Using Aikido as physical therapy

By Ressa Abrams


In May 1995, I woke up from a 13-day coma.  I was told that people did not know exactly what was wrong with me.

I had been getting progressively more ill most of my life.  I could never sustain physical fitness.  I was asthmatic.  I might have MS.  Now, I was told that I might never work again--and also, by the way, that I might never walk again.

In the first weeks after the coma, I hallucinated a lot because of the drugs I was on.  One of the hallucinations I had was that all the health-care professionals in the hospital who came to minister to my condition told me that I would be OK--because I could study Aikido, and it would make me better. At the time, I didn't know what Aikido was.  Later, when I found out that it is related to the martial arts, I laughed.  I couldn't imagine doing anything like that.

In November 1995, I was diagnosed with extreme mercury toxicity caused by dental fillings.  The prognosis was not good.  I did a search on the Internet for medical research and ended up sobbing after I read the research results.  I had twelve amalgam fillings in my mouth that were leaching mercury into my blood.  Not only did I have mercury poisoning, I had passed it to my daughter through the placenta.

In May 1996, I had another shorter coma that caused us to move from La Honda to Santa Cruz, California.  I had to live closer to the doctors.  My condition was pretty serious.  I was taking a lot of pharmaceuticals, which have their own special way of messing up my body and spirit (side effects).  I could walk again, but physical strength was not present.  So, I was going through a lot spiritually and emotionally from the whole experience.

One day in September 1996, I was looking at the local channel on Santa Cruz TV, and there was a short film of Linda Holiday Sensei giving a demonstration of Aikido.  I called the number, and Holiday Sensei answered.  I told her about my condition and about my hallucination.  She told me that I should come down--that the next beginning class started in a few weeks.  I joined North Bay Aikido.

Since then I have taken the 8-week beginner class over and over again.  It took me six months to learn how to do a back roll from standing and two years to do a front roll from standing.  I have had very good instructors.

When I cannot be on the mat, I can sit on the sidelines and take notes.  Some of the notes I have transcribed come out as poems.  The instructors tell me that I have not written down exactly what they said.  I tell them that it is what I heard.  It's the blend that makes the poem.

Here is an example on centering from Martha Jordon Sensei.

Just do the move

You do not have to be acrobatic

Your body already knows your Center

Draw them into your Center --then move

If you try too hard to remember everything you

will wear yourself out

Without trying to force anything.

try to find the natural pattern

Be heavy in your Center

The Center never moves in your body

Vary the point of contact and the angle slightly to create


Fall into your Center like a raindrop straight down

It is not the arms;  it's entering without keeping them out

You're cutting to the Center of the matter

The bigger the person the bigger the Center

Use all your concentration and focus

Build your techniques upon your Center

Once you have entered into Center



Side to Side

All is now free


How am I different?  A coma is a life-altering experience.  Having your entire body cleansed of a systemic toxin that has been there for more than forty years is also life altering.  I was having personality evolution experiences daily from 1997 to 2000.  I could use Aikido process when the old parts of my personality needed to be replaced:  Center, Exhale, Blend, Decide, Act, Forgive Yourself, and Move On.  That is now how I run my life, I am a better person.

Mercury toxicity is characterized by a lot of fear and emotional dysfunction.  some days I could only do warm-ups because I couldn't allow another person's energy to blend with mine.  I learned how to cope by continuing to come to the dojo.  Some days I slept or was ill for 20 hours, but made it to the dojo.  Whatever I brought in the door was accepted.

In 2002, I passed the United States Federal Drug Administration's minimal acceptable level of mercury in blood.  In 2003, I passed the European Union's more stringent standards.  At this point, I am not taking medication of any sort.  I am healthy, and I have resumed a normal life.

How are my interactions different?  I do not need to be drive from ego as much as before.  Instead, I need to have my ki focused.  The details are in the transaction.  I go with what is offered and spend much less energy with more accomplishments.

From Motomichi Anno Sensei I learned this:

If a technique is not going well deal with the issues in your heart

If you want to learn a technique study the heart





I use Aikido moves as metaphors when I think about how to deal with situations.  Recently at work I was in a stance we do often at North Bay.  I had two powerful managers pushing at me with all their might in opposite directions, and I was in the middle.  I dropped my center and turned slightly to get off the line, so that they had to resolve their issues and I was not in the way.  Everyone feel that his or her needs were met and that no one was the bad guy.  I couldn't do that as well before.  But it is natural since I am coming from center and an open heart, thankful that I am employed.  For me, everyday is precious, as I was very close to losing it all.

People tell me that my surviving my illness was a miracle.  I tell them that I had a lot of help.  Much of that help came from North Bay Aikido and Linda Holiday Sensei.