What do Aikido, Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) and writing all have in common? Read on to find out.

5 key takeaways

  • Feeling depressed, insecure, anxious or fearful?
  • Then refocus your energy: move your mind or move your body.
  • Mind moves body. But body also moves mind.
  • Easier to move the body than moving the mind.
  • Writing moves your mind instantly.

have been a student of the Japanese Martial Art of Aikido for 32 years, starting in high school, and I also taught it for 13 of those years. I have attained the level of 4th degree blackbelt in the art. Translated from the original Japanese, “Ai” means harmony, “Ki” means energy or life-force, and “Do” means the way or path. So Aikido means “the way to union with energy”.

One of the many valuable lessons I learned in Aikido is learning how to use my mind to increase physiological awareness and manage energy. Aikido teaches that it’s important to constantly monitor awareness and manage energy because the degree to which we are successful in doing these things can largely determine how healthy we feel mentally and physically. Science has now proven that the level of a person’s energy has a direct impact on their level of health. Typically, when we are low on energy, we feel down and even depressed, and when we are in this state, we are more prone to become sick. Some disorders are known as “psychosomatic”, which means that these disorders, stomach ulcers for example, are caused or aggravated by psychological factors such as stress.


Mind and body connection: (top photo) me learning from Aikido master Koretoshi Maruyama (left) that mind moves the body. (Above) Sensei first redirects my energy, controls my body and now has me in an inescapable vise grip.

On the other hand, when our energy is high (or in Aikido terms, “strongly extended forward”), then we feel happy, light and upbeat. When we are in this state, we feel active and healthy, and so are less prone to being sick.

If we can be aware that something is going on inside us on a psychological level, for instance, that we are feeling mentally depressed or stressed, it’s a sure symptom that our energy is very low. In this case, we might want to elevate our energy so we can correct this situation and stop ourselves from feeling more depressed or stressed out, which as mentioned above, can lead to further physical disorders.

Aikido is brilliant in teaching techniques that allow you to instantly increase your awareness and boost your mental energy. One of these techniques is a simple process called “focusing on your one point”. When you start to feel stressed, worried, anxious or afraid, and falling “out of balance”, stand straight, relax your body, and take several deep breaths. Then take your mind completely off whatever it is that’s causing you to feel stressed, worried, anxious or afraid; instead, focus it on a point located roughly two centimeters, or about the thickness of your fore and middle fingers, below your belly button. This point, which Aikido and Zen meditation call the “one point” is where mind and body meet. By simply bringing your mind to think about this point, excluding all other thoughts, an amazing thing happens. Your body starts to relax and your breathing starts becoming calm. After just a few seconds of thinking of the one point, you are no longer stressed and again feel “balanced”.

Change your focus, change your outcome: Aikido and NLP teach that whatever your focus on mentally will grow in your mind. Writing can instantly shift your focus.

American self-development guru and motivation expert Tony Robbins also emphasizes the importance of managing our energy levels and to constantly keep them running high. The reason simply being that to be able to go after any big, worthwhile goal — be it excelling in your career, growing your business, finishing graduate school or a degree, getting out of debt, raising your children, or overcoming a bad habit — you need loads of strong, positive energy. The kind of energy that makes you jump out of bed every morning and powers you to achieve goals.

Both Aikido and Neuro-linguistic programming or NLP (which Tony Robbins trained in) teach that whatever you focus on mentally will grow in your mind. If you are faced with a big problem and instead of trying to come up with a solution, all you do is obsess about it, cry and ask, ‘why did this happen to me?’ then the problem will grow. And if you don’t stifle its growth, soon the problem will grow to such an extent that you will reach the state known as ‘overwhelm’ — when you feel utterly powerless to deal with the problem.

Change your focus, control your outcome

There is an expression that says, “energy flows where attention goes”. Have you ever thought about how you immediately feel after receiving good news? As the implications of the good news start to sink in and you go over all the delightful possibilities, you feel excited and alive, like you’re on top of the world. Compare this with how you feel right after receiving bad news. As you start mulling over all the horrible implications of the news, then you start panicking, feeling down and hopeless. Either way, the direction of your thoughts produced the feelings.

The same thing happens when you entertain strong, positive, hopeful thoughts or fearful, negative, despairing thoughts about the future.

One of the principles Aikido teaches is that “mind moves the body”. Similarly, NLP teaches that when you want to alter your physical state of being, for instance, boredom or depression, you simply change your mental focus.

In my own experience, whenever I think about something that I’m afraid will happen in the future, there is an instantaneous negative reaction inside me. I feel terrible inside. Not only that, I feel something bad physically as well. My heart starts racing, my breathing becomes labored and a knot forms in my stomach. And I know that continuing to feel this way, continuing to feel bad about a future event that may or may not happen, is a terrible place to be in. Surely it is not good for my mind and body to be in this state.

On the other hand, whenever I think about my goals, big things I want to accomplish, or my plans for the future, and how bright my future will be if I achieve those goals and succeed in those plans, there is an immediate positive reaction and I feel awesome inside. Physically, too, I feel great and full of energy. I know that if I sustain this feeling, this state, and keep on feeling excited and full of hope for the future, then good things will happen. It’s a good place to be in.

Energy flows where attention goes.

Noted NLP practitioner and trainer Dr Tad James wrote that the focus of our thoughts makes a big difference in our results. Our focus is composed of the images we hold in our minds, as well as a myriad other sensations — the sounds we hear, the feelings we feel when thinking about a specific thought, the smells and tastes we experience, and our self-talk. James then emphasized that our commitment for our own good must be to direct our focus so that it is only on what we want and desire.

So, it’s critical that we pay attention to what is going on internally. If you are feeling bad, it means that you are paying attention to what you don’t want to happen; but if you are feeling great, it’s a sure sign that you are dwelling on what you desire. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. We need to consciously decide moment after moment and to use our will to control the direction of our entire focus — the pictures, sounds, tastes, smells, feelings and self-talk — only toward what we want, not on what we don’t want.

I know it’s easier said than done. Each one of us, on average, thinks of 3,000 thoughts per hour. How do you even begin to attempt to control such a large volume of thoughts?

You don’t have to study Aikido or NLP, however, to be able to learn how to shift your focus. You can use your writing to do it. Writing is a powerful way of practicing awareness and controlling your focus. Writing has an amazing attribute, which I believe is unique among human activities. It is the only activity that requires the mind and body to be absolutely and completely synchronized to be done. In other words, when you write something, you have to simultaneously and continuously be thinking of what you are writing about.

Writing has a unique attribute among all human activities: it requires complete union of mind and body to be done effectively.

Try this quick test: write about how much you enjoyed an experience (for example, eating your favorite meal or seeing a breathtaking sight). And while your hand is mechanically writing the words describing how awesome and fantastic and pleasurable the experience was, try to simultaneously think about everything terrible you can about that same experience. Go ahead try it. Or try to think about anything bad, horrible or painful for that matter. You can’t because it’s impossible. It’s because your writing is your thoughts externalized. That’s why you can’t feel good inside and be writing “I feel terrible”. You could probably do this for a few moments, but if you keep writing “I feel terrible” then I guarantee that you will end up actually feeling terrible.

It works in reverse too: if you write and describe a particular feeling (for example “I feel great!”) even if you’re not feeling that way at that exact moment, or you’re not feeling anything specific, but you continue to write the descriptive words, in seconds, you will actually feel what you are writing. Only writing has this ability to command the complete attention of both body and mind. Think about it — you can be cooking (or at least trying to cook) something delicious and be thinking about how bad your day is going; you can be driving on a beautiful mountain road and feel horrible because you’re thinking about an unpleasant incident from the other day. You can even be physically doing the two most pleasurable activities for humans — eating and sex — and hold negative, terrible thoughts in your head.

So, I will modify the statement I wrote above: energy follows where writing goes.

There is tremendous energy behind your thoughts. And it is incumbent upon you, if you want to control your outcomes, to focus this energy and will it only toward your desired outcomes. Earlier, I wrote that one of Aikido’s main tenets is that “mind moves the body”. But it is equally true that “body moves the mind”. The mere act of moving your body, in particular, your hand as it writes down words, can and does move your mind.

Energy goes where attention goes.

Mind moves the body. But body also moves mind.

Energy goes where body (writing) goes.

You might be asking at this point, “so are you suggesting that every time I start thinking about bad, negative thoughts or start worrying and feeling scared about the future that I write about the opposite?” Yes, that is exactly what I’m suggesting. No that’s not right — that’s what I am explicitly saying you should do.

How much do you want whatever it is that you desire? If I told you that the price is to continuously write about it day after day for as long as it takes to achieve that desire, so that you keep your focus only on that and nothing else, would you pay the price?


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