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Iron Palm as A Spiritual or Meditative Practice

  1. lordbd
    Let the new age-y discussion begin! (just kidding)

    So I have been practicing Iron Palm twice daily (with few exceptions) for almost two months now. In terms of martial arts training thats just a drop in the bucket, but in terms of what we normally think of as "conditioning" be it cardio, strength, or toughness, it seems like I'm pretty well into the game. In Iron Palm terms, however, I've only just begun. Twice a day for a year before I make any changes to my practice (e.g. change the medium in my bag, change the frequency of practice, change how hard I hit the bag).

    I tend to have a frequently shifting attention, and a tendency to change interests a lot. So when it comes to Iron Palm, I'm at the point where, if the practice was purely about results for me (e.g. breaking bricks, having tough hands), the pay-off would be too distal for me to maintain my regimen.

    Luckily, Iron Palm the way that I have been taught is much much more, and at this point the actual body conditioning that I am working towards seems secondary to the OTHER reasons that I continue to train (strange, I know).

    My iron palm routine includes some great elements that should be a part of everyones life in my opinion: relaxation training, attention to breathing, light exercise to start off the morning, meditation, and visualization. As a psychologist in training, the idea that Iron Palm has become a psychological or therapeutic practice for me is a fascinating idea.

    I find it even more interesting when considered alongside the evidence against the catharsis hypothesis (e.g. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/...hs/myth_30.cfm). The basic idea here is that most of us tend to believe that performing violent or aggressive acts (e.g. yelling, playing a physical sport, hitting a pillow, sparring, rolling) "lets off steam" in some one, decreasing our anger and making us less likely to be as angry next time. However, the actual evidence suggests that acting aggressively routinely when angered 1) escalates the situation 2) escalates the physiological arousal 3) conditions you to act aggressively when angry. So your school counselor who had you hitting stuff with a nerf bat as a kid was probably actually contributing toward your anger management problem. Add to this the fact that a large number of adolescents engage in mild to moderately dangerous self-harm behaviors, possibly as a way to act out, but also to help regulate emotion (e.g. http://www.livescience.com/11043-tee...ce-injury.html). Isn't there a healthier way to handle things?

    Enter IRON PALM training. I'm just spit-balling here, but it seems to me that Iron Palm training does three general things that might be psychologically beneficial: 1) sets up a generally healthy routine of meditation and light exercise 2) Pairs a relaxed state with a violent act [e.g. striking the bag] possibly counter-conditioning the link between violence and states of high arousal 3) Causes mild pain/damage to the hands. Could iron palm training be a more constructive alternative for adolescent cutters? Could it be a form of anger management? Is it just all-around good for mental health? The world may never know (unless I one day end up at a university and do a study).

    I also wanted to point out that all of these psychological benefits don't even tap into the intrinisically spiritual nature of qigong specifically and iron palm training more generally. There is some evidence that meditation can show greater effects (e.g. with pain) when performed in a spiritual context (e.g. http://www.springerlink.com/content/n5080hv642406j56/).

    So my advice to all of the TCM, qigong, and iron palm practitioners out there is this: it's okay not to get completely wrapped up in the debate about where you fit into western medicine. Us soft social-science psychology folks have a home for you right here.
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