus on my breathing, and let the thought flow to its conclusion, and breathe it away.
5) I continue this process; moving the energy across my eyes, my forehead, my mouth - all the muscles of the face - then up my scalp, down the base of my skull, to flow down the cord of my spine while spreading like wings along my back. I feel and appreciate every muscle fiber; some need more attention than others, and that's fine. I'm not going to ruminate on the why; just flow.
6) When you reach the base of your spine and have spilled down your chest, you might feel a slowly spreading surge down your arms and legs; most of us have better circulation (due to use) to those areas, so energy flows faster. Also, you'll be accessing your third and fourth chakras. Heart and Solar Plexus - Heart's got Compassion, Love, Empathy; Solar Plexus has Power, Will, Energy, Emotion. The wealth of our energy, life force, ki, whatever; I just know that I've always had a lot of it. Once your mote accesses this pool, let it flow through your entire body. Revisit all the wonderful locales of your body and flood it with that warm, calming light.
7) When you're feeling good, or your timer goes off, take those three long and slow breaths again as you open your eyes, bringing yourself out of the map.
Steps 1-4 are good for most people. They either won't have time, or patience, or some other factor will step in, before they can go further. But this is a muscle; and it can always get stronger. There is no plateau. Just like in the martial arts, there is always another layer. Consistency is where we reap the greatest benefit.
IF YOU SKIP MEDITATION IN THE MORNING - you can always do it later. I pick the morning because it's going to help the rest of my day, guaranteed, so I better start my day with it. If you miss it, and those panic feelings begin to creep in and you feel out of whack, try this:
Take in one short, one long intake of breath through your nose, then exhale slowly out your mouth. Try to take in more air each time, and slow the exhale each time. Do this 3-5 times; if you can, close your eyes.
Why? Pattern interrupt with a kinesthetic change (short-long breath, then exhale) to make your brain focus on something else. Then move forward with a fresher perspective. :)
Why I Meditate: It provides power for my day. My mind can jumble and I hate feeling behind; taking a moment, instead of falling down the rabbit hole, is essential for staying on track. But by doing it FIRST, I have stimulated my own Willpower to continue the trend throughout the day. I'll be guaranteed to be more even, calm, pleasant, rooted, present, and in control of my universe. Booyah.
Instructor Mary and Master Jenny have often said that stretching is even better than a fresh cup of coffee in the morning. Now, let's not focus on my stretching levels next to the martial arts masters, but the point still stands. ;)
Naturally flowing from the body mapping mental relaxation and energy acquisition of meditation, it's time to stretch. Take 5-10 minutes and do whatever you can.
I end up on my back first, elongating my spine and realigning my shoulders so they don't round forward. I stretch my lower back and rotate my toes. Flip over - Child Pose, Cobra, Cat-To-Cow for ab control, Dragon Stretch, seated toe touch, then toe touch alternating legs. On my feet - all my dojo stretches; Heaven and Earth, slow splits, Butterfly. Find a wall - rotator cuff stretch, forearm stretch. GENTLE neck pull - it will feel SO GOOD.
Why I Stretch: I need to be able to move when I need to. I like burst energy, I've always had a lot of it, but I'm not going to hurt myself when I need to fly into action. This is preventative mostly, with added benefit of augmenting that meditation thing I just did. :)
Go for a walk. Go for a run. Do what I've been doing lately - walk your neighborhood with bursts of sprints for longer and longer periods of time. Bike rides are great. Move with a friend. But get up and get moving!
For a lot of people, this is when they'd work out, and for many that's fine. I ask to wait on your workout time just a tad more. This "move" is really to cement the previous two things you've done for yourself already. You've reconnected your mind, body, and soul while preparing your physicality for the day - go outside. Feel the planet. Even if it's cold out. New Englanders, I understand, there are exceptions; but even if it's raining, get outside. It's just water - jackets exist. Unlike the silly college kids that scream at the sky when they prance around in pajamas in a downpour...you know jackets exist. And I love walking in the rain; it's cathartic to feel the water flow over me - even in the cold. A brisk wind reminds you of the fireplace that waits for you; a vicious downpour sends you to huddle under a canopy with a good friend; moving alone brings joy to moving together.
...You do know jackets exist, right?
What does this have to do with gaming?
Stronger mind, stronger body, balanced soul = better gamer. ;)
See you at the table,
This one gets a little heavy, folks. It's related, I promise.
I was an angry kid. I would often explode in fits of rage and screaming. Stomping, snapping, throwing, breaking.
I broke so many toys, threw so many books, and screamed so many foul things. And after being scolded on my "public decency," I made sure to have these episodes in private.
As I grew older, they would evolve with me. Manifesting in new bursts of energy laced with malice, I would retreat into silence and fear, punishing myself over and over. Because, you must understand, I never lashed out at others. Save for the few moments I stomped and screamed when I was young - and when I saw the people around me and how scared and confused they were - I learned that this was NOT how a young man acts in public. So I was quiet, respectful, and kept to myself.
My anger made people uncomfortable. So I buried it. And as I grew older, I found different ways to bury it. My anger was burned as fuel; I wrote the best music when filled with rage; I spoke the best when I was fired up at myself; I performed the best with a fire in my belly.
But anger taxes you. It robs you of your grace, your energy; it can sap your reason and patience, and can blind you from what matters most.
I didn't care. I could be better. Of course I could be better. I could practice harder, learn more, stay up later, work harder, sleep less, disappear from the world for awhile while I work. No, you can't rest. There's no time to rest. How dare you sleep, you lazy sack! You've wasted your whole damn life so far and you're still so lazy to think there's time to lay down? Be better, damn you!
My inner dialogue was a lot more...colorful. It would manifest in surges of practicing, as if that would make up for a semester of poor habits and low motivation. Stints of good habits, only to be broken in a week. That voice that says I WILL CHANGE that grows quieter each day. Anger, and the energy it grants you, is finite.
And then I embraced the martial arts. I began to realize the most powerful tool we all possess. The secret isn't to push through, but to stop. And breathe.
It is our breath that binds our soul, our ki, to our bodies. Patience lets you focus, and breath allows your body (and your mind) to be patient.
Even when I was studying the martial arts every week, I still used anger to fuel my learning. I had already "wasted" 10 years learning different systems, while my friends were already testing for black belt. I was BEHIND. How dare I become behind; people looked up to me, and I let them down!
And when I finally achieved black belt - somewhere in a haze of adrenaline and anxiety - I felt empty. Not like an empty cup, eager for more knowledge, but like an old car...barely limping into the trade shop. I returned to class for a time, here and there, but I felt such a weight of guilt. Like I didn't earn it. I rushed it. I wasn't ready. Not by my standards; to me, I didn't EARN my belt.
And with every class in my new "position," as you come to realize that you, actually, know nothing - and when your goal for half your life has been to make it to black belt, and you DO, only to feel as if it were handed to you - that weight becomes heavier and heavier. So I responded the best way I knew how.
I got angry. And then, I got very, very sad.
I stopped coming to class, I stopped helping in our events, I stopped coming to kick-boxing. And then I stopped training altogether. It felt like a lie to me.
As of the date of writing this, I still haven't returned to the dojo. Something about it fills me with shame.
In fact, I feel a lot of shame for so many things. Like tonight, when I came home feeling like a bad storyteller. Like a bad player; a bad DM; and a slob who isn't able to get his life together.
And normally, feelings like this would crush me. Pound me into the ground until I cry myself to sleep and face the day exhausted, then repeat the process until I make myself sick with depression and call out for a day to recover. These feelings would do this. But they aren't. Not tonight. Because tonight I remembered something.
I remembered my breath. I felt it flow through me like water. And the more I waited, the more I recognized what it meant.
I am a brass player. I know the power of air. I was...I AM a martial artist. I know what breath does to my body, to my muscles, to my mind. My players have seen me use it before running a game, or when I need to focus despite being exhausted. It is equal parts the simplest and most complex element we have in our arsenal of control.
Yes. It is 3:47am and I'm not asleep, but for the first time in so many months, years even, I have stopped...to breathe. To stare at my wall and let my eyes drift over the collected business cards of acquaintances and allies, to pick apart their names and logos to form new ones, and set them aside for later worlds. To quietly, and deftly, take care of the house; gently purge accumulated books and instruments I've never needed or used, but kept to make me feel better; to recycle, tear, and burn away notes I've studied into oblivion. To covet and save the things that matter, and not only vow to use them, but organize them in a way that demands I do so.
My breath reminds me that that cruel voice inside is LYING.
I am not a failure.
I have nothing to be ashamed of.
I am a work in progress, and I get better every damn day. Sometimes we fall down, but it doesn't matter how many times we do. What matters, my dear friends, is taking a deep breath and getting back up again.
It's 3:52am and I am literally crying while I finish this post, as I have called my demons out for their kahnastrixa, and if you know that reference you are one of my favorite people in the universe.
So tonight when I face them, and every day moving forward, I'm rolling weighted dice. My inner monk is calling. Breath yields radiance. And my soul is ready to shine.
Yeah. That's right. I just ended this with obscure 5th Edition D&D references. Fight me. ;)
Remember to breathe.
I'll see you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.