a community of practitioners
It may seem paradoxical to include martial arts practice as an important aspect to being a massage therapist. When we think of the martial arts, words such as, ‘opponent’ ‘defeat’, and ‘against’ often come to mind.
However, aikido differs from disciplines such as karate, tai chi, and even yoga because it emphasizes the importance of blending with your partner.
In aikido, as in massage therapy, it is necessary to read body language and understand the intention of the person or client with whom you are working.
The Founder of Aikido, its first sensei, or teacher, forbade competition. The relationship between massage therapist and client is unlike any other; it is important for the therapist to create a safe space for the client and to be aware of his or her own emotional state before the session starts.
Ki aikido helps bridge the body and the brain. It gives me experience with the physical connection necessary in massage therapy, while teaching me to be grounded and centered. Aikido helps with knowing where the boundaries are, with containing and setting aside my own feelings and with knowing how and when to blend with the energy of my partner; whether on the mat or on the massage table.
With ki aikido, the partner shows where it is that we need to grow. The successful practice of Aikido requires the ability to shift, and when that shift cannot occur, a blockage is often the reason that the shift is prevented.
In massage therapy, as with virtually any therapeutic practice, it is important that I be able to modify my responsiveness to a client’s behavior. If the client is projecting; that is, externalizing his or her own emotional state onto me the therapist, then I would need to have a different reaction to that situation than if the client had had a moment of insight and needed heartfelt, empathic connection.
The mind-body connection between aikido and massage therapy is an interesting one for sure. Aikido teaches us to center ourselves and to deal with our own aggression and control of power. It is important to be comfortable with power, and aikido shows physical power in a concrete way, on the mat. It teaches how to control my own power in response to someone else’s.
Aikido is gratifying because, due to its physical nature, it provides instant feedback. The same can be said of working with a massage client. It’s physical in nature, and upon touching a body, there’s instant feedback!
Students learn aikido practices that are focused on developing therapeutic presence, staying centered when challenged by people, and blending empathically with others. The competent massage therapist needs to deal effectively, powerfully, and caringly with his or her clients, often in potentially volatile and highly charged emotional situations or upon emotional release during a massage session.
Because aikido deals specifically with conflict and its peaceful resolution, the study of aikido, complete with its philosophy and practice methods, I’ve learned that it is helpful in keeping me grounded, centered, and connected within myself while simultaneously being more sensitive and aware of the client. Aikido practice powerfully affects my ability as a massage therapist to be present and effective in massage therapy.
The objective in aikido is to join one’s personal ki (energy) with universal ki to achieve ultimate harmony (ai). Aikido emphasizes working with a partner, rather than grappling or fighting against an opponent as in competitive tournaments.
The essence of the practice is the blending of movements and ki-breathing which physically creates harmony in conflictual encounters. Aikido is fundamentally a practice that develops mind-body-spirit connection.
It has been described as moving meditation. The essence of spirituality is experiencing a sense of connection to something larger, something that transcends our everyday mental chatter or egos. Aikido as a practice develops a connection to the sacred, to us, with other humans, and also to nature.
Aikido cultivates the development of my entire being as a therapist, not just the intellect. Mind and body must be coordinated in aikido. This trains the attention and brings about other changes in consciousness that is central to creating the healing presence so important in massage therapy.
A therapist who can maintain a calm state of mind, free from fears and illusions of the past or of an imagined future, can relate to others (especially massage clients) empathically. The ability to relax and blend in the face of conflict, and to enhance sensitivity to self and clients, are attributes the therapist cannot simply adopt as a philosophy.