Mindfulness Muay Thai — Flow State Mental Training
Written by Don Heatrick
It's commonly known that a fighter must be focused. An unfocused, mentally distracted fighter doesn't perform well. But, what isn't commonly known is there are two types of focus. One that can help a little (or potentially overload and paralyse you), and one that taps into your flow state, unleashing your full potential. To understand what's discussed in this post, you'll need to have read the first two parts of this blog series:
I'll pick up from where I left of in the last post, when I said:
"By freeing yourself from the distraction of attaching to thoughts as they flash though your mind, you will flow. Then the magic happens. To allow the shot to choose you, you must be totally present in the moment, and this requires practice. Without a doubt, daily meditation is the best way to train your consciousness in this way. And although this tool is practised extensively throughout Thailand, it’s an often overlooked element of MuayThai."
If you've understood the first two posts, you'll know the focus needed to access the benefits of flow state comes from a high degree of right brain hemisphere involvement. Untrained mental focus will invariably activate the left hemisphere, generating too much analytical chatter: "When my opponent throws a push kick I must catch it and use counter x... "They're a southpaw so I need circle away from his rear side... "If he clinches I need to... etc, etc." This kind of focus will only get you so far, and easily fogs out your creative spontaneity and kills your flow.
Correctly training mental focus is difficult, it takes a lot of practice. Depending on where your consciousness is right now, you may or may not be ready to begin this kind of training. If this doesn't fit for you right now, you're not ready — come back a revisit this later. I guarantee at some stage it will click with you and suddenly make sense. For those that are ready, let's begin.
"Acceptance of what is (in this moment), is totally compatible with what the current moment requires.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
For you to clear your head of all distraction (including your own chattering thoughts) and allow for a spontaneous response, you must learn to focus your consciousness on only what's happening right now. Contemplating the past, or possible future outcomes will not help you right now, all you need is to be totally present in the moment. Meditation is the tool to achieve this objective and what I call mindfulness Muay Thai.
There are many ways to meditate, just as there are ways to fight. You'll find some methods are more natural and easier than others — experiment to find what is most effective for you as an individual. We'll begin your training with a body and breath meditation, which will also help you'll realise how difficult it is to remain focused on just the present moment, and how much practice you'll need.
Meditation 1: Body & Breath
This meditation will take about 8-minutes to complete. Begin by finding a comfortable position, laying on a matt or thick rug, or sitting on a firm straight-backed chair, or sitting on a cushion or meditation stool. If you're sitting on a chair, allow your feet to be flat on the floor with your legs uncrossed, allow you spine to be straight so you posture supports your intention to be awake and aware. You shouldn't be stiff and rigid, but balanced and dignified. If you're lying down, allow your legs to be uncrossed with the feet falling away from each other, and place your arms at your sides, slightly away from you body.
Allow your eyes to close. Bring your awareness to the sensations where you body is in contact with what is supporting you. Spend a few moments exploring these sensations.
Then, gather your attention to focus on the physical sensations in both feet and ankles, moment by moment. See how sensations arise and dissolve in your awareness. If you don't feel any sensations, that's fine, just register a blank — you're not trying to make sensations happen where there are none. Just feel what's there.
When you're ready, expand your attention to take in the lower legs. Then the knees. And the rest of the legs. Holding both legs now centre-stage in awareness. Take your time and feel for sensations that are already there, and see how they come and go.
Expand your awareness again now, up the body to your hips, the lower back, the lower abdomen. Gradually expand your attention up your body including the chest, upper back and shoulders.
Expanding again to include the left arm. Then the right arm. Then the neck. The face. And the head. Until you're holding the whole body in awareness now. See if it's possible to allow the sensations in your body to be just as they are, don't try to control them in any way. Just listen to what is there, don't try to make them different to how you find them.
For the final 3-to-4 minutes of the meditation, now bring your attention to the centre of your body, to the sensations in your abdomen as the breath moves in and out of your body. Notice the changing patterns of physical sensations here. If you like, you can place your hands on your abdomen to feel it rising and falling for a few breaths. Be fully alive to the sensations of breathing for the full duration of each in-breath and each out-breath. Don't try to control the breath in any way, just let the body breathe itself.
Sooner or later, you'll find that the mind has wandered away from focusing on the breath — thinking, planning, remembering, day-dreaming. When this happens, there's no need to criticise yourself, simply acknowledge where the mind has been and then escort it back to focus on the breath and all the physical sensations that come with it. This wandering will happen time and time again, but remember the objective is to register where the mind has been and then gently bring it back to the breath.
Remember that the breath is always available to you, as an anchor that can bring you back into the present moment when you find your mind scattered and dispersed by the business of your life.
Meditation Training Frequency
Ultimately, meditate daily to develop your focus. For this first phase of your mental training, perform the breath and body meditation on 6-days out of the next seven. Be consistent, doing it once won't help you, it takes practice. You wouldn't expect to pick up a musical instrument and just play it straight away. If you tried once and assumed it was impossible to make music with the instrument you'd be wrong.
This body and breath meditation is a great starting out drill, which builds to a whole lot more — it's the thin end of the wedge so to speak. If you're ready, this will start a journey to unlock your true potential, in not just MuayThai, but in life. By understanding and feeling the difference between logical analysis and spontaneous, free, intuition, it's an understatement to say you'll not be the same again.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” ~ Albert Einstein
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Don is an ex-pro fighter, Muay Thai and strength & conditioning coach from the UK, with over 25-years experience in combat sports and athletic conditioning. He is passionate about all things that lead to improved fight performance and loves sharing what he's learned (and continues to learn) along the way.
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