Contributed by Paul Rest, 2nd dan
On March 7th of this year, a day-long workshop was held at Kayla Feder's dojo in Berkeley, CA. The purpose was twofold: First, to explore the intersection of these two disciplines, Aikido and Psychotherapy. Second, to provide Continuing Education credits for those therapists attending who are licensed in the State of California.
The workshop was also a benefit for Aiki Extensions and the great work that organization is doing. David Lukoff was the driving force behind the effort. Participating with David were Beth Tabakin, Brandon Williams Craig, Jamal Granick, Patrick Faggianelli, Kayla Feder Sensei and myself. The workshop began early Saturday morning with a review of dojo etiquette and an overview of the workshop. Kayla Sensei then bowed us in. I gave a brief introduction about Aikido and O Sensei, directed to those present who were in the psychotherapy field and were being exposed to Aikido for the first time.
David then gave an introduction to the background on the writing and research that has been done to date on Aikido and Psychotherapy. Referenced in his remarks was a paper he and Patrick had written in 2006 in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (Vol. 38, No. 2) titled "Aikido and Psychotherapy: A Study of Psychotherapists Who Are Aikido Practitioners." (This is available on David's web site: www.spiritualcompetency.com.)
David and Beth then gave an informative talk on Aikido as a practice of self-care for those in the helping professions. Beth mentioned how some of the breathing and movement practices from Aikido have helped her clients who have worked with her in her private practice.
Then Jamal addressed the workshop on the topic of "Presence." At various times during his presentation, he had the group do an exercise where, following his lead/movements, we all did a ki-ai together. This was not just a "follow the leader" exercise but one where we all looked ahead with a relaxed gaze and "felt" more than "saw" Jamal's initiating the ki-ai. From the first "ki-ai," which we all admitted sounded jagged, to one where it began to sound like we were beginning to link up to the last one where we all had the "presence" to "ki-ai" in unison, we all gained a deeper understanding of the power of presence.
We then took a break for a shared lunch. As at most gatherings where Aikidoists are present, the pizzas disappeared quickly! It was also a time where those presenting and those attending had an opportunity to informally talk and share.
After lunch, Patrick discussed his work as a licensed psychologist in the prison system and also his private practice. Patrick related the experiences he had had with his dissertation interviewing therapists who had Aikido training. During the interview process he conducted, often involving more than one session, Patrick related how his interviewees came to realize that they had either been using some of what they had learned in Aikido as a self-help/self-centering/self-healing tool in their practice(s) or were seeing how it could be used.
David and Beth next presented their insights into "Learned Optimism." Focusing on "learned optimism" as a core concept in "the evolving field of 'positive psychology'," various studies were discussed. It was also brought to everyone's attention that Saotome Sensei has often remarked that an optimistic philosophy is not enough; you must also train the body. We all did the two-step where we began by repeating to ourselves a "pessimistic self-statement." Then, we did the same two-step with an "optimistic self-statement." We all could see and feel the differences between "A" and "B."
After a brief break, we all practiced a randori in small groups, learning to move with incoming energy/conflict by moving off the line and out of harm's way. For the non-Aikidoists and non-martial artists present, this was a new and challenging way to move. As we continued the practice, it became exciting and fun. Before long, everyone had the flow of the randori and the mat began to look like an Aikido class.
I gave additional remarks about the growth and development of Low Impact Aikido followed by Brandon discussing, "Integration." Brandon brought up the work Aiki Extensions is doing and his work with AE. He also addressed his work in conflict facilitation and how his Aikido practice has informed this. Speaking from his dual backgrounds in Mythology and Psychology, Brandon noted the how the two fields have intertwined in his own work along with his practice of Aikido.
David closed the workshop with a heartfelt thank-you to Kayla Sensei for the use of her dojo and the warm hospitality. The workshop provided a great blend of the material that needed to be presented for the Continued Education certificates while allowing ample room for questions and discussions among those present. It was agreed that another workshop be scheduled about the same time next year.
For those wishing to receive more information please contact David Lukoff or myself and we'll do our best to provide you with the material requested or answer your questions.
Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, CA. He trains at Two Rock Aikido (http://www.tworockaikido.com) under Richard Strozzi-Heckler, 6th dan. He has written numerous articles about Low Impact Aikido ("Aikido for Everyone") and on other Aikido topics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com.