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Stand Up Straight, Fly Right

October 21, 2009

Gift of Danger

It’s no surprise that many of our authors draw a connection in their books between how one is feeling emotionally before stepping on the mat, and how he or she performs as a result. As is true in virtually every aspect of life, the emotional baggage we carry with us directly influences the way our body moves and reacts; if you’re feeling sad, you may slouch; if you’re angry, your shoulders can tense up.The importance of keeping muscles both loose and ready to strike or defend in martial arts is obvious to any martial artist however; if you find yourself on the floor more times than you ought to, perhaps you should examine your posture that day, and whether you have adequately cleared your mind before entering the dojo.

In her book The Gift of Danger, author Mary Stein recalls a day when she brought her anger to mat over ill-feelings towards a fellow student.

Some years ago I arrived at my old dojo still tense with resentment toward Sylvia, a fellow student. The day before, she had harshly criticized some element of my aikido practice that I can no longer recall, and my self-esteem had been wounded. As I walked onto the mat, I still burned with hurt and anger. Nevertheless, I wanted to practice aikido—and that meant not giving in to my emotional state and the physical tensions that went with it. For that whole hour I did my best to keep to the relaxed, erect posture of aikido, joining and blending with my partners, not allowing my mood to take over my body, all the while sensing an ache like a hot cinder in my solar plexus. But I had many other things to be aware of, and the hot cinder was only a part of the whole. As the hour went on, the ache faded into the background, and not long afterward, I noticed that my resentment toward Sylvia, too, had mysteriously melted away.

Physical attitudes do mirror mental-emotional ones. When I’m fearful or agitated, if I turn toward my body and take a reading, I find tightness and tension in many places—the head, or the shoulders, or the chest, or the pit of the stomach.

And it works the other way around: the body’s posture subtly influences the emotions and thoughts. If I hunch forward, narrowing my eyes and extending clenched fists, belligerence appears. If I’m bent forward, head sunken, chest collapsing inward, here comes depression with its own set of tensions. Selfawareness lies in just such details.

If the body can straighten and relax, the emotion in question loses its physical support and even evaporates. When I’m rightly aligned, there’s a sense that energy can move more freely through me, as if it flows from my center outward.

The next time you feel yourself tensing up — on the mat or off — consider Mary’s advice and focus your energy on the practice of straightening and relaxing. You may just find that the more you align your back and relax your body, the more your mind will fall in line, too.

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