Re: HOW does aikido change us?
1. It is a good exercise and many studies how that exercise is a significant factor for mental health.
I agree - but also that any exercise would accomplish this
2. It involves social and touch elements.
I agree - but so do other sports, family and friends
3. From a physiological point of view, it brings up Freudian, Jungian and Adlerian themes -eg power and vulnerability, father figures, archetypes, etc.
I agree - but so do other sports, work, family and friends
4. The reciprocal, non competitive nature of the uke-nage relationship - CRUCIAL.
I agree - but all other relationships can bring this out as something to work on; I've known competitive aikidoka
5. It deliberately trains posture, movement and breath.
I agree - but so do other sports, an ergonomically-minded employer, etc
6. The emphasis on manner and etiquette.
I agree - but so do other sports, family and friends, work
7. It exposes practitioners to related healthy philosophies and practices such as Buddhism, meditation, etc.
Not really in my dojo - but Uni did
8. It contains an intensity, and an existential, life and death element.
So does life - especially when parenting
9. In order to do it you have to be relaxed.
True - but same goes for life in general.
I'm just saying that a lot of things can get you in the same direction as aikido. You've got to want it and see it. Beginners go fast, especially if they can't be open to the possibility of fallibility. Age changes you more certainly than aikido, I think.
That said, to me, aikido gives things a physical manifestation. I never thought of myself as an impatient person until one of my instructors said it as I was going through a technique - and it just made a lot of sense. Someone else said I was holding back (in a literal sense), and that really struck a chord, too.
If I were a very shy person who did not like physical contact, obviously I would not choose aikido, and were I forced to participate it would not change me. It's the chicken and the egg. I choose aikido and it does not frighten or intimidate me. If I wanted to be challenged in that way, I'd look for something else. I like aikido because it just really fits.
I've met some aikidoka who are truly miserable people, and especially one sensei who was a downright donkey-synonym (they were all in the same dojo, mind you). It was a very unhappy place. I kept going there until I couldn't stand it anymore because it was so hard to accept that I had absolutely lost all respect for my sensei - it had to be me that was somehow wrong. But then I learned the same lesson at work. Now I am older and just won't find myself in that same situation again. Time and experience helped me process the lesson, not aikido.
There is no magic bullet. If the knocks and other experiences you get generally don't alert you, I don't know that anything will. Aikido allows you to experiment with things in an unusual setting, and that can be helpful. But so can any number of things. You have to see them, or at least be aware that improvements may be possible.