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Linda Eskin 05-19-2011 11:25 AM

Learning Through Feeling
 
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This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Linda Eskin 2011.
Last October, in the column I wrote here, I addressed my experience of learning with the body - acquiring motor skills like tying one's shoes, writing the alphabet, or playing a musical instrument. As someone who can readily assimilate factual and conceptual information, it surprised me to discover that I needed to shown over and over again, and practice many repetitions, correctly, to learn the seemingly simplest movements and postures. It was frustrating at first having to slow down to my body's speed. But I've gained a lot more patience in the short two years I've been training, and I'm mostly able to allow my body the time it needs to develop these new ways of moving through space and relating to others.

In a way I have been offering my body the same kind of consideration one might have for a horse in training, or a pre-verbal child. But it's been an unequal relationship, and a patronizing one. Mind over body. Mind calling the shots. Mind being the mature and magnanimous one, gently and generously caring for poor, dumb, slow Body. "There, there, it's OK, I'll go more slowly, so you can understand." Mind taking Body to the dojo to get better at body things - relaxing, centering, breathing, grounding...

But over time a new aspect of the relationship has begun to reveal itself. It turns out Body knows a thing or two, if only Mind would shut up and listen. I've begun to see Body as the wise one. Body drawn to the dojo, telling Mind to hush and be still.

Through my Aikido practice, including focused body awareness process work and meditation, I have become open to paying attention to what I feel, to giving my feelings their due respect and attention, as a legitimate source of information. Indeed, it's what has allowed me to really feel at all. Settling down, becoming quiet and still enough to listen, and sensitive enough to feel, have been some of the direct benefits of my training. At the most basic level, I am more able to access and act on important feedback about how my body is doing. Am I well, or fighting something off? Do I need rest? Do I need to get up and move?

But on a deeper level, it has given me a way to discover or confirm what is true for me, beneath the very rational, compelling, fast-talking chatter my mind offers. Sensei and a dear friend, both of whom have been teaching me the value of looking inside, have helped me through a difficult transition over the past year. They have prompted me to check in with my body. What do I feel? What's going on with my breathing? What is my body telling me? Does contemplating a particular outcome tie my guts in a knot, or bring a feeling of lightness and ease?

They mean these questions in a very literal sense. The answers have been revealing, often contradicting what I've been saying about myself. I've been learning to notice what's really there. Being open to noticing what's true for me in this way has allowed me to see more clearly where I actually am, and where I'm going, and has helped me make good decisions that I literally feel comfortable with.

I suppose I should not have been surprised to learn that it's not only in Aikido that I try to muscle my way through, try to force the technique I intended to do, try to force the outcome to fit the preconceived notions I've become attached to. And I've been discovering the value of feeling and moving into the actual direction and flow of life, joining with it, and getting behind it, instead of fighting it. Imagine that.
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:

We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.

SeiserL 05-19-2011 04:22 PM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Great column. Compliments and appreciation.

I am often envious of "you people" who have a good kinesthetic and energetic sense to learning.

I lead with my head which has never been the fastest tool in the shed. But when my body does catch up (if it does), I like the results.

Thanks for another great column.

Linda Eskin 05-20-2011 12:28 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Thank you, Seiser Sensei, for your kind comments.

I don't know that I'm one of "those people" by nature. As one who can learn and assymilate "mind" stuff really quickly, I was very frustrated when I first started training. Like running into a brick wall. It really irked me that Sensei would not just tell us how to do something. :p Even now I very often have to think things through in terms of angles, vectors, or visualizations, just to get it roughly correct, and then the kinesthetic learning can start to kick in.

The book Conscious Embodiment by Wendy Palmer Sensei was key to my seeing initially (still on a conceptual level) that we could learn from our bodies. But the real breakthrough was from a seminar my teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei, taught just a few months into my training, about relaxing, and feeling and responding to what's really happening. It left a crack in my normal way of being that let a lot of light in. :) He is constantly working with us to be in our bodies, to feel, and to move and respond appropriately. It's challenging, but also great fun, and very worthwhile.

Many thanks.

carina reinhardt 05-20-2011 01:25 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Thanks for your thoughts provoking column Linda.
When I began with aikido I used my mind too much and for me it doesn't work, I'm too slow if I think too much, but leaving the body react trained due repetitive excercises the defence is much faster, and one thing my teacher said in one of the last classes: move the legs first do not to anticipate with the upper body.

niall 05-20-2011 11:22 PM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Interesting column, Linda, thanks. Yeah patience is important. And there's a paradox there. Analyzing what your body is doing isn't using your body, it's using your brain. And being in your body - as your teacher is encouraging you to be - might be possible without thinking about being in your body...

Niall

Linda Eskin 05-22-2011 01:00 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Quote:

Niall Matthews wrote: (Post 284283)
... And there's a paradox there. Analyzing what your body is doing isn't using your body, it's using your brain. And being in your body - as your teacher is encouraging you to be - might be possible without thinking about being in your body...

Niall

An interesting point about the paradox, Niall. But the paradoxical situation isn't a problem, it's just one way of doing things.

I agree, on the training, muscle-memory side of things it's possible to just act, without the mind interfering or thinking about what's going on in your body. And it's possible to act more effectively when the right responses have been "programmed in" through training. The work we do in class isn't about analyzing, it's about being, and doing.

And you're right, that analyzing what's going on in the body requires the involvement of the mind. But the mind becomes the observer, noticing what's going on, rather than the director, trying to control it. That's where I found the value - in being able to watch and listen to my body, to here what it was telling me (in my life off the mat), rather than ordering it around.

Linda Eskin 05-22-2011 01:06 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Thanks, Carina. :-)

Quote:

Carina Reinhardt wrote: (Post 284183)
... one thing my teacher said in one of the last classes: move the legs first do not to anticipate with the upper body.

A good way of putting it. We have a similar focus on moving first from our base, and not getting caught up in fiddling with the details of hands and arms.

Linda Eskin 05-22-2011 01:18 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
The mind/body discussion reminds of a point from "A Soprano on Her Head," which is a great book about learning music, learning to sing, and learning any motor skill. One thing the author talks about how people who can read music fluently often have trouble making the transition to learning my ear, and people who can pick out a tune after hearing it once or twice find if difficult to bother to learn to read written "little black dots" music. Even though each gets by very well using the way with which they are most comfortable, they are limited by having only the one way.

It's similar in Aikido. If you can get by pretty admirably by using your mind to figure out (however quickly) which technique is called for in a particular situation, it's hard to back away from that place of comfort and competence to explore the awkward new territory of feeling and responding from the body. At first it doesn't seem like a better way at all. But being able to appropriately access both approaches, in music or Aikido, makes more options available and offers more freedom of expression.

Hmmm... I'm going to have to go back and read that book again now. :)

SeiserL 05-22-2011 04:54 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Quote:

Linda Eskin wrote: (Post 284182)
The book Conscious Embodiment by Wendy Palmer Sensei was key to my seeing initially (still on a conceptual level) that we could learn from our bodies

Great book and good lady.

I got introduced to this stuff in NeuroLinguistic programing that states we store information mentally based on the sensory organ we talk it in (usually visually, auditorally, and kinesthetically).

That's where I found out I was an auditory learning and that most school work was visual. Changed my life.

Good discussion.

SeiserL 05-22-2011 04:56 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Quote:

Linda Eskin wrote: (Post 284311)
The mind/body discussion reminds of a point from "A Soprano on Her Head," which is a great book about learning music, learning to sing, and learning any motor skill.

WOW Yes!!!

Another good book.

Have you been raiding my book shelves?

Mary Eastland 05-22-2011 06:06 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
When I do free style I
notice that my mind is completley quiet. I accept what is and together uke and I find out what will happen.

However, when I do partnered technique after Ron has taught something my mind has some things to say.

I have been noticing a mess of feelings because I am moving differently again as my knee is a bit undependable and sore.

I read in Dan Millman's book "The Warrior Athelete" that my body would do most anything I ask of it if I ask gently and not force a solution.
Thank you for some great reminders.
Mary

graham christian 05-22-2011 06:07 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
I like it. I was recently explaining a similar point to Mary Eastland on Ron Ragusas blog.

Albeit I use a differentiation between three rather than two things ie: Spirit, mind ,body.

Often I inform people when I do Ki-atsu to learn to listen to their body more and usually I give them a 'joke' along the lines of it's trying to tell you something but your not listening. On inspection they find out I'm not joking.

What helps me is knowing the following. The body does indeed need repetitive actions to to get imbued with and used to the movements etc. The mind is the storage place for data and so during the action of Aikido should be quiet. The spirit, me, is the observer and as such should be with the body and observant of the body and all else at the same time.

Bottom line though, observation and mindfulness is indeed better than 'blindness and muscle.'

Good column.G.

sara2ab 07-13-2011 02:41 PM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Thank you for your insight.
The sentence; "It turns out Body knows a thing or two, if only Mind would shut up and listen" describes perfectly how I feel. I have been practicing for a year and this is what I have most trouble with, so thank you, it is good to find someone who puts it in words :)

Best,
Sara AB

Janet Rosen 07-13-2011 03:27 PM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
Quote:

Sara Abou Bakr wrote: (Post 287758)
Thank you for your insight.
The sentence; "It turns out Body knows a thing or two, if only Mind would shut up and listen" describes perfectly how I feel. I have been practicing for a year and this is what I have most trouble with, so thank you, it is good to find someone who puts it in words :)

Best,
Sara AB

Sara, if it's any consolation, 15 yrs in I"m STILL having that one sometimes!

Janet L. 09-06-2011 11:28 AM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
I've found I am much, much more successful at doing what Sensei is showing me if I clear my mind and stop the internal monologue.

Now, I'm enough of a beginner that working on stuff like rolls is a major part of my training. If I try to do a simple front roll and try to think my way through it, I'll land on my head or shoulder hard enough it takes weeks to get back to normal. Clear my mind first, and it works like a charm.

That internal blabbermouth has been used to bossing the ol' klutzy body around, and with it in charge it takes ages for me to learn new physical skills. Shut it up, and I (the body) just gets stuff so much quicker it's amazing.

Thanks for confirming something I've really been wondering about.

SteveTrinkle 09-06-2011 12:11 PM

Re: Learning Through Feeling
 
"Lose your mind and come to your senses." (Fritz Perls)


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