Aikido and Psychotherapy - or how to manage your demons


So interesting how our opponent has metamorphosized in the past decades from an outsider enemy or competitor to inner worries, anxieties, depression or addiction. Nowadays we train to battle our negative moods, we go to fight in order to conquer inner peace and we become warriors in the journey of self-realization. For most of us, (inner) life is a continuous struggle. And I am not talking about those living in poverty, war, or illness. I am speaking to the millions of fighters out there who battle with inner demons. 

And have you noticed how your entire experience changes when you are 'dancing' with your enemy? Let's talk for example about addiction. It calls you, it whispers to you - in those moments when out of stress, pain, suffering or just boredom, you go down that path and ignore everything else. Something happens to your attention. Your attention constricts, you lose sight of the peripheral stimuli. You start fixating rigidly on the details of the stressor, you think too much about a certain detail, you worry, your body becomes extremely tense, basically, your attention loses flexibility and becomes limited, losing contact with the field or context around the stressor. Addiction then is seen as a release, as something we go towards to forget about something else that is too painful to deal with. 

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, taught his disciples to never fix their focus on the attack. Why? When one's peripheral vision is being blurred, and this always happens when you stare at individual stimuli,  one becomes very vulnerable. Losing contact with the Field - with the inner and outer surroundings -  is more dangerous than the enemy in front of us, because we lose our power. Through staying connected to the field, you remain centred. Imagine a fight with your partner. Your attention focuses on one word, one gesture that triggered painful feelings. You react through aggression, denial, victimization. She or he reacts to your reaction. A snowball effect soon is visible and a small trigger becomes a big fight and the wounded feelings are reinforced. What if in the moment of the small trigger one or both would have focused on the field instead of the stressor?  They would have probably learned more about each other, heal the wounded parts and solidify their intimacy. 

So here is one technique that you can apply when in need of help  - an exercise that I learned from Professor Stephen Gilligan. It works wonders with anxiety and paranoid moods. It's a practice that helps in whatever bad mood you are in, whether anger, sadness, depression or arousal. It is called the three-point attention technique. The aim is to achieve a field-based attention when you are in a stressful situation.

Chose a spot on the wall, tense your eyes and focus on it. Blink as little as possible. Then select two other external points to focus on, oriented differently than the first spot (they should be separated by walls or elements). Take a few easy, nice breaths and distribute your attention to all three points in equal measure - 10 seconds staring at every spot for example. Repeat a few times. Then, soften your attention but remain alert. While your attention is equally and softly focused on the three points, notice the feeling of comfort growing inside your body. If you find your attention shift, gently bring it back to the three points. In a therapy session, the feedback and support are offered by the therapist. You can practice this exercise in pairs, with your friend or partner.  This is a straight forward way to develop a relaxed and alert focus. This state of open and diffuse focus keeps a person from accessing control or fear reactions to an experience, thereby allowing him/her to, stay present. Practice this every day during or before a stressful situation and you will soon discover that your maladaptive behavioural responses (like addiction) will gently fade from your reality. 

This technique has good results with sleep problems. Usually, a person has his eyes closed and is tossing and turning in bed. In using three-point attention, the person lay on his back with his arms at his side. Eyes are to be kept open, with the person trying not to blink. Three-point attention is established while looking toward the ceiling. In a darkened room, the points are projected in space with the eyes open. The person will find the eyes wanting to roam all over the place, but gentle refocusing will allow the three-point field to relax the body and bring relaxation and sleep to the person.

I would love to hear your feedback about this technique and your requests for other helpful techniques, based on your own needs. Psychotherapy is unfortunately seen as a tool for crazy people.  In truth, we are all a bit crazy so I like to see psychotherapy as the most normal and basic skill that one can learn to live a more joyful and resilient life. Its like nutrition, so give your soul and brain the most nourishing whole foods you can find. 

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