Ki Meditation and its benefits
Jan Baars, instructor Ki-Aikido Haarlem, Netherlands
The forms of meditation practiced by many today have deep roots in different, mostly Asian cultures. These meditations were developed in times when scientific research was lacking, but that does not mean that traditional methods would make no sense and should not be taken seriously. Traditional cultures have their own methods of researching and refining knowledge and much can still be learned from them. At the same time, we cannot just swallow everything just like that, because it would be ancient knowledge from the distant past of a distant land. If we want to learn from a tradition, we have to reinterpret it and make it applicable to us, here and now.
It is therefore interesting to see that current scientific neurological research underlines the significance of meditation for our well being. In particular the way in which meditation is practiced in Ki-Aikido, in which breathing and making contact with your supporting center play a special role. With this we can learn to influence our nervous system. This consists of two systems: the first is the sympathetic nervous system. This has been formed in evolution to protect us from environmental hazards; this system reacts alertly to all kinds of signals that could indicate danger. It is also referred to as the "flight or fight" system because these are the two basic ways of responding to being attacked by an animal or another human being. The problem is that today's culture exploits and abuses this system through intrusive noises, flashing lights and ominous news that automatically get our attention because these are interpreted by our organism as a threat. The result is that we are chronically overloaded with stimuli and impulses causing unnecessary stress because in reality we are not constantly threatened in our existence.
We would not have survived as a species if we had to confront the world with just this nervous system; we would have died out long ago from exhaustion. Fortunately, we have a second nervous system that is the counterpart of the "flight or fight" system: the parasympathetic nervous system. This is also called the "rest and digest" system. Breathing plays an important role in both systems. When your body gets ready to fight or flight your breathing will become faster and this may become your ‘normal’ way of breathing when you are in a state of constant stress. A slow and deep breathing, however, will calm your organism and a good breathing technique will strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system. The nervus vagus, the longest nerve in the body, connecting the brain with the internal organs, plays a crucial role in this. It listens, as it were, to the breathing and sends information about the state of the organism to the brain and heart. With a calm, deep exhalation, the heart calms down and your consciousness clears. The Ki breathing that we practice has become more refined over the centuries as a form of misogi or purification. Once you have become experienced in this form of breathing, a single breath in and out can take up to a minute. The lungs and the diaphragm are also getting stronger. This way of breathing from your center gives the calm alertness that not only makes it possible to perform the techniques properly, but also helps you in daily life.