Body Awareness Training Methods and their Applications in Daily Life

An Experiential Workshop for the 2002 Conference of the German Aiki Extensions

by Paul Linden


The other day in my childrenís Aikido class, I stopped the class and asked a question: "What is the capital of Texas?" Without hesitating, all the kids together shouted out "Hips!" The joke in our class is that all questions in Aikido have the same answer, "hips," and so the kids immediately knew how to answer my question about Texas. In the same way, there are some simple, basic Aikido ideas/processes that can be helpful in answering almost any performance question in any area of life. As a professional body  worker, I teach these processes outside of Aikido to a wide variety of people with a broad variety of interests and needs. The essence of these practices is fullness, that is, being present and open in breathing, posture, movement and intentionality. Whatever you do, you will do better if you are present in your body.

The concept of fullness and methods for achieving it are often more implicit than explicit in Aikido. It was in Aikido practice that I had the opportunity to study myself in movement. Aikido was my laboratory for developing and testing my ideas and methods of body awareness training. Aikido pointed me in the direction of fullness. However, the concepts and exercises are generally not brought out in the specific, systematic ways that I need to learn and like to teach. In the end, I had to develop my own training methods. These training methods emphasize breaking complex, global processes down into modular units of exercise and skill acquisition.

How did I come to these practices? I began practicing Aikido in 1969, and I was pretty awkward when I started. I really wasnít living in my mindbody effectively, and the Aikido techniques were too complex and subtle for me. I gradually realized that I had to study something that was much more basic than the physical defense techniques. I worked out some basic mind/body practices that enabled me to start practicing Aikido more effectively. Then I discovered that those practices helped me improve daily life effectiveness. I eventually found that these practices were helpful to other Aikidoists. And later I started teaching those mindbody practices outside of Aikido and became a professional somatic educator.

As I taught people outside Aikido, I found that the mindbody awareness training methods I had developed are broadly effective in improving action in any area of life. They are based on some simple but far reaching ideas/experiences about how the mindbody functions.

1. Body alignment (posture) and body use (movement style) are the concrete manifestations of a personís philosophy of self/world/action.
2. Emotions and perception are physical actions done in the body.
3. Intentionality is what shapes posture and movement.
4. The attack/defense interaction is an excellent model for all problematic situations. The common response to a challenge is to constrict, twist and harden the breathing, posture, and movement. This hardening is the somatic action of separateness, isolation, fear, anger, and effort.
5. It is possible to replace the action of hardening the body with the intention/action of opening the body. Speaking in terms of intentionality (or ki), this would be an expansive, radiant, symmetrical state of intention. Speaking in terms of posture, this would be a vertical state of alignment, with the spinal column and head supported effectively on the pelvis and legs. Speaking in terms of psychology or spirituality, this would be an integration of awareness, power, love, and freedom.
7. This state of open integrity is the basis for effective thinking and acting in any area of life.

In the workshop for Aiki Extensions, I will show examples of how I have applied these ideas and exercises apply in a number of seemingly different areas of work: music, computer ergonomics, gardening, pregnancy, sports performance, work with children with Attention Deficit Disorder, sexual abuse recovery, and peacemaking. And of course, Aikido teaching itself. Any one of these applications merits a whole paper to itself, or even a whole book, but I think that a brief survey will make clear how some fundamental elements can apply to a wide variety of tasks and how Aiki-based mindbody training can be extended into daily life activities. Detailed written descriptions of the techniques of body education that I teach demand a good deal of space, more space than would be appropriate here. For those readers interested in seeing exactly how the techniques are done, the articles and books on my website provide a detailed and extensive description of the somatic education methods I have developed and their applications in various areas of life.

In the next section, in order to give an idea of the methods by which I teach body awareness and effective movement, I will briefly describe examples of some of the fundamental body awareness exercises I use. Efficient body use is the foundation for strain-free, effective movements for task performance and is also the basis for emotional centering and clarity of thinking. The four key elements in the methods I work with are breathing, posture, movement mechanics, and intentionality. In the third section of the paper, I will go on to show how these methods may be applied in various areas of daily life.


The systematic process of body awareness teaching that I have developed I call Being In Movementģ mindbody training (BIM), and it is this which forms the basis of my teaching both in and out of Aikido. BIM is an educational process which uses practical movement experiments to help people learn how to examine the body as the self, and it explores the underlying links between structural/functional efficiency, emotional/spiritual wholeness, and social justice. By examining how breathing, posture, and movement simultaneously shape and are shaped by thoughts, feelings, and intentions, BIM teaches people how to discover the underlying ideas that rule and restrict their movements and how to develop more effective strategies for actionóstrategies based on mindbody integrity.


When people confront a difficulty or a challenge, typically their breathing stops. Constricting the breath is a key element in the experience of not being good enough, and breathing more openly is the foundation for efficacy. To teach people fullness of breath,  start by having students stand up and alternate tightening their bellies and letting them plop out. Then I have them release their bellies without doing a preliminary tightening. People generally experience a noticeable release even though they had not first tightened their bellies consciously, and they realize from this that they had been unconsciously holding themselves tight and that they probably hold themselves tight all the time. I have them touch their bellies and experiment with their breathing until they discover how to drop the movement of inhalation into the pit of their bellies, expanding the belly and the lower back as well as the chest when they inhale. This is just the opposite of the pattern of breathing involved in fear or anger, in which the belly is tightened and the chest elevated during inhalation.

To give people a clear experience of the effect of constricting their breath, I have them stand and resist a light push on the shoulders, first while constricting their breath and then while letting their breathing be soft and full. People readily notice that they are far more stable when they breathe easily. Fear/anger breathing makes one a pushover.


Breathing easily is the beginning of the experience of postural stability, which is crucial in developing the feeling of efficacy and ease. I begin working on postural stability by having people feel how straightening up from a slump is accomplished. Most people think that straightening up is done by throwing the shoulders back or by straightening the back, and practically no one notices that the whole process is built around pelvic rotation. When the pelvis rotates backward (the direction in which the guts in the pelvic bowl would spill out over the back edge of the pelvis), the stack of vertebrae has no foundation on which to rest and it slumps down. Rotating the pelvis forwardóin the appropriate wayóprovides a foundation for the spinal column and the torso as a whole and creates upright posture. Most people rotate the pelvis forward by using the superficial muscles in the back to pull upward on the rear edge of the pelvis. I have students experience this by pulling their shoulder blades and back pockets together, and they feel how their backs arch and their postures become tense and top heavy.

To find the more effective way of coming to an upright sitting posture, I ask students to slump and notice that when they do, the pubic symphysis (the bone in front of the pelvis, just above the genitals) points upwards. The more appropriate way to rotate the pelvis forward involves moving the pubic symphysis forward and down so that it points toward the floor. This uses the iliacus and psoas muscles (which are muscles deep in the front of the body) to do the movement. This new sitting posture creates an effortless stability and a physical sensation of exhilaration and power, which is the opposite of the constriction produced by weakness and inability.

The next step in the development of postural stability is rather surprising to most people, and that is the development of a loving heart. I help people understand this by asking them to imagine a situation in which they have to deal with a boss who is antagonistic, critical, and disrespectful, and I have them note the physical changes they experience. Generally people feel tension in the chest and shortening of the breath as well as other tensions throughout the body. Then I have people imagine someone or something that makes their heart smile. This not only reverses the changes created by imagining the uncomfortable situation but also produces sensations of relaxation, warmth, softness and openness in the chest.2 These sensations of being "warm-hearted" are the bodily manifestations of love. Not only does the chest soften, but the whole body becomes freer and more unified, and this improves body use and the coordinated delivery of power in any action. Of course, making love part of power also ensures that power will be used wisely and constructively.

Power and love, contrary to the model that our culture uses, really are inseparable. Love without power is limp and ineffective, and power without love is rigid and harsh. (Here I am using the terms with their more usual meanings, as though they were in fact separable.) In either case, love or power is diminished to the point where it becomes just a shadow and not true power or love at all. Power is the foundation for the ability to love, and love is the foundation for the wise use of power. This is not mere philosophy but is simply a shorthand method of stating that the body and the self must be soft and receptive as well as integrated and strong in order to function well.


Postural stability is the foundation of the ability to move with power and grace. Walking offers a convenient place to begin the study of movement since the movements of walking are fundamental parts of many other activities. To develop people's awareness of an efficient walking gait, I have them stand and push on a wall, with their feet far enough from the wall that their bodies incline forward quite a bit. Usually people believe that they push on the wall with their arms and shoulders, and they don't notice the contribution of the legs and hips. One way of clarifying this is to have them bend their knees quite a bit and then straighten their legs rapidly as though they were trying to push the floor backwards away from the wall. As they do this, they experience that the force transmitted to the wall by their hands increases. This helps them begin to understand that the traction of the feet on the floor and the shove back and down with the legs is what creates the forward shove on the wall. This realization transforms their awareness so that they experience the lower half of their bodies as active and powerful.

Having students walk with this new awareness transforms their walking. Having them step forward using an exaggerated pressing down and back with the ball of the back foot gives them a new experience of walking. The back/down energy reflects off the floor into a forward/up movement of the body. They have a ground to stand on, a foundation for themselves. Their posture opens upward. Their walk becomes more erect, clearer and more energetic. People often conceive of walking as falling down onto their forward foot, rather than springing up off their back foot, but when they walk that way, they sag and fall downward. Their energy droops. The new way of moving is mechanically more efficient and powerful. It is also much more confident and alert. The goal and the result of the exercises in breathing, posture, and movement mechanics is to help people experience the nature of true power in the body. True power is soft, fluid, focused, and loving. Walking while paying attention to breathing, posture, use of the legs, and heartfulness is a way of practicing a state of completeness and wholeness.


Another element of the process of developing empowerment and wholeness has to do with intentionality. Intention is the process that shapes posture, movement, and action. Helping people directly experience the intentional foundations of their actions is a way of both moving them to take responsibility for their responses and showing them how to improve their responses. To create an operational definition of "intention," I put something, a pencil for example, down about three meters in front of a student and I instruct her/him to want it. I ask the student to actually intend to go over and get the pencil. It must be an authentic wanting. It must be felt in the body. "Wanting" does not mean either just thinking about or actually going and getting the pencil. It is a sincere somatic sensation of desire. Most people can create an authentic feeling of wanting when they focus on it, though many need some personal guidance to home in on it. What Iím after is just letting the body experience the wanting and react to it naturally and spontaneously. Once people can establish this feeling, they usually feel themselves "involuntarily" tipping toward the pencil. For most people, this movement will be a small drift toward the pencil, perhaps a third of a centimeter or so, though some people will actually move quite a bit. Most people will feel as though the pencil were a magnet gently drawing them towards it. (Some people will move away from the pencil, which usually is an expression of some need to reject their own desires).

When you have an image of a movement and intend to execute the movement, your brain sends nerve impulses to the muscles which will do the movement. The muscles can act with a range of force, from a barely perceptible tensing to an all-out clenching. However, even below the range of what is barely perceptible to most people, there is still physical activity, the faintest stirrings of the muscles. You could call these faint, normally imperceptible tensings "micromovements." All you have to do is wish to begin moving in some direction and your body will begin to do that movement, either at a microlevel or in larger, more obvious ways.

The pencil-wanting exercise is a way to help people begin to feel and notice the micromovements which are the small beginnings of the action of going to get the pencil. The point of helping people notice this unbroken continuum from thought to movement is to give them a clear realization that there is no separation between the mind and the body. Intending something is the beginning of doing it. And underlying every action, is the intent to do that action, though people are not often aware of the volitional foundations of their actions. (To be more precise, every complex action has an intentional foundation. Simple reflex movements do not arise from intentions.) Experiencing the intentional foundations of action moves people in the direction of taking responsibility for the things they do.

Beyond that, working on the subtle level of intentionality (in addition to the more obvious elements of breath, posture, and movement) is helpful in replacing ineffective actions with more effective ones. By noticing the first faint stirrings of the decisions to execute habitual, ineffective actions, and replacing them with the intentions to execute more effective actions, people can practice and learn better response habits. Underlying all the work I do on breath, posture, movement mechanics is an ideal which describes optimal intentional functioning. As a general rule, we function most effectively when the mindbody is in a symmetrical, expansive state.

The Six Directions Breathing exercise is a way of practicing the intention of expansiveness. I have people sit quietly with their eyes shut. First they adjust their posture and breathing. Next they inhale into the core of their body just below the navel. And as they exhale, they employ a regular progression of directing their breath outward into the six cardinal directions. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, with one breath for each directional focus, they gently exhale down, up, right, left, forward, backward, and then they exhale in all six directions at once.

This exercise is a way of practicing keeping an open, even, symmetrical, expansive awareness of the whole body. More than that, it is a way of contacting the feeling of being fully in the world. Any fear, anger, helplessness etc. produces dim spots or twists and asymmetries in the feeling of the body's field of energy/attention. Finding those gaps in the field and breathing life back into them is a way of remembering to live fully in the body, in the present, in the world. One can do the exercise projecting simultaneously from the heart as well as the belly, enlarging the focus to include love as well as power.

This breathing exercise is helpful because it gives people a sense of the fundamental level at which choice or intention operates to structure the body and behavior. It gives them a tool for practicing different ways of being. And as they build up skill with this tool, they can use it unobtrusively during challenging situations to interrupt old patterns and substitute new, more effective ones.


The work with breathing, posture, movement, and intentionality combine to create the mindbody state of fullness. This section on applications of body awareness training will show how that state of fullness can be applied in various areas. We will start with simple postural work and move on to work with developmental and emotional difficulties. These may seem like radically different topics, but from the perspective which sees the human being as a somatic whole, these topics are fundamentally much the same and can be addressed by attending to mindbody wholeness and fullness. Postural, psychological, spiritual and task performance issues form an indivisible whole.

Even a very simple physical problem may have elements of emotional and spiritual difficulties hidden within it. For example, perhaps the reason that a person locks their hips when they run is that they were sexually abused as a child and maintain continuously high level of tension in their pelvis. It is often the case that without resolving an emotional element, a physical task that the student wants to improve cannot be changed. By the same token, if a student wants to resolve some emotional or spiritual difficulty, the body posture which is the physical expression of that difficulty must first be loosened and changed to allow psychospiritual change to begin. The body state of freedom and balance is the concrete extension of the emotional and spiritual state of wholeness and peace.


These two photos of a flute player show her initial playing posture (photo #1) and her posture at the end of her third lesson (photo #2). I have found this same slumped posture in violinists, pianists, potters, dentists, computer users and other people who work in a sitting position. To feel how slumping affects movement efficiency, try slumping down, raising your arms, and moving them around. Next, roll your pelvis forward to bring yourself up to a more upright sitting position, and try moving your arms around again. It is easy to feel how slumping restricts the breathing and makes moving your arms more effortful. Sitting upright allows greater ease and efficiency in postural support. It is impossible to convey in this printed paper the wonderful improvement in sound that results when a musician uses her or his body with more efficiency.

The flute player had a relatively simple problem. However, very often what looks like a simple postural problem can involve significant layers of hidden meaning, I once worked with a jazz pianist who came for lessons because of disabling pain in his right arm as he played. The lessons involved a fascinating interweaving of work with the pianistís body mechanics and work with the emotional, cultural and philosophical meanings that underlay his body mechanics.

At the beginning of our first lesson, I noticed that the pianistís left shoulder was higher than his right and that his left leg was used more for weight support. When he played, he sat hunched over the keyboard. I decided to focus our lessons on how to sit at the piano in a relaxed, balanced, and upright posture. After I showed him the posturally free way to sit upright, he realized that he created excess tension in many of his movements in an attempt to be strong and tough. This idea that strength is tough and hard is, of course, very common in our culture. When I showed him how to use softness as a foundation for strength, he began to feel less pain as he played. At the beginning of one lesson, I noticed that when he really got into the music, he hunched himself down over the keys just as he had done when I first saw him. When I asked him about it, he said that he didn't like playing with his head upright and his body open because, as a jazz pianist, he often played in bars. People in the audience were frequently drunk and unpleasant, and his overwhelming desire was to go into himself, the piano, and the music and create a barrier between himself and his audience. By showing him how soft strength could be a foundation for effective boundary control, I helped the pianist experience that openness and vulnerability were a better defense than hardness and defensiveness.

In a further lesson, he said that the posture of hunching over the piano, getting into the keyboard, was part of the way jazz pianists played. He explained that it had to do with the essential process of jazz improvisation. Because he had no written down, preordained piece of music to play, he couldnít go in with a plan but had to throw himself on the mercy of the moment. The pianist said he leaned close to the instrument to get himself into it, directing his attention away from the sounds of the room and into the sound of the piano. He was trying to find the next notes he was going to play, focusing on the instrument as the crucial source for the next musical thought. I pointed out that his musical thoughts actually came from deep within himself. However, in locating the source of musical thought in the instrument, he to some extent lost his experience of his inward self. To play with an erect posture, he needed to readjust his very idea of what it was to think. Once he was able to create the new physical posture as a foundation for thinking, he was able to access new power and sensitivity in the creative process. In addition, the new shape reduced the strain on his arm.


This section on computer use illustrates one example of how body awareness training can be applied in business and industry. I have also done numerous presentations to massage therapists on strain-free ways of delivering massages, and I have taught factory assembly line workers how to move in ways that reduce strain and fatigue. In a seemingly very different business application, I have also done presentations for businesses on the topic of conflict resolution, which, as you will read later, begins with finding a balanced posture. It is evident that the same upright sitting posture shown with the flutist is important in computer use. If you spend hours sitting at a computer, and you are not sitting with the weight of your body falling squarely onto your chair, you are putting considerable strain into your muscles and joints.

The workstation design and setup are based on body awareness. The chair height is equal to the length of the lower legs plus the thickness of the shoe soles. With that height, the thighs and pelvis are free and balanced. The chair is padded but not soft and squishy; it provides solid support for the body. Note also that the seat pan is flat and tilted very slightly forward. It if were bucket-shaped and titled back, as is common, the pelvis would be tipped back rather than level and the spinal column would not be supported well. Once the chair supports the body appropriately, the rest of the workstation can be determined. The arms should be bent at the elbows; if the arms were extended, that would increase the weight the shoulder muscles would have to hold up. Once the elbows are bent, that determines the height of the desk surface and the distance the chair should be from the desk. In a nutshell, the keyboard should be positioned right under the hands; the hands should never have to reach for the keyboard. Likewise, the monitor should be positioned where the gaze falls naturally; the head should never have to adjust to the monitor position. Since the usual keyboard has cursor control keys and the number pad on the right, the mouse should be on the left (for ordinary point and click activities). Putting the mouse on the right means holding the right arm extended away from the body, and that will produce significant strain.

I have written a book titled Comfort at Your Computer: Body Awareness Training for Pain-Free Computer Use. The book has a lot more information about safe computer use, including such things as how to use standing computer workstations and laptops. The key is body awareness. Once you know how to place your body in a state of balance, ease, power, and freedom, then you will be able to figure out a workstation design which will support your body in maintaining that physical integrity.


OíSensei practiced Aikido and farmed. I have been practicing Aikido and organic gardening for over thirty years, and within a short time of beginning Aikido, I started thinking about how to apply Aikido movements to gardening chores. An early article that I published on Aiki extensions work was an article I wrote in 1978 on gardening.

The first photo shows the way people typically hoe. They use the arms and back to generate movement and guide the hoe. However, the arms are relatively weak and the back will be subject to strain. In addition, this posture compresses the breathing, which will  add to the physical discomfort. Notice also that my awareness is visibly restricted to the top half of my body and the narrow segment of the world taken up by the hoe and my target.

Think back to the four body awareness themes that I discussed earlier. Because space is limited, I cannot go into full details about how I teach fullness as the foundation for powerful, efficient, strain-free hoeing. However, generally speaking, the body should be well-aligned, with full breathing, and power being generated by the legs and hips. There should be a balanced and open awareness of the self in space. In particular, using the hoe makes use of the rowing exercise and is very much like using the Aiki jo (four foot staff). For greater clarity in the photos, Iím using the hoeing movement Iíd adopt if I were chopping through a particularly stubborn weed with thick, strong roots. Hoeing ordinary smaller weeds would use the same movements but in a lighter, shorter form. Having raised my hoe (photo #2), Iím supporting its weight with my legs and hips. Notice that my upper torso and arms are placed directly above my pelvis and legs. Notice also that my awareness is much more evenly dispersed throughout my whole body and the environment around me.

In photo #3, I have finished the chopping motion with the hoe, and it is clear that the power comes from the forward weight transfer movement of the legs and pelvis combined with the vertical downward movement of the arms. This is derived from the Aikido rowing exercise, but it also makes use of the openness and expansiveness of breath, body, posture, and movement that I described earlier in this paper. The fourth photograph shows the pull back that comes at the last moment of the chopping action and which serves to pull on and move whatever is being chopped. This movement too is part of the rowing exercise, and successful execution of the movement depends on opening and balancing the body 

The fundamental principles of balanced body use apply to any gardening chore from weeding to wheeling a wheelbarrow. Beyond that, the same educational approach applies to any daily activity, from washing dishes to driving a car.


During pregnancy, many women feel a lot of discomfort. Their backs ache, and they waddle when they walk. Yet most of the discomfort can be eliminated with some brief instruction in body and movement awareness (providing that the discomfort doesnít stem from some medical problem). I usually start by teaching pregnant women how to balance the pelvis in sitting. This new awareness of pelvic balance can then be extended into larger movements such as standing, walking and doing chores.

Standing presents some unique challenges to pregnant women since the increasing weight of the developing baby exerts a strong tug on their postures. As the fetus grows, a pregnant woman's body weight shifts forward, and most often the expectant mother throws her shoulders back to balance the weight of the fetus. She creates the characteristic pregnant swayback posture as a means of handling the weight hanging off her forward edge. This increased curve makes the woman's posture biomechanically weaker and contributes to low back pain and the awkward, strained pregnant waddle. However, it is easy to change this, as shown by the fact that all the accompanying photographs of the pregnant woman were taken during the course of one one-hour lesson.

To show how to balance the tug, I work with how to best hold a weight at armís length out in front of the body. When most people do this, they counterbalance the forward and down force of the weight by leaning their head and shoulders back, as shown in the first photograph. However, that creates a swayback curve which compresses the lower back. It also prevents the efficient use of the legs for thrusting to the rear during walking, which is why pregnant women waddle.

Instead, sticking the tailbone slightly back and out allows the pelvis and lower torso rather than the shoulders and upper torso to act as the counterbalance to the forward weight (photo #2). This opens and lengthens the back and frees up the hips and legs. It also allows the weight to be supported by the leg muscles rather than by the back. All this results in much easier and stronger standing posture as well as a more efficient and comfortable walking gait.

Along with postural improvement in the relatively simple actions of sitting, standing and walking, it is also necessary for pregnant women to learn to apply balanced movement mechanics in the more complex movements of daily chores. This can be anything from using a computer, to lifting children, to driving a car, to vacuuming. Notice that the first vacuuming photograph (photo #3) is very similar to the incorrect hoeing photograph. In both photos, the mover is bent forward. This is a common movement pattern. Most people in our culture move from their shoulders, arms, and backs. And just as in correct hoeing, the strain-free movement (photos #4 and 5), derives from the Aikido rowing exercise. By making use of the legs to shift the weight of torso, the vacuum cleaner is moved forward and backward, and the back is spared the effort and strain.

Without going into detail, I also teach pregnant women ways of dealing with the pain of labor. The natural urge is to brace against and withdraw from pain, thus constricting breathing and awareness; but by maintaining soft breathing and body expansiveness, women can reduce pain and become more comfortable with pain they cannot avoid. It is not necessary for pregnancy to be so uncomfortable. It is relatively easy for most pregnant women to learn how to use body awareness to create comfort. Body and movement awareness education is very important (along with exercise programs and childbirth classes) for a safe and comfortable experience of pregnancy.


Iíve worked with runners, swimmers, golfers, tennis players, weight lifters, baseball players, volleyball players, bicyclists, and so on. The key to effective performance is always openness and balance of the body and the perceptual/intentional field. Here I will examine golf as an example of how the Aiki-based body training I have developed can be applied to sports. The first two photos show how the golfer was accustomed to playing before she started lessons with me. Note how as she addresses the ball her arms and legs are stiff and her awareness is confined to her shoulder area and the ball. This is even more apparent in the way she swings her golf club. She ignores her legs and hips and swings from her waist, shoulders, and arms. Actually this is very similar to the photo of me hoeing in the incorrect manner. The over-use of shoulders and arms, and the location of awareness high in the body form a fundamental movement style that is encouraged by the Euro-American culture.

In the third photo, she has changed the way she addresses the ball. Her elbows and knees are bent a bit, which relaxes and frees up her chest, back, and hips. I hope that it will be evident in the photo that she is now breathing more fully and paying more attention to her whole body. She is standing in her feet and feeling the ground, which will allow her to raise the club and swing more effectively. (Her form may not be standard golf form, but everyone who has tried this freer form has been surprised to find that it is more comfortable and more effective than the standard.)

It is clear in the motion of the swing (photos #4 and 5) and the follow through (#6) that the golfer is more balanced and free in her posture, more fluid in her movements, and more expansive in her awareness.


In the last couple of years, I have been working more and more with children with Attention Deficit Disorder and Aspergerís Syndrome. In both of these developmental disorders, children have a hard time focusing themselves and controlling their reactions to environmental distractions. Inattention and impulsivity are common, as are inability to remain attentive to a task and inability to control impulses. Aspegerís also includes a component of reduced awareness of non-verbal communication and social cues. Part of what ordinarily makes it difficult to teach concentration is that it is usually thought of and experienced as a seamless, mental process. How do you learn to concentrate? Well, you just put your mind on something. However, that kind of languaging names the process but doesnít explain how to do it, and so someone who cannot naturally focus does not benefit from such an instruction. The key to teaching the skill of concentration is to reframe it as a somatic process and break that somatic process down into small, concrete learning steps.

I generally see children with attention problems for three to five one-hour sessions. That is usually enough to teach them the focusing and self-regulation techniques that I have developed. Many children move into my childrenís Aikido classes after the series of private lessons. The private sessions are much quieter and less complex an environment than an Aikido class with fifteen children, and so kids with attention problems find private lessons much easier as a starting point. The Aikido classes offer them a way to continue practicing self-regulation and focusing .

One exercise that I use with most children is the Anti-Tickle Technique. I start by explaining the exercise to the child, asking permission to do it, and explaining that they can tell me to stop at any moment and I will do so. Then I tickle them. Of course, the kids usually find themselves convulsed with laughter and helpless. Then I go through the exercises on breathing and sitting. Of course, I teach them in a simple, fun way appropriate to children. Along the way, I show the children how physical relaxation and postural stability improve running, throwing a ball, and so on. Then we go back to the tickling, and the kids discover that by staying in the relaxed, stable, expansive somatic state, they can become non-ticklish. That example of their capacity to focus and thereby achieve interesting results is very surprising to the children (and their parents) and very motivating. They realize that they can do more than they ever thought, and success at controlling their hitherto out-of-control inner world is verysatisfying.

That usually takes me two lessons, and often in the third lesson I will have the children practice reading. They usually experience that by focusing on the body state of fullness, they can read much more easily, even when I try to distract them by throwing tissues at them, tickling them, or talking to them. In addition to work with attention, I have worked with children on issues of anger management, conflict resolution, physical coordination, and anxiety. In my teaching, I simply donít make any distinction between "physical" and "mental" issues. Because I address the whole person as a process of simultaneous physical and mental experiencing and feeling, I can work with a broad range of issues and attain rapid results.


Since 1987, most of the clients who have come to me for body education sessions have been adult survivors of child abuse. As a somatic educator and martial artist, I focus on a very body-oriented and practical view of the core problem in abuse. In my work, I have seen over and over again how issues of powerlessness and lack of safety play out in the bodies of people who have been abused, and I have seen how healing it is to help people learn to live more fully in their bodies and on that basis create effective boundaries. (Though my focus in this section is on abuse, I should say that the body education processes I will describe are effective with other forms of trauma such as car crashes and surgery. They are also effective with conditions such as fibromyalgia that have a significant anxiety component.)

From my perspective, the crucial issue in abuse is the learning that takes place during abuse. When someone is abused, whether physically, sexually or emotionally/verbally, they learn that they are profoundly powerless, powerless to control their bodies and their environment and create safety. That sense of powerlessness becomes a core element in their self-identity, and many of the symptoms of trauma such as dissociation, drug abuse, body numbness, or acting out involve some feeling/belief on the part of the survivor that they cannot create safety.

I would define the trauma response as a physical behavior pattern. Expressed most simply, the core trauma response is to tighten and twist the body. This is generally expressed in tense breathing, tight muscles, constricted posture, stiff movements, and narrowed attention. In a paradoxical way, tightness can often include limpness as well, and this is expressed in states of body numbness or dissociation. The trauma response becomes a fundamental part of the trauma survivorís learned body style and is maintained as a learned behavior until new learning replaces it.

The trauma response often functions as a way of reducing awareness, as a form of anesthesia. When there is nothing practical that can be done to control a threat, then anesthesia offers a means of tolerating it. However, as Aikidoka, we have experienced very clearly that the power to fight an attack or escape from it comes from relaxed, balanced movement and clear awareness. The normal shock responses of muscular constriction or mental dissociation lead not to effective protective action but instead to mindbody weakness and ineffective action.

The problem for abuse survivors is that powerlessness and the trauma response, once experienced and incorporated into the self-identity, lead to a vicious circle. When adults live life on the basis of feelings of powerlessness, they respond to threats in ineffective ways, which make it more likely that they will be overwhelmed again and retraumatized. Imagine someone who fell into the water and nearly drowned and is left with a tremendous fear of the water. Psychotherapy, with its verbal work around the feeling of fear, would certainly be a crucial first step in the healing process. However, talking about the feeling wonít teach the person to swim, and complete empowerment must (in this example) include the ability to swim. If the person does not learn to swim, then the person is still powerless and will still feel anxious around water. Without learning to swim, the trauma cannot be healed completely. And learning to swim with gritted teeth and suppressed fear will not be enough. Learning to swim with joy is crucial. Learning to experience joy and mastery in the situation of the previously overwhelming challengeóthat is what will lead to recovery.

The work I do with abuse survivors is based on the fact that powerlessness is a somatic state and can be replaced by the somatic state of empowerment. The primary content of the work is practical, step-by-step exercises which work with breathing, muscle tone, posture, movement and intention to develop an integrated state of awareness, power, and love and, on that foundation, appropriate personal boundaries and effective selfprotection.

Once students can create the state of relaxed alertness and stability, I help them learn to apply this in their daily lives. I start with relatively simple exercises. I may stand back about two meters and throw tissues at them. Though they understand that this symbolic attack is trivial, it nonetheless reminds them of their abuse and can trigger deep fear. By maintaining their breathing and posture in a free and stable state, and then catching the tissues (instead of freezing in shock and dissociating), abuse survivors are taking their first steps in responding actively and effectively to their traumas. I help students work through a progression of gradually stronger challenges until they are ready for actual selfdefense instruction. Then we replay the actual assaults they experienced, and I coach them in the actions necessary to win this time. There is a special grin that lights up peopleís faces when they experience the joy of succeeding in keeping themselves safe and free.

By learning how to keep their bodies open and free, and learning how to protect themselves, abuse survivors rewrite the effects of their past. In working with survivors, I make use not only of the body awareness work that I have developed but also of actual Aikido self-defense techniques. 

For more information about body awareness training with sexual abuse survivors, you could go to my website. I have articles available there on the topic (including one article on abuse survivors in Aikido classes) as well as a downloadable e-book book, Winning is Healing: Body Awareness and Empowerment for Abuse Survivors.


Issues of conflict resolution and peacemaking can also be addressed as somatic processes. Conflict is usually approached through high level behavior or content. Content is the actual substance of the dispute, the conflicting desires or goals of the different parties; and high level behavior consists of the words or actions that are being used to create or negotiate the conflict. However, from my perspective, approaching conflict in the usual manner is like building a building from the second story upward.

The foundation for high level behavior is breathing, posture, and movement, and this is important to consider in conflict resolution. Imagine standing in front of someone who is angry at you. Perhaps he is leaning forward, getting too close, his fists clenched, his face red, his throat tight, his voice harsh and loud. What would you feel? In teaching about conflict, I often have students actually try this with a partner as a movement experiment, and most people find they have rather intense physical reactions. Experiences in the experiment can vary somewhat, but people commonly report that when they are threatened, they restrict their breath, tighten muscles (often in their shoulders, throat, chest and belly), and contract their posture. Some people experience limpness and collapse, which is a more passive form of contraction. This contraction results from two elements, communicative mimicry and defensive organization. Part of how we communicate non-verbally is to automatically and unconsciously mimic each otherís body states. When we are around someone with a strong feeling, we perceive it, recognize it, and tend to do the physical actions of that feeling in our own bodies. This means that we may feel things that we do not choose to feel or find useful or enjoyable to feel. When we are faced with aggression, we naturally respond with the body state of aggression, and this contributes to the continuation and escalation of aggression.

The defensive organization is to constrict and get ready, either to fight or submit. However, shrinking in tense fear makes people respond weakly and ineffectively to attacks and actually encourages further aggression on the part of the aggressor. Needless to say, limp collapse also is ineffective as a foundation for defending oneself. Hardening with anger makes people respond to the attack in awkward, uncontrolled ways and also encourages escalation of the violence. Both fear and anger reduce the capacity to respond effectively to an attack. In other words, defensiveness is a completely unsatisfactory foundation for effective defending.

Soft strength, openness, and love are the basis for free and balanced movement and effective defense actions. In order to give people this experience and understanding in a brief, practical way, I use the basic exercises I have developed for teaching the body state of power and love. Once they have learned this, I have people to go back to the yelling experiment and see how it feels to be attacked while they maintain the somatic state of openness and fullness. They generally find that staying rooted in open breathing and posture transforms the experience. Rather than tensing or getting limp when they are attacked, people come to the experience strong and open and stay strong and open through it. They do not get overwhelmed by the attack but stay rooted in self-awareness and personal strength. The power people feel is constructed physically but is just as much emotional and spiritual as physical.

People find that staying strong and open vastly lessens the physical and emotional discomfort they experience when they are attacked, and they realize that most of the discomfort they experienced they actually created themselves by their tension or limpness and resistance. They realize also that when they were tense or limp, they were shutting down their awareness of both themselves and their partners, alienating themselves from themselves and from the attacker. Receiving the attacker and the attack in a mind/body state of power, love, and expansiveness, people find that they do not react with fear or anger and that they can continue to experience a calm connection to the attacker rather than feeling an urge to hurt and destroy him or her.

The somatic state of openness and balance is the foundation for resolving conflict and making peace. That state allows us to interrupt the back and forth non-verbal and verbal communication of aggression. It allows us to see our opponent as a human being, a partner. It is on the basis of the somatic state of openness that high level behavior can be convincingly changed. Imagine someone saying the right words about getting along and win/win resolution, all the while emitting physical signals of fear and anger. It would be awfully hard to keep from feeling threatened and threatening. Interrupting that somatic state and replacing it with the somatic state of calmness and friendliness would allow words and actions to be congruent with the body state. Expressing a desire for peace with both low and high level behavior simultaneously is a much better foundation for conflict resolution and peacemaking. And once that foundation is in place, the actual content of the dispute can be addressed with much less aggression and much greater clarity.


All of the BIM work on postural stability and efficient movement certainly applies to teaching Aikido. In addition, the somatic self-regulation that I teach as part of conflict resolution training also applies. In this section, I will focus on how one particular body awareness concept that is part of Being In Movement can improve Aikido training. In my Aikido practice and teaching I emphasize aligning the body vertically. This focus came to me early in my practice, though it wasnít something that was emphasized or even taught. For me, it was a consequence of the meditations I was doing on symmetry and expansiveness of awareness.

If your posture leans in one direction or another, your awareness leans as well. The only body placement that allows equal commitment to all directions in the environment is the vertical postural line. If in Aikido practice you are afraid of an attack, you will naturally lean away from it. If you become antagonistic and resist the attack, you will naturally lean toward it. If you become over-invested in a throw, you will lean into it. In all these cases, you will lose your uprightness. Paying attention to staying vertical is a way of reminding yourself to maintain mental balance and equanimity. In that sense, paying attention to holding your body vertical as you execute Aikido techniques transforms the combat practice into a meditation.

However, maintaining the vertical line is more than just a spiritual notion. It creates more effective combat technique in three ways: it improves power delivery, prevents openings for counterattacks, and improves readiness to deal with multiple attacks. Let us examine two Aikido techniques to see how this works.

Letís start with katatori nikkyo. The first photograph shows a common way of doing the technique. Many people put on the lock with a distinct forward bend. However, in that way of doing the technique, much of the power comes from use of the shoulders and upper torso. In this instance, the power I could exert with my shoulders wasnít even enough to convince my partner to go down.

Keeping the body aligned correctly, as shown in the second photo, allows you to derive the power of the nikkyo from the movement of the pelvis, which is of course accomplished through the use of the legs and hips. There is a forward movement to transfer weight to the front leg and thus the nikkyo. In addition, there is a forward rotation of the pelvis, which inclines the spinal column forward though without bending it. This puts power into the nikkyo. Doing the nikkyo from the hips is much stronger and allows greater control of uke with less effort. Notice that the posture in the second photo is very similar to the posture in the third photograph of the correct way of hoeing.

A second problem with leaning forward is that it leaves you open to a counterattack. When you lean, the force of the technique is delivered an arc through the shoulders, and if uke is alert, it is simple to counter the nikkyo. By sliding in under the arc, pulling forward and down on the nikkyo, and blocking nageís legs, uke can pitch nage over him for a throw (photos 3-4). When the nikkyo is done with upright posture, the power of the nikkyo power goes all the way down to the ground, and there is no gap under which uke can slide to create a counterattack.

I have spoken of the incorrect nikkyo in purely physical terms, but of course there is more too it than that. What leads us to overuse the shoulders and bend forward? Overcommitment and aggression. The more upright posture is based on equanimity, love, and expansive awareness.

As another example, letís consider aikatatetori kokyunage. In the version shown here, my right hand was grasped by uke with his right hand. I spun around and applied an arm bar for the throw. Many people execute this throw also with a pronounced forward bend (photo #5).

And as in the nikkyo, the throw can be done with more power and better balance by moving from the legs and hips and keeping the body upright (Photos #6-7). Notice that the power that is applied to ukeís arm comes from forward motion of my pelvis. Since uke is joined to me around the level of my hips, there is no reason to bend my shoulders forward. 

In this technique, leaning forward with the shoulders does not leave nage open to a counterattack by the person being thrown, but it does require that nage perform a recovery moment to regain upright posture. Consider the use of this technique during a group attack, in which attacks come quickly and continuously. If nage is bent forward at the moment of the throw, in order to get ready for dealing with the next attack, it will be necessary to bring the torso back to an upright position. During that upward movement, nage is not ready for the attack. When nage is bent over, she or he would not be able to see clearly what the attackers are doing or be able to move freely to blend with whatever attack comes. However, if the throw is executed with the body upright, nage will be posturally ready to see the next attack and move with it. The same considerations of spiritual balance and combative readiness apply in doing any other Aikido techniques. There are a lot more elements of BIM that I use in enhancing my Aikido practice and teaching, and paying specific attention to body awareness as a foundation for Aikido training is very productive.

For readers who would like more information, on my website in the Aikido section, I have a number of articles on body awareness and Aikido practice. In addition, I am working on a book specifically on this topic and hope to have it available in the near future.


Aikido is my movement home, but Aikido itself is too strenuous and complex for many people. By developing Being in Movement mindbody training, I hoped to create a simpler, more accessible way of teaching people about the mindbody coordination that I gained in Aikido training. BIM offers a more rapid, more precise intervention into the many human performance problems that have their roots in ignorance of the structure and function of the body self.

The key is that we believe and experience that hardness equals strength, that numbness equals safety, and that barriers create freedom. We are so ready to create hard barriers in our bodies. Aikido teaches otherwise. BIM is a systematic method, derived from my Aikido practice, to convey to people the physical experience of openness and fullness and how to apply that experience in daily life. The teaching I do is an extension of Aikido off the mat and into daily activities. My hope is that this presentation will inspire other Aikido instructors to find new ways of contributing their knowledge to the large numbers of people who need mindbody centering yet who will never study Aikido itself.

PAUL LINDEN is a somatic educator and martial artist, founder of the Columbus Center for Movement Studies, and the developer of Being In Movementģ mindbody training. He holds a Ph.D. in Physical Education, is an authorized instructor of the Feldenkrais Methodģ of somatic education, and holds a fifth degree black belt in Aikido as well as a first degree black belt in Karate. His work involves the application of body and movement awareness education to such topics as stress management, conflict resolution, performance enhancement, and trauma recovery. He is the author of Comfort at Your Computer: Body Awareness Training for Pain-Free Computer Use and Winning is Healing: Body Awareness and Empowerment for Abuse Survivors. He can be contacted at: Columbus Center for Movement Studies, 221 Piedmont Road, Columbus, OH 43214, USA (614) 262-3355.


1 Copyright © 2002 by Paul Linden. This article is copyrighted by Paul Linden; however, it may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-commercial uses as long as the complete article, including contact information and this copyright notice, are included. 

2 I learned this exercise from Stephen Levine, who works with meditations on the heart. See his book Who Dies? Conscious Living and Conscious Dying, Anchor Books, Garden City, 1982.