This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Susan Dalton © 2011
My body misses aikido when I go too long without it.
Nineteen years ago, pregnant with my daughter, I was put on bed rest for seven months and instructed not to exercise. Once a month I could get up and go somewhere, so my husband and I would go to the dojo to watch my son practice. I really, really wanted to roll. "Don't even think about it," my husband would say. Of course my mind agreed with him—the logical part of me knew I couldn't roll, I wouldn't, but my body wanted to so badly I could almost feel the physical sensations of doing it anyway. Those months and the month I was off the mat with a shoulder injury are the only times I've been completely away from aikido since I started, but this summer and fall I've trained less often than usual, and I've felt that loss intensely.
Of course since I have a family and a full-time job, I rarely get to attend every class at our dojo each week. Our shihan tells us that if we have a family and we practice every class, we are being selfish. Our obligations to family and relationships should be in balance with our desire to train. My husband supports my personal aikido and the dojo. But more than just kindness induces him to say, "Sweetheart, don't you want to go to aikido tonight?" I'm a much nicer person when I can roll away my stresses.
Luckily, I teach an aikido class at the community college where I also teach English, so if school is in session, those three hours of aikido each week are part of my schedule. However, since July, my father has had two strokes, lost his wife, had pneumonia, been sent to the hospital with no paperwork from the nursing home where he was doing rehab and been overdosed by the hospital, gone on a ventilator, taken a four hour ambulance ride to a nursing home in the city where my sister and I live, been attacked by another resident, lost his ability to walk and perform basic self-care, been hospitalized four more times--three times in intensive care, and needed more from me than I could provide and still go to the dojo two or three times a week.
I don't sit well. I need to move. The last six months I have sat and sat, then sat some more. I get up and walk around, try to be sure I'm getting physical activity where I can, take yoga on my lunch break at school, do falls at the end of the aikido classes I teach. But then sometimes even if I've left the nursing home so I have time to get to class, I'm tired, and I decide instead to go to bed. Or other days I realize I've barely seen my husband and my dog, and I stay home to be with them. I'm only getting to the dojo on average once a week.
Oddly enough, I seem to see the benefits of my practice more clearly now that I'm doing it less. I can feel my body relaxing, my mind emptying. It just feels so darn good to be on the mat. When I practiced more often, it was my routine, what I did. Now it's a treat, a joy, something I appreciate and long for.
I don't feel my little aches and pains as much. My knees don't hurt. Did they maybe need a little rest, or am I so glad to be here that I don't notice the twinges? Am I concentrating on form more than usual because I know I'll have fewer opportunities to do what I'm doing? As uke am I relaxing into pins and taking the stretch as far as possible since I won't get to experience as many pins as I usually do? Who knows? I just know that nikyo pin feels so good to my shoulder, and I'm happy to be here.
I like to think of myself as indispensable. I'm dojo cho! I'm necessary! But truth be told, the dojo is running just fine with me around less. New teachers are sharing their aikido with our students; when I'm not there, someone else is cleaning the bathrooms.
Although I miss the dojo, I'm where I need to be, doing what I need to do. I can see the aikido in 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.