Samurai Strength: Using Mindfulness For Better Fitness, Focus, And Life

Plain and simple: This article is about why you should meditate to get fit as f***.

I’ve been training since age 14 in all manner of sports. Martial arts, swimming, water polo, rock climbing, cross country, discus, backpacking, and finally, CrossFit.

However, I also studied Buddhism extensively the same year I began martial arts. Believe it or not, mindfulness is my single greatest tool for better training. This is because mindfulness, or awareness, cultivates your ability to train. It trains your ability to train.

When you can find stillness amidst chaos, you can improve all the little details that culminate in a better workout session. Do this regularly and you’ll become so adaptive it’ll look like you’re cheating.

So despite the fact meditation is the past-time of many a long-haired vegan hippy.

It is also the weapon of the Samurai, The Warrior, and the self-controlled Badass.


Honing The Mind

What is the purpose of training? Some might say improvement. Some might say growth. Others might say skill. While all these are true, I think the point of training can be summed up in this statement:

Training is a controlled scenario where we can practice for the real world.

The trained fighter will feel calm of attacked on the street. Sure, there is danger. His life may even be under serious threat. But a man who has fought 1000 bouts and thrown 10,000 kicks will feel calm. He is comfortable here. His training has made him so.

Working out is the same, except instead of focusing on scenario-based skills, exercise focuses on your physical abilities in general. A fit man will be able to move his own furniture, age well, have energy, and is more adaptive towards change.

Good training gives us more control in our lives.

But what if I told you there was a way to gain more control within your training itself? Surely you’ve heard the saying: practice makes perfect. Not so. Practice makes permanent, but perfect practice makes perfect.

How can we boost our adaptability in every realm, including training itself?

Simple: by training the mind.

Meditation is one of the most direct ways to train your mind to be less emotional and more adaptable. It is fundamentally about improving awareness and increasing calm or stillness.

The benefits of this are incalculable, but you can see them directly by meditating before a workout.

When I meditate, I am taking whatever emotional state I am in, and then moving towards one of clarity, calm, and control. Sure, training on emotion can be great, but just as often strong feelings are a hindrance, and we rarely get to choose them beforehand.

Going into a workout angry may result in a great pump, but am I going to have good form? Will I feel impatient and skip needed warmup? Am I more likely to stop early from exhausting myself?

On the flip side, what if I don’t feel like working out? What if my emotions are those of laziness? And I just want to get it over with?

Meditation isn’t a guaranteed cure, but it is guaranteed to move the needle at least a little. It lets us step back a bit and observe without bias. And this is where the magic happens.

When I meditate before a workout, I notice and improve things that typically pass under my radar. Rep technique improves, and I’m able to really feel what’s happening in my body.

I also have a better feel for emotional resistances. Sure, maybe I’m great at pushing through exhaustion on my bench press, but never noticed how I try to breeze through deadlifts. Through the more 3rd person, objective lens meditation promotes, I can see that which has become habit.

The powerful combination of mediation and training is like developing a super-power, to get an idea of what lifting alone can do for your brain, head to HRD2KILL Blog’s article, Your Brain On Iron.


How The F*** To Meditate

Truth be told, I think most hard chargers are attracted to meditation. Anyone with a warrior spirit loves a good martial arts flick, and what good would Jet Li be without his signature meditation in the mountains?

We know intuitively that calmness of spirit aids the warrior pursuits. The problem is for many of us, slowing down and finding stillness runs counter to every passion and drive that makes us a hard chargers in the first place.

With that said, I think people of all types overestimate the difficulty of meditation. They think you have to achieve nirvana or spiritual enlightenment else you’re doing it wrong.

The truth is much simpler. Meditation is the act of listening. That’s it. You sit, and you listen to what is going on outside and inside you.

It is not about forcing your thoughts to slow down, buy simply observing your thoughts without an objective. Over time, yes, this practice leads to greater stillness, but it is not an act of force or effort.

Proper meditation is like trying to make muddy water clear. How does one do such a thing? Really? You leave it alone. Muddy water clears when it is left alone, and the mud settles to the ground.

Daily Sacred Silence Meditation

We’ll start with a daily meditation aimed at clearing the mind. I believe meditation works best as a consistent daily practice, and taking 5 minutes every morning will be more effective than occasionally meditating right before a workout.

I also believe the best consistent meditation we can do is sacred silence. Sacred Silence meditations are a way of practicing leaving the mind alone and allowing it to settle.

In this world, we rarely get the chance to find true stillness. Having a practice that provides stillness, even for a moment, works wonders for your general adaptability and awareness.

The technique I use is called Still Water Runs Deep, which I learned from Commander Mark Divine’s book: Way Of The SEAL. For what it’s worth, Mark credits his success in much of his life to meditation. The Still Water Runs Deep practice helped him realize his dream to become a Navy SEAL , where he was honor man of his BUD/S class and served as a commander for 20 years. Mark also went on to form 6, million dollar businesses including the massively successful SEALfit academy which he still runs today.

If that’s not support for the power of meditation, I don’t know what is.

Still Water Runs Deep

To perform Still Water Runs Deep, begin by sitting comfortably on the floor or in a chair with your spine straightened. Close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths, inhaling through the nose for 5 seconds, and exhaling through the nose or mouth for 5 seconds.

After 5 breaths, allow the breath to go at it’s own pace. Breathe how your lungs want to, so-to-speak. As you continue breathing, envision yourself sitting at the bottom of a beautiful pond. See light rays shining through the water, and feel the pressure against your body.

During this visualization, if any thoughts intrude on your mind, calmly see them turn into bubbles that rise to the surface of the pond and disappear. After a few moments of this, allow the visualization to disappear.

For the next 5 minutes or so, see if you can reach 10 breaths without a single thought entering your mind. If thoughts do enter your mind, simply notice them, watch them turn into bubbles that float to the surface and disappear.

The idea is that every time you have a thought, you start over. Here’s the secret though, it’s not about reaching the 10 breaths. It’s about practicing noticing thoughts and letting them go.

Mark states that in the 30 years since he learned still water runs deep, he has never competed 10 breaths without a thought. Neither have I, but what I’ve noticed is that my mind goes deeper and deeper into a meditative place.

As I continually notice and release thoughts, I become calmer and more neutral. The thoughts I have become less abrasive and anxiety driven, and often I come to epiphanies, though I notice and let those go too.

Personally, I don’t even count my breaths anymore. When I do my meditation, I’ll now just observe and let go. I don’t time anything, and I stop meditating when it feels right. Sometimes I’ve sat for 40 minutes in this state, totally unplanned.

Make this or a similar practice your base, and I think you’ll be amazed at how much better you are at handling life’s stressors. These effects will likely be felt all day.

I practice this meditation every morning as one of the first things I do, and I suggest you do the same.

As a final note, try not to judge the quality of your meditation. Simply show up and do it. Consistent practice is more important than feeling like a sage every time you sit down. If you have a particularly hard time meditating, then meditate poorly and be aware that you’re still moving the dial towards more calmness than you would have had otherwise.

Pre-workout Visualization

While daily silence meditation is my preferred bedrock, there’s also a place for pre-event meditation. You can do sacred silence shortly before an event too, but I’ve also found this is prime time for visualization.

Visualization is meditation that involves creating images and practicing within your own mind. Research has shown that visualizing yourself performing a skill can improve that skill in real life. This effect is amplified when combined with real practice.

We’re using exercise as the example, but you can use visualization before any type of training or event. The key points of visualization are:

  1. See yourself performing ideally, not realistically. The point is to practice performing at a level that is higher than you already perform. See yourself exactly as you want to be, even if you’ve never done it before.
  2. Include as much detail as possible. When you’re imagining your workout beforehand, try to include as much feeling and senses as possible. Notice the environment. Notice the smells. Then inject your ideal experience into this environment.
  3. Practice. Just like sacred silence meditation works best with consistency, so does visualization. You can use this tool as an extra boost when needed, but things get really powerful when you practice regularly. Whether it’s lifting more weight or improving a stubborn skill, visualization can be your secret weapon.

Here’s how to visualize before a workout:

Sit comfortably, eyes closed, and breathe through the nose. Take at least 5 deep breaths, inhaling for at least 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds. For maximum results, breathe for 5 minutes. You can even do still water runs deep for this process.

Once you have meditated for 5 minutes, see yourself in a theater facing a large projection screen. Now, play a movie of yourself performing the coming workout ideally. See yourself with confidence and perfect form. Watch yourself lift higher weights and breaking plateaus. Feel the cool confidence one feels during a perfect and awesome workout.

As you get comfortable, start imagining yourself in these images rather than watching on a screen. Feel the air in the room, notice the smells, and feel your muscles working.

Visualize for as long as feels helpful. When you’re done, see yourself in a room with the version of you that was in your visualization. Picture them merging with you as you are now. Feel that you really are already the person from your visualization.

Now, open your eyes and go on with your workout without thinking about it too much. You don’t want to beat yourself up if you don’t perform exactly as you visualized, that’s not the point.

The point is to train your confidence and use these visualizations knowing they improve your workout, even if things aren’t perfect.

Looking for some proof in the pudding? I used visualization to learn difficult crossfit skills faster than anyone else in my gym. The first time I had access to gymnastic rings, I learned to do ring muscle-ups. Though I’d spent hours trying, it was not until I visualized that I got one.

Before visualizing, I didn’t know if I could do a ring muscle-up. After visualizing, I felt like I was already a person who could do this move. I had no changes in strength, and hadn’t watched any new technique videos, but the next time I tried, I got it.

Visualization let’s you believe you’re already capable of things you’ve never done, and often that s all that you need to actually do them. This goes for lifting higher weights too.

Active Mindfulness

Lastly, I want to reference active mindfulness. Meditation should raise your general awareness, but you can also work towards being more mindful in each waking moment.

Feel frustration welling? Conjure the feeling from your sacred silence meditation and let the negative emotion go. You probably won’t be able to still your mind as thoroughly, but you can at least notice where you are becoming less mindful and more reactive.

One of my favorite sayings is that meditation is like bathing: it works best when done daily. Active Mindfulness is like washing your hands of brushing your teeth. It won’t leave you clean like you just showered, but can help maintain your hygiene throughout the day.

In your training, this can be as simple as asking yourself each moment whether negative emotion is making you impatient. Are there exercises where you are using poor form to avoid discomfort? Could you feel a little more confident and a little less tired by letting certain thoughts go?

This is the art of active mindfulness.


Conclusion

Meditation is a tool for cultivating mindfulness and awareness. This is not simply the tool of hippies and monks, and I think you know that.

Samurai, martial artists, and many of the world’s greatest warriors use meditation to amplify their abilities. So, even if you are a hard chargers, this skill I’d argue is essential. Not optional.

One of the most powerful ways meditation has helped me is in my workouts. Though training on emotion can certainly be powerful, just as often it’s a hindrance.

Alternatively, finding stillness has always allowed me to push harder, improve technique, and soar through plateaus of both strength and skill.

The foremost tool I use is a daily “sacred silence” ritual. Using a technique from the writings of a Navy SEAL, I sit for 5 minutes every morning simply observing and letting go of my thoughts.

Beyond that, I will often use visualization prior to an workout or event. By seeing myself perform ideally in my mind, I often break through plateaus in the real world.

Finally, I focus on active mindfulness throughout the day. This is not a replacement for my meditation practices, but through actively working on my awareness, I boost the effects of meditation and apply them in life.

I hope you too will find benefit I these skills. May they center your mind, boost your workouts, and inevitably make you Hard To Kill.

Train Hard, Fight Easy

keenan eriksson
Keenan’s singular purpose is to help as many people as possible achieve optimal physical and mental health. He believes biology and psychology are linked, and that by providing a healthy environment for the body we are more likely to fulfill our personal potential through a happy and optimized life. He healed from chronic fatigue syndrome, in two years, despite being bedridden and having a minuscule income. You can find him dropping mad knowledge at Keenan Eriksson Fitness. And you can check him out on Episode 30 of the HRD2KILL Podcast

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