My mother-in-law once asked me why it was necessary to spend so much time practicing my karate and taichi and why I couldn’t utilize visualization as a means of learning my arts without putting my body through such tremendous strain.
Visualization is a key component to understanding any martial art. It is a means of mapping out actions in your brain in order to augment the development of skills, and if the martial arts were more similar to learning something like playing the piano (which my mother-in-law teaches), it could take on an even more profound role in the training. But the martial arts tend to involve significant physiological changes to the body and this isn’t achieved through visualization.
Bone and muscle both need to become denser and many nerves need to be desensitized in order for the martial artist to withstand the forces they will be subjected to. This is achieved through repeated and gradually increasing impact with hard surfaces. The human body doesn’t like being hurt, and so when it is injured, it attempts to make bones and muscle stronger and nerves less sensitive so that in the future the same impact won’t be a problem. Through consistent training a martial artist is causing the kind of micro fractures and tears that achieve these desired results.
But do not think for a second that this process comes at no cost, and careful attention to one’s health becomes necessary.
Hypertonicity of muscles can lead to any number of postural problems. Many people only see bad posture as a problem for looking good or proper in public, but it is far more significant than that. Tight muscles can pinch off nerves and blood flow so badly that you can lose a portion of a limb’s strength and function. A messed up posture can result in headaches and a reduction in the performance of our digestive and cardiovascular function. If these issues are not addressed they can worsen and become a serious impediment to quality of life.
The process of “conditioning” the body for martial arts is a significant cause of inflammation in the body. And while inflammation is a natural physiological response to certain situations, our bodies do not thrive when it is chronic and it doesn’t lead to a particularly long or comfortable lifetime.
And here is where I make a shameless plug for massage therapy. Massage treatments are very effective at easing tight muscles, correcting posture, and mitigating the effects of inflammation resulting from my frequently overdone training. A postural assessment can help identify specific problem areas so that treatments can be focused to the areas that are actually causing the problems.
I’ve written about this from my perspective as a martial artist, but my lifestyle is not necessarily unique. Any activity or career can result in physiological changes to our bodies; it is how we adapt to the things we do. Lifestyle will affect how our bodies develop, grow, and function, and sometimes a little care is needed in order to deal with the complications that can be a result of those changes. Therapies abound and I’m no stranger to making use of other modalities, but regular massage for me has been one of the more effective ways of dealing with them.