In the first article of this SERIES, Craig Williams discussed the concept of the importance of meditation on the mental state of the individual, and why it is crucial to anyone living a strong lifestyle.
The obvious counterpart to a healthy meditation practice is a healthy physical practice, but how are the two connected and how we can we make them more consonant in our lives, turning the mental and physical into a single ringing note of harmonized power?
The answer is that, like most things, the two are more connected than we might at first imagine.
Everyone who has ever exercised is probably aware of the “good feeling” it produces afterward, sort of an afterglow that is the effect of endorphins and other chemicals that the brain releases during cardiovascular exercise, but what is the lasting effect of exercise on our mental state?
Incredibly, studies show that engaging in 90-120 minutes of moderate to intense cardio work a week actually increases the size of the hippocampus in the brain- this is the part of our brain that is responsible for verbal memory and our ability to learn new things- these same studies show that slower resistance training, like weightlifting at a low level of intensity, does not produce these same results.
Further, cardio reduces something called insulin resistance, which allows us to then burn fat and build muscle more effectively. It reduces inflammation, deploys chemicals that combat fear, stress and anxiety, as well as stimulating the release of “growth factors,” which in turn positively affect the health of existing brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and the survival of new brain cells.
By raising our heart rates, we are pumping oxygen rich blood through our veins, which not only detoxifies the body, but allows a higher quality fuel to power the brain itself.
A study at Purdue University showed that of those tested who increased their fitness levels by 17%, the same individuals saw a 12 to 68% improvement in their ability to process information and make decisions, something that became known as “executive control,” showing that higher levels of physical fitness lead to an improvement in high level cognition.
Further studies demonstrated that the more complex a problem or idea was, the more of a beneficial effect cardio exercise had on it.
What all of this means, for us, is that by following a dedicated regimen of conditioning work, we will be achieving:
-Increased ability to learn
-Improved ability to remember and access information at a faster rate
-Improvement in fast and effective decision making
-Decrease in stress levels, anxiety, and other negative chemical effects
-An increase in the effectiveness with which our body burns fat and builds muscle
All of these things combine into making the mind a well oiled machine, all parts moving with speed and precision. A further benefit is that a high level physical conditioning will also allow the individual to become better at their chosen fields faster than those who do not engage in this work, thereby allowing them to surpass others who have been doing the same thing longer. The application of this idea in the area of physical combatives of any kind is easy to see- when two men of equal technique are matched, it will not only be the one who possesses the clearer mind, but the greater conditioning, that will achieve victory. Here we can understand that both of those things can be attained through mediation and exercise.
The practice of intense exercise quiets the mind, burning off excess nervous energies and releasing the chemicals conducive to a sound mental environment in which to meditate, reflect, plan, and learn new information and skill-sets.
As individuals who are engaged in a lifelong endeavor to make our bodies a temple housing the smokeless fire of our mind and will, we must utilize every tool to whet the edge of the blade of our practice.
To become true Kshatriyas, we must condition!