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Let Go and Flow
Let Go and Flow
by Lynn Seiser
Let Go and Flow

This article was inspired after a conversation with Ryan and Maggie at Wave Man Aikido in Jacksonville, Florida. We were discussing a new program they want to start working with veterans. We got onto the topic of actually how to de-program and re-pattern the brain and how Aikido could be a useful vehicle and context for that change. Like Aikido, often the principles and processes are a lot easier to explain and understand than they are to put into application and practice.

Breathe in, relax the body
Breathe out, calm the mind
Let Go and Flow

Sigmund Freud (the father of psychoanalysis and modern talk therapy) stated that changed was based on making the unconscious conscious so that we could have some new insight into what was motivating/driving us and have the option to change.

Rational emotive theory is a cognitive approach that states a similar ABC theory. First there is an external activating stimulus or event. This is followed by our cognitive beliefs or thoughts about it. Finally, there are the consequential actions we take. We may not be able to change the external environmental event, but we can change our beliefs, perception, and conceptions about it.

In skill acquisition, we often speak of the observation-orientation-decision-action pattern. Observation is the situational awareness of the environment around you. Orientation is the threat assessment of that information. Decision is how you intend to react. Action is following through. Much of our actions are dictated by the orientation or evaluation of the observation and then deciding what to do from that conclusion. To change an action or response, we must change the orientation (evaluation/assessment) of what we observe.

We take in the external world experience through our senses. That means we take in what we see, hear, feel, and smell. This is the same way these experiences are coded, retained, and retrieved in the mind; by the sensory channel they were received. Often our reaction or response is less about the external stimulus that responds than these internal associated frames of sensory reference and representation.

Post traumatic stress disorder is a normal response to an abnormal experience. When faced with a life-threatening situation, the body produces adrenalin, endorphins, and testosterone. This facilitates the coding of the experience into the body and mind to such depth that any stimuli that is similar or symbolizes the original experience will re-induce the sight, sounds, and feelings of that experience. This is not a memory, but an age/place-regression. Hypnotically it becomes a deeply imbedded associated trance state of survival. What we are left with is everyday hyper-arousal/vigilance, always looking for the external threat that we are internally creating, perpetuating, and projecting.

There are several normal and natural startle responses. The first is the most common and that is to just freeze. The next is to take flight, to run away from the startle. Less common is the fight response, to move towards the startling stimuli and control or stop it. This is the response conditioned/trained and programmed/patterned in by the military, first responders, and several groups of bad guys. These three are often considered to be feared based responses. Aikido offers a fourth response, to enter and blend or flow with the situation in order to control it without using force or doing more damage.

There are some interesting studies that have come out of recent neuroscience that teaches us that the brain is not necessarily hard wired and can be changed. While the initial programming and patterning of neuropathways were unconscious, we can consciously choose to change them through neuroplasticity. This deprogramming and re-patterning requires slow conscious/mindful awareness and repetition. The Mind/Life conferences have brought together experts in the neurosciences with the cognitive, contemplative, and meditative science to prove scientifically that this is possible.

Another expression in skill acquisition is slow and smooth leads to smooth and fast. The repeated practice of any thought, feeling, or behavior will become habituated and eventually unconscious. Yet, our thoughts are usually so fast that we are no longer in conscious control of them. Slowing our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors down allows us to control and change them. The first step is to slow down and pay attention. If you cannot do it slow, you really cannot do it fast. At first, any habituated unconscious thought, feeling or behavior is just what it is, often skipping gaps in the neuro-pathway. Then we can slow it down and make it into a sequential science to unlearn or relearn to pattern making sure every neuro-firing supports the program/pattern. In the end, there will just be thoughts, feelings, and behaviors but they will be new and very different.

Breathe in, relax the body
Breathe out, calm the mind
Let Go and Flow

The bridge between the conscious and the unconscious is our breathing. We unconsciously breathe and yet can take control of the breathing in and breathing out. Breathing rate and depth are also closely associated with emotional states. When under stress or startled, we hold our breath or hyperventilate. To relax the body and calm the mind we can begin by taking slow deeps breath. We can being to program, pattern, and associate verbal messages (to access mental/emotional states) by saying "relax the body" as we inhale and "calm the mind" as we exhale. Once we have some relaxation response established we can pay attention to what we are initially responding/reacting to and de-program it.

As we practice an Aikido technique, there will be times that the old programming will automatically and unconsciously surface. It may be a visual sight, and auditory sound, or a kinesthetic touch that triggers and reactivates the old programming. By slowing down, returning our mindfulness to our breathing, we can let (not make) any unconscious scenarios come to mind. Staying mindful we can detach the mental association and let the body relax again and the mind calm. This pattern interruption to make an unconscious automated/habituate pattern conscious and assessable may happen several times during the practice of any sequential execution of thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. To clear these patterns we must be willing to take the time at each step to gain clarity. Facing our worse fears is an act of great courage and the need to be respected and honored.

Finally, we can learn to breath in and let go followed by breathing out and letting (not making) the Aikido technique work on its own. This changes the intent from a past fear-based orientation to a present-tense relaxed/calm one. O'Sensei would suggest that as we breathe out, we let our intent flow with loving protection void of any need to control with force.

Breathe in, relax the body
Breathe out, calm the mind
Let Go and Flow

Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!
Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for over 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Yondan (4th degree black belt) from Sensei Dang Thong Phong of the International Tenshinkai Aikido Federation and Sensei Andrew Sato of the Aikido World Alliance. He is the co-author of three books on Aikido (with Phong Sensei) and his martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders, victims, and families of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He is a professor of clinical and forensic psychology with an expertise in family violence and treatment. He lives with his wife and trains on the Florida Gulf Coast (chasing grandchildren).
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