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Systema Martial Arts for mental health, fitness & balance

Systema Martial Arts for mental health, fitness & balance

How are you feeling so far this year ?
What is your body trying to tell you about you and your life ?
I often find myself ignoring and hoping an uncomfortable feeling in my body will just go away, as if those feelings do not matter, or as if they are not as important enough to address right away. I will literally do anything to distract myself from what is apparently happening that is of no significance in my body.

Why are these feelings and sensations important ?
The types of feeling I’m talking about include for example- backaches, tension and discomfort between my shoulders blades, oversensitivity in my legs & neckache.
Sometimes they even feel like emotions are blocked or stuck in my stomach or chest area, or even around my heart.

What tends to be true much of the time is, the more I ignore these warning signs the more exaggerated & uncomfortable these bodily sensations become.
Often in the far reaches of my conscious mind is a thought or question such as this- you need to stretch, or go for a swim or run, you haven’t been to a karate or Systema for a week, when was the last time I went dancing ? When was the last time I put on some new music to explore or picked up an instrument to play ?
When I choose to ignore these thoughts the body becomes more and more of an uncomfortable place to be.
I find myself seeking out more and more ways to dissociate or avoid the feelings in my body.
Being easily distracted and irritable, life and relationships suffer as a consequence of not listening to my inner being.
Unconsciously I’ll be using up a lot of energy, tensing up muscles I don’t need to be using,
such as my calf and shoulder muscles.
This is often a good indicator that I need to stop and tune in to whatever information is there within me trying to make contact with my conscious mind.

Over the past year I’ve been studying and practicing an ancient Russian martial art called Systema for around 3 or 4 hours a week. Systema is really a lifestyle and balancing system, more so than most other traditional regimented martial art fighting & self defense system.
The simple breathing methods appear counter intuitive initially at least to most people’s everyday breathing patterns. They have the ability to take our awareness through breath to where our attention is needed in the body to aid relaxation and alertness. We can then move intuitively by following our breath to how our body needs to be and move right now in order to release tension and toxins from the body and feel calmer and well again.
In the west we are not taught to breathe when we are growing up. It is something that is mostly taken for granted that will take care of itself.

Perhaps because it is so inherently essential moment to moment.
However we are all aware on some level that when we feel exhausted or stressed we will often shallow breathe or increase breathing rapidity.

When we shallow breathe it is much harder for the air to circulate around the body to where it is needed most. As we get more and more panicked we try to take in more oxygen. However shallow breathing through our mouth does not help feed our vital organs very well, which are being starved of essential nutrients due to the fact we are not breathing correctly.

Slower deeper breathes in through the nose and out through the mouth help us to self regulate and ground ourselves better.
Check out one of the Systema master teachers from Russia, Vladimir Vasiliev’s book ‘Let Every Breath’ for breathing techniques and exercises to prepare you for challenges you might choose or need to face.
Systema also offers many beneficial techniques around relaxation and breathing correctly to reduce tension under pressure.
One of the best things about being part of a Systema training group is that we can help each other by noticing patterns of breathing or behaviour in each other in order to raise more awareness, as well as to confidently and safely push past our current comfort zone and level of tolerance around something like dealing with people under pressure and utilize breathing, movement & relaxation to increase our threshold in any self development area we would like to learn about and improve on.

Why do I feel as a therapist and somatic coach that this is this so important ?

Because breathing is the first thing we do before anything else, even more important than food, air is food.

One of the exercises I teach to my clients which you can also practice if you would like.

Practice breathing slowly in through your nose all the way into you belly filling your belly up as much as possible whilst staying relaxed.

Exhale through your mouth fully. As you breathe in again see if you can take your breathe in a little bit further whilst staying relaxed, you can count on the way in and out if it helps you to measure your capacity. And again breathe out as much as you can. See how much you can relax by imagining you are breathing into specific muscles and parts of the body that need to relax more. Literally imagine you are breathing into that space, and as you breathe out use the out breath to let go of more and more tension.

Practice this little and often to start with your mind will try to distract you, just keep returning to your breathing and don’t pay too much attention to what your mind tells you. If it starts to feel too difficult or uncomfortable just go back to your regular breathing. As you get used to the technique you can apply it to more and more things that you do through out the day.
I find it helps me to relax whilst walking, running & cycling.

I hope you enjoy the exercise and the blog post, thank you for reading.

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