The Cushion is the Gym

You meditate on the cushion in a safe, controlled environment. It’s a lot like training in the gym.

The world is the ring.

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The martial arts have been a huge part of my life. I met my husband in Kendo and have learned some of my biggest life lessons the dojos and dance studios-turned-training rooms. I have trained in many styles, from karate to capoeira.

We train hard in the martial arts. We drill the same movements again and again, practicing until the movement becomes second nature and just part of muscle memory. Working on the same technique in repetition helps to reinforce the movements so that when you’re in the ring or the roda, you don’t need to think about what you’re doing, the techniques become second nature. In a fight, you don’t want to use precious seconds thinking about the next right move, you want your muscle memory to react for you.

To me, silent meditation on your cushion or chair is much like training in a gym. You are taking the time in a safe, controlled space to sit and be fully present for your life. In formal meditation, you sit and observe your thoughts, body sensations and emotions without reaction. You feel that itch on your nose and simply observe it, watching the sensation arise, intensify and pass away. As the itch fades, you might find a thought arising, you remember something you need to buy from the store after the meditation period ends and you find yourself wondering how much more time there is to go. You catch yourself lost in thought and come back to the now. Those are the reps in meditation: observing your thoughts and feelings, realizing you’re being swept away and coming back to the reality of the here and now… again and again and again. Just as we train the same techniques through repetition in the gym, we take the time on the meditation cushion to let go again and again.

Life doesn’t happen on the cushion. Even if you move to a monastery and give up modern life, you will still need to get up from your meditation seat eventually and live your life. This is where you will be tested. Just as you can’t predict exactly what your opponent will throw at you in the ring, you can’t predict what life send your way day-to-day. The time spent on the cushion in silent meditation allows you to build up the strength and mental-muscle memory to help you through the challenges of daily life. You’ve spent the time observing your thoughts and feelings without reaction during meditation and in this way, you’ve trained yourself to mindfully respond rather than knee-jerk react to your life.

I have seen these benefits in my own life. In the same way that my martial arts techniques tend to get “rusty” and my reaction times are slower when I haven’t trained. I tend to feel more anxious and I’m more reactive to stress when I haven’t been meditating. Just as I workout daily to keep up my physical fitness, I meditate to maintain my mental fitness.

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