Embodying Presence through a Martial Art
Aikido, often called the “Art of Peace,” is a practice that cultivates connecting and blending with a partner. I strive to do this, even before I physically connect with my partner. There is an energetic connection that precedes physical contact. Through that connection and contact, I guide my partner throughout the technique. We remain energetically connected as the physical technique is executed and completed.
I do not lead or pull my partner. Instead, I practice remaining present and connected, first to myself, then my partner, trusting “us.”
Before training, I always set an intention for that evening’s practice. The merit and value of a practice is in the intention—what is this practice helping cultivate in me? One night, I had been reflecting on a coaching session that I had earlier in the day. It occurred to me that what I am practicing in Aikido is the same thing I strive to bring to my clients: presence, connection, acceptance and a sense of oneness.
Embodiment as a Felt Sense
As a coach, when I extend and connect, allowing my client space to explore aspects of themselves, the client has a felt sense of being validated and accepted. They become dignified for who they are and what they are experiencing.
This solidarity creates deeper relaxation and trust for me and my client—they are witnessed. This, in and of itself, can be an extraordinary experience for the client.
There is abundant evidence from neuroscience that breathing as a practice, to become present to our bodies’ sensations, relaxes our muscular, organ, endocrine and nervous systems—our entire soma. We are not a mind on top of a body but one integrated system.
A relaxed body is softer and better able to receive another. It has been suggested that 97 percent of the communication between humans happens through our bodies, not our minds. A relaxed, open body communicates safety and empathy, inviting others to come forward and be received. A deeper partnership arises.
How do we cultivate the ability to maintain connected and produce a deeply felt partnership throughout the session? Clearly, it is by being present. Presence is not a state of mind; it’s an embodied practice.
Practicing Embodiment and Connection
Before we can genuinely connect with someone, we must connect with ourselves, coming into the sensations of our soma—heat , cold, tightness, vibration, as examples. This aliveness is always there. The life force that pulses through all living beings.
Now, I invite you to do a simple practice. Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor. Take a deep breath and allow your body to sink into your chair. Take a moment to feel the weight of yourself being held by the chair. Breathe a bit more deeply, slowly; feel the sideways expansion and contraction of your rib cage. Linger with your breathing for a minute, feeling yourself coming into your body’s sensations and its natural response of slowing down and relaxing.
Next, feel your breath expanding your front and equally important your back. We often forget that we have a back body. Bring your attention, through your breath, slowly to your shoulders, then your mid and lower back. Feel and be with your body’s sensations.
Continue becoming present to and in your body by bringing your attention to your feet. What does your breath naturally do when you focus on the soles of your feet inside your shoes? The soles of your shoes on the floor? Imagine your energy flowing downward into the floor. Take time to allow your body to register the new shifts from your attention being in your feet, noticing shifts in your breathing pattern and relaxations in your body.
The Essence of Aikido and Coaching
As with Aikido, this embodied presence enhances your ability to attune and listen more deeply to yourself first and then your client. Your curiosity for that which the client is longing for becomes keener. This body invites and calls forward your client’s resources, talents, skills and gifts, allowing for the realization of the intended results.
You’re able to ask questions that enhance the client’s reflection, allowing the client to become more aware of deeper fears and desires. You can observe subtle energy shifts in the client that reveal the client’s body coming into recognition of a new truth for them.
Following their energy, you can then inquire, assisting the client to reveal what is being uncovered during the session. You create the experience of being deeply seen, such that the client begins to trust both their own and your authenticity.
From here, a beautiful partnership, very much like what we experience in Aikido, can emerge.
© Merle McKinley, MCC 2018