In some areas of life, tension can be a good thing...at least in the short term. Tension can motivate us to complete a task. From my experience, this isn't true for sportsman and woman. In martial arts, increased tension will slow your movements, can dull your brain and make you a soft target. Is your heart racing even before you have started your exercise and you feel rushed and panicked? Are the weeks leading up to a grading characterised by a disrupted sleep pattern and a stomach full of knots? If so, it is likely that you are tense and the resultant tiredness and lack of energy simply feedsback to your mind and you tell yourself that you are not going to pass your grading.
This negativity will stop you from performing well on the day even if at every training session your flying around the dojo and nailing each move at every attempt.
Unfortunately, turning off the tension is not like switching off a light bulb; its not easy but it can and should be done. There are two areas of your body that need to relax; firstly, the mind and secondly, everything else! I dont believe the two can be seperated.
To help relax the mind, start by chucking out all stressful thinking and replace it with more pleasurable thoughts. Completely switch of the stress inducing thoughts; put them in a mental bucket as you go through the day and then empty your bucket before you start training. Okay, your bucket might fill up again during the next day due to the pressures of work and modern life but you can empty the bucket as many times as you like and as often as you like.
If you find the visualisation technique described above a little too 'out there', then try this instead...imagine yourself somewhere nice, doing something fun and relaxing with people that keep you calm. In other words, day dream. This will inevitably lead to you feeling good and happy about life. When you bring yourself back to reality, keep a grasp of those good feelings you have just generated.
The most useful tip for keeping yourself mentally relaxed may come across as a little harsh, but here goes... do not surround yourself with people or situations that get you stressed! You might know someone with the kind of personallity that generally brings people down, if so, have as little to do with them as possible! Your life is far too short to let other people drive a wedge between you and your deserved peace of mind.
In the Martial Arts, physical relaxation is heavily influenced by the exercises and stretching that you do with your instructor. But I believe that you can practice total body relaxation at any point during the day which, in the long term, will help you become a relaxed individual. One simple exercise is to tense your muscles and then relax them, making sure you can clearly differentiate between the two sensations. Relaxing from an enforced muscle tension send signals to your body which say 'hey, theres nothing wrong here, I'm happy and hey okay'. Your body will agree and will start to slow your heart rate and will reduce the levels of adrenaline which it is spewing around your system. The result is a more relaxed you. An example of this is when we yawn, tensing our facial muscles and then relaxing them again - the process helps make you more relaxed and sleepy.
Anyway, I'm not a doctor or physician and have only my experience to support this, but I do believe that through simple exercises such as the ones above, we can become more relaxed and de-stressed. This can only help us with our martial arts training.
Article by: BigRedBall
Article date: March 2006.