10 Ways Centering In Aikido Helps You Grow

How to Embody Growth and Development in Self, with Others, and In the World

Centering in Aikido is the core transformational practice. It’s a foundational principle upon which all other Aikido principles rest. Not only is centering a linchpin practice, but it is also the principle that when developed will have the biggest impact in your life.

Centering

In this blog post, we’ll look at 10 ways that the practice of “centering” in Aikido helps you to embody growth and development in Self, with Others, and In the World.

This is not a definite list, but I am sure that it is something that you can relate to in how it is applied in your Aikido practice, and in your life.

1. Embodying Mindfulness

The spiritual teacher Gurdjieff said, “Life is real only then, when “I Am”.”

This statement reflects the psychological truth that higher human development only happens when you are authentically present in the here and now with total Mindfulness. In short, mindfulness automatically triggers your developmental process to unfold.

If mindfulness is the core practice for being present in the mind, then the core practice for being present in the body is Centering.

When you practice Centering, you are tuning into what is happening in your body and the space around you. This gives you a greater capacity to show up fully in the body, and in turn, expresses yourself authentically in the world.

2. Containing Intense Experiences

From time to time life can bring you intense internal or external experiences. If the intensity is too much to contain, you will become overwhelmed and “lose center.” Overwhelm takes you up and out of your center and usually into a reactive defense mechanism – fight, flight, or freeze.

By developing your capacity to stay centered you gradually create the space to contain and stay with intense experiences. Fight, flight, and freeze reactions may get triggered, but because of your increased capacity to contain them you won’t speak or act from these reactive drives.

This increased capacity will help you to better stay with intense experiences and give you greater skill in coping with and handling the challenges that arise in your life.

3. Shifting Back Into Center

In our Aikido training, we are constantly focusing on the practice of shifting back into Center. Even though center sounds like a fixed point, the fact is that as a living human being your body/mind exists in constant flux and flow. This flux and flow include your center.

To be Centered is to be in a temporary state of alignment of body, mind, emotions and spirit. But as all states are temporary – slipping out of this alignment is inevitable.

So in a sense, the practice of centering isn’t so much about being fixed in your center, rather it’s about your capacity to return to your center when you slip out of it.

Developing your center increases your awareness of this temporary state. This awareness will help you know when you inevitably shift out of Center, accept this temporary imbalance, and make the necessary adjustments in your mind and body to shift back into your Center.

4. Better Know Your Triggers

Any experience can be a “trigger” that causes you to lose your Center. A perceived threatening object or experience can take you out of your Center by moving away in fear. A perceived pleasant object or experience can take you out of Center by moving towards the object with desire. Or a perceived neutral object or experience can cause you to lose interest or space out and away from Center.

The bad news it that you are hard-wired with these triggers. Some of this hard-wiring are biological, some acquired through life. We are all walking triggers with buttons waiting to be pushed. The good new is that you can change this with the practice of Centering.

When you practice centering, you gradually develop the ability to see the cause and effect relationship you have with the world. When you are centered, your power of self-observation gradually increases and you begin to identify the objects, people, experiences, and circumstances that trigger you in life.

Overcoming and purifying your triggers takes practice and time. You will eventually come to the point when you fully understand the causes of your triggers. With this understanding, your triggers will lose their power and no longer take you out of Center.

5. Rewire The Self

Loosing your Center is simply a bad habit that has been conditioned over your lifetime. This bad habit has been conditioned by stress, desires, fears and survival mechanisms.

Although having sharp survival mechanisms can be a valuable asset, the fact is that today, most of the stress you face in life isn’t a real survival situation and do not pose any real threat to your life.

But because you are hard-wired to survive, fear-based reactions often arise when you perceive threats that aren’t really threats. With practice, you can re-wire these bad habits through mindfulness and centering.

When you practice Centering, you gradually transform your fear-based survival reactions into conscious responses of choice. As the saying out of neuroscience goes “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Every time you consciously practice centering Aikido, you are rewiring your nervous system. Then, being in your center gradually move from being a temporary state into becoming more of a permanent trait.

6. Channel The Entergy Down

Stress, intense desire, worries, and fear, will cause your energy move up, out, and away from Center. When you practice being in your Center, you are shifting your attention in and downward. This shifting of attention creates a “center-positive” flow of descending energy that moves through your center to the ground. This descending energy anchors you in the present moment and helps you rest in clarity and calmness.

7. Maintain Center When Boundaries Are Disturbed

Your “self-boundaries” are made up of your body, culture, beliefs, history, politics, possessions, family, relationships, and so on. These boundaries contain your identity and the sense of who you are. Any time these boundaries bump into other boundaries out there in the world, your sense of self will be disturbed.

Nothing takes you out of your center more than when your boundaries are disturbed or stressed. “Taking a hit” to your boundaries can throw you out of balance in ways that can take a long time to recover.

When you develop your Center, you increase your capacity to withstand the inevitable disturbances of your boundaries that life presents. Furthermore, you gain inner-resiliency; when you do get knocked out of balance, you will have more acceptance, which is the beginning of the re-aligning process returning to balance in your Center.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, deeply resting in your Center allows you the space to relax your boundaries and your identity embedded within those boundaries. So when the inevitable “hits” come, you are less affected – you have developed greater emotional agility for navigating the challenges of life.

8. Stay Centered In The Midst Of Action

Staying centered throughout all actions is a fundamental aspect of Aikido practice. In fact, all other principles rest upon the principle of Centering.

Moving into action from your center will ensure that your clarity of intention becomes actualized in your actions. Moving with your center allows you to make any micro-adjustments, pivots, or necessary course changes in the middle of an action.

Your actions come to completion moving into your Center in the midst of actions, allowing you to come full circle, resting right where you began. You act from your Center. You act with your Center. And your actions move into your Center.

9. Creating A “Relational Ground”

Being centered is being autonomous, which means to be “self-ruled.” This means that you are not ruled by others, or by external circumstances.

In relationships, autonomy means that you are not dependent on another. It also means that you are not independent and in opposition from another. And of course, it also means that you are not co-dependent with others.

When you are centered and autonomous you don’t control and dominate others, nor can they control and dominate you. You are free to be yourself, and you are free to be with others as you choose. And most importantly, you are available to merge in “awase” and communion.

In this sense, centering is the foundation of all relational skills. It is the core principle in Aikido upon which all the relational principles rest. From center you move into connection, listening, leading, blending, entering, receiving, allowing, extending, joining, and so on.

Creating a relational ground through centering, in turn, creates the relational space for fruitful interaction. Creating a relational ground through centering is the source of all creative solutions that lead to the resolution of conflict.

10. The space Of Moment To Moment Choice

Anytime you are confronted with a perceived threat your basic survival instincts will trigger reactions. All reactions are nothing more than a repetition of the past.

When you interact from reactions, you are run on automatic pilot and have no freedom of choice at that moment. Because your unconscious conditioned reactions are repetitions of the past, they will never meet the needs of the present in a way that is free, appropriate and functional.

Being in your center allows you to relax into the moment. You become a “tabula rasa,” a clean slate which gives you a greater clarity to see and assess a situation. When you are in your Center you have an increased adaptability to arising situations. You also gain an emotional agility that allows you the freedom to choose how to relate to others in a fresh way in each new moment.

Your only true power is in your ability to choose how to be in the world. Practicing Center puts you squarely in that power as you rest awake and clear in the space of moment to moment choice.

Centering Is Simple

Practicing these 10 ways of centering from Aikido will help you grow as a human being.

These above 10 ways of centering from Aikido will help you develop a highly complex understanding of center.

But as complex as these practices may be, the practice of centering is really a very simple thing…

Just feel the center.

When you simply feel the Center, you are practicing the Center. And by doing this very simple practice off feeling your Center you are automatically practicing all of the above.

Question: In what ways does Centering in Aikido (or in life) help you grow? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Good reminder: “So in a sense, the practice of centering isn’t so much about being fixed in your center, rather it’s about your capacity to return to your center when you slip out of it.” I came to Aikido via the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education (informed by judo); it helps people recover resiliency after suffering a setback or injury. Aikido practice fosters the embodiment of resiliency. Now, if I can only remember to channel energy downward (#6)!

  • Miles Kessler

    Thanks for your comment Ilona. I love that you connected resiliency to the practice of centering. The way I see resiliency is the capacity to return to physical, emotional, and psychological balance once life throws you out of balance. Centering is a key practice for developing this resiliency. We willfully practice it under controlled conditions so when life throws us for a loop, we are more resilient. And the best part about a centering practice, it’s always there. We can practice all times, in all places, and in every circumstance. We just need to remember! Thanks Ilona!