Ki Moments Blog

Support for life’s “key” moments.

June 1, 2023

Tension Contagion: Watching and Noticing

Tension Contagion: Watching and Noticing

When I watch aikido students in action, I always learn. At a recent seminar at Portsmouth Aikido, the dojo I founded in 1995, I had another opportunity to reinforce an awareness I've written about before.

I'm not often on the mat these days, and it's always an experience in discovery to sit on the sidelines.

For example, as I watched two beginners struggling to get the technique just right, their focus and commitment was intense, and I began to notice my own body tightening. I sensed the tension in the students' bodies as they practiced the technique, and I could feel it in my own as I observed.

Just sitting on the bench in my civvies, I could feel my body getting into the technique with them, picking up on their energy.

I consciously took a breath and relaxed my face, shoulders, arms, and torso. And I became more present in the room, smiling and watching with interest what was happening both on and off the mat.

Tension Contagion

This tension contagion happens in life all the time. If I'm in conversation with someone who's visibly upset, I can "catch" what's going on in their body. It may take a moment to notice, but when I do, I can look to see where I'm tightening. Often I'm not breathing freely, so just opening my throat changes things for the better. Sometimes the other person relaxes as well.

The next time you're in a meeting or a gathering of friends, notice if you're holding your breath or tensing any part of your body. If you're tense, there are likely others in the room who are as well. Maybe you caught it from them. Or maybe they caught it from you. Hard to say where it starts.

However, once you're aware of the tension you can do something about it. When you decide to breathe and relax, there's a corresponding relaxation that will happen in the room and the people around you. It may take a few moments, but when you center, the room becomes more centered, too.

When you change, everything changes.

The environment is invented by our presence in it. We do not parachute into a sea of turbulence, to sink or swim. We and our environments become one system, each influencing the other, each co-determining the other. 

–Margaret J. Wheatley, A Simpler Way

Award-winning American author, teacher, speaker and consultant Margaret Wheatley is often quoted in my posts. The above quote from her book A Simpler Way has resonated with me and been foundational to the way I think about my work, whether it be on-the-mat aikido or off-the-mat presentations on centering, conflict, and difficult conversations.

While it's true that I can't make anyone else change, I've learned through experience that when I change, they often do, too. Whether we've known each other for many years, or just met, we are in relationship, and relationship is a delicate dance. As our energies touch and influence one another, the dance evolves. 

Change begins when I notice something in myself. When I change me--when I relax and center myself, for example--that's power, the only power I have. As Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, has said: "Masa katsu agatsu" -- true victory is self victory. 

I'm still practicing.

Good ki!


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