When I do the kokyu ryoku [breath/power] exercise [ Blog entry, 4/8/12, KI, KOKYU and DEALING] I have vets picture their tension [stress+energy=tension] being stored throughout their body in pockets and tubes, and relaxing this energy as they flow their breath down into their abdomen, their hara or center. I started to notice my own tension seemed to be concentrated most strongly in my shoulders and upper arms, but with others it could be focused more in other areas. While I want every class to start with relaxing tension, I want to individualize the process more and help each vet learn to better control that energy, better convert it to potential, positive energy. I want each vet to learn where their tension first or most strongly arises when they face negative situations.
To do this, I have started using a technique I have adapted from an exercise taught by Mark Williams [www.dynamichumansolutions.com] at the first Aikido For Veterans/KNS seminar in Boulder, CO. It is a gross simplification of what Mark taught in that class, which, in turn was a highly simplified version of the Body Dynamics portion of the full soft- and hard-skill mindfulness program he provides to corporations, the military and other organizations.
I start facing a vet at a “comfortable” distance, about 4 feet. [Mark has participants partner for this. Because of potential CRPTSD issues I do the exercise myself.] The vet is standing in a stabile, relaxed position. I explain that each person tends to feel tension in different places. I have them close their eyes and I softly move as close as I can with out touching. I say that when I tell them to open their eyes, I want them to be aware where they feel the tension hit first. I ask them to touch the spot. I then have them do the breath/relaxation exercise three times, focusing each time on flowing the energy in that tension into their center. Most vets will feel the tension drastically ease up and I can usually see their whole body relax, although it can sometimes take several trys.
I’ve also experienced an interesting aspect of how tension can flow improperly during technique. Many beginners, and even many advanced aikidoka, carry a majority of their energy as tension in the arm primarily involved in executing the technique, particularly in the hand. This is especially noticeable in tai no tenkan, when the hand is tightly cocked back, arm and elbow stiff, rather than the hand cupped forward, arm relaxed, elbow lightly bent, as if scooping up water. The tensed hand and arm indicates tension in the back and almost throughout the body, which causes the entire body to be unbalanced. I try to get tori to focus on relaxing their fingertips which helps release the tension all the way up the line and encourages them to flow hara strength in executing the technique. Also, encouraging tori to move smoothly and slowly enables them to be aware of where this hara based energy might become “knotted”, or falter, and the flow of the technique disrupted. [Reversals can only be done when technique energy flow is disrupted or allowed to range outside of tori’s centerline.]