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Old 09-11-2008, 02:39 PM   #2
Location: Massachusetts
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 3,181
Re: Using Aikido to overcome or cope with serious chronic illness

Well...from my perspective (I have rheumatoid arthritis) it ain't magic. For some conditions, like mine, aikido is beneficial for simple physiological issues -- in this case because maintaining range of motion is critical. But it's like doing a lot of things that you know are "good for" your condition -- they may be "good for" your conditioning, but that doesn't mean that doing them always feels good. Sometimes, a few times, when practicing aikido I've experienced it that a locked-up joint just released, and I could feel it like water running out of a punctured tank. But many other times, when someone puts a good kotegaeshi on a flared-up wrist...well. It's "good for" me long term, but not always in the moment or for some time to follow.

Beyond that, I think if you have been training previous to your illness, there's a kind of life-affirming benefit. When you insist on doing things that were part of your life before your illness, you challenge your illness; you tell yourself that your life is still out there. There's a big risk in doing this, too, because sometimes it can backfire. Sometimes you just can't do what you used to be able to, and that may be just a temporary thing, but it can really take the heart out of you. Or it can be an epiphany, as you look around you and see things that were always there with a new eye:

The fact is, although your individual needs and shortcomings may seem very important to you, they are not really all that special. Chances are, if you can walk into a dojo under your own power, you are in good enough shape to begin training there. Of course, your asthma or your myopia or lack of flexibility may be a problem. But if you had the opportunity to ask her, you would probably discover that the woman practicing beside you is dealing with chronic arthritis. The man on the other side has a left hip that has a slight congenital deformity, and the girl behind you suffers from chronic bronchitis. And it's very likely that they all began their training by thinking their problems were as special as yours.

That quote is from Moving Towards Stillness by Dave Lowry (damn, I do quote Lowry a lot, don't I?). When I read it, it really struck me, because when I trained at JKA Boston, there was a guy who had a congenital hip deformity (which I never would have known about, except that when I was brand new there, I saw him limping and rather tactlessly asked him if he'd injured himself). There were several people with asthma -- none of them ever made much of it, they'd just put their inhalers on the shelf at the back of the training area before class. And now there's me with chronic arthritis. In my current dojo, Sensei always says, "We're all training with the bodies we have" when a new student comes in with a great deal of concern about this or that condition. It's good to let people know if you have specific limitations that they might bump up against...but I predict that the fact that you do have limitations will be distinctly unremarkable.
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