Beauty & Wellness
Fitness From The Field: Aikido
The Rural Intelligence region offers a plethora of fitness and healing modalities, but it can be hard to know which is the one that fits your needs, your body type and your schedule. Enter Paula Boyajian, a yoga instructor certified in Interdisciplinary Yoga and Yoga for the Special Child, who has taken on the role of RI’s fitness contributor to sleuth out the details of the many health and wellness options in our area.
I wish I could remember the name of the movie in which an actor (Martin Short, I think) outwitted his captors by giving into his full weight, therefore making it impossible for his foes to lift him. I’m mentally replaying this scene because it proved to be more than goofy shtick; it’s actually the philosophy of the century-old martial art Aikido. I learned this from Fourth Degree Aikido Black Belt Kim Rivers as I researched her upcoming five-week “Introduction to Aikido” class.
What It Is
Ai (Harmony) + (Ki) Spirit + Do (Way) = Way of Harmony. But Sensei Kim explained it in simpler (and funnier) terms: Aikido strives to leave your foe in “peace — not pieces.” This is accomplished by letting your rival go where he wants, but — here’s the important part — you get out of the way. Generally speaking, the movements used to accomplish this are turns, falls and pivots. It may take years to master such techniques, but you know what they say about every journey. Your Aikido journey can start November 12, 9:25 a.m. at Berkshire Community College.
All Levels: Kim herself is legally blind and when her assistant, Third Degree Aikido Black Belt Cher Mindermann, began her practice she walked with a cane and back brace. It’s not just that Aikido can be adapted for anyone but Kim said that her limited vision actually helped increase her awareness. “It’s like being a mom who’s aware of her kids even if she can’t see them,” she says.
As familiar as Kim’s analogy is, so is the structure of her class. After a traditional bow to welcome students and honor past teachers, you’re led in centering and breathing exercises and then learn beginning techniques, including one of the most important moves in Aikido — falling and recovering. Then, as Cher says, “The moves change as you do,” becoming more complex and perhaps incorporating weapons. Don’t let the term “weapon“ disturb you; in keeping with Aikido’s peaceful way, these “weapons” were developed to settle matches without leaving opponents in a bloody mess. From my perspective, their contemporary application is to develop coordination, control and acute awareness, all with no expectation of being a leader or follower, winner or loser.
Aikido’s “controlled relaxation” (as in the aforementioned comical kidnapping scene) is not reserved for just great physical comedians. I was utterly amazed that in one brief lesson I was able to resist “attackers” simply by relaxing. Before doing so, Kim and Cher could lift me — no easy task. Yet, after I relaxed my body and visualized my connection to the earth, they couldn’t budge me!
It’s interesting that Aikido doesn’t promote working on specific muscle groups. Instead, it teaches coordinated, whole-body movements resulting in an increased body-mind connection, quicker reactions and improved balance — all of which help keep us safe not only from evildoers, but icy patches, steep stairwells and uneven pavements. Indirectly, however, muscle tone develops. You can’t help but notice this immediately; there’s just no way you can practicing falling and getting up without working your leg and core muscles. And you will break a sweat and increase your heart rate, so, as Kim suggests, dress in layers.
After studying Aikido and T’ai chi for nearly 20 years, Kim still has the soul of a beginner. Her black belt doesn’t stop her from continuously training. “I am discovering abilities that continue to unfold. As an instructor this has helped me guide students. At the heart of this is a deep passion to grow,“ she says.
Along with her black belt, Kim wears a traditional hakama that was originally worn to hide leg movements and enhance a flowing feeling. That graceful flow is still present; watching Kim practice is like watching a powerful yet peaceful dancer.
BCC’s Patterson Field House is a large and bright traditional gym. A curtain dividing the large space creates a more private setting, extra-thick mats guard against injuries and Kim and Cher’s delightful personalities and infectious friendship create a supportive and fun environment.
$199 for Massachusetts residents; $212 for New England and New York residents. This is a one-credit course open to the public. There is no pre-requisite.