The Canadian Oxford dictionary defines posture as the relative position of parts; carriage or bearing; a mental or spiritual attitude or condition. Posture is of paramount importance in Aikido: it relates to safety. Keeping an erect posture, carrying oneself upright, promotes a wide vision of our surroundings, awareness of the environment. With the head tilted forward and the gaze down, we get a good view of a kick coming, but not an attack from any other direction. An upright posture helps us to be aware.
In addition to reducing awareness, poor posture also makes nage more vulnerable to attack. When nage leans forward with the upper body, s/he collapses the ma-ai—the spatial relationship with uke—and becomes vulnerable to being struck (atemi). When nage leans backward, uke can easily overwhelm her/him.
Good posture also improves balance. The interplay of muscle tension and relaxation which keeps the integrity of the natural curves of the spine is an element of posture. A certain degree of muscular activity keeps the body upright, but when the shoulders are pulled up or forward, the centre of gravity rises and the body has to work harder to stay in balance. The more natural and easy nage’s posture—neck long, shoulders resting on the rib cage, soft and heavy arms, and tailbone down— the more easily s/he unbalances uke while maintaining balance. Keeping the natural curves also enables us to move effectively using the central axis, that imaginary line that runs through the centre of the body and elicits the power of the centre (or hips). This central axis lends power to kokyu nage projections, for example.
Our mental and spiritual wellbeing are also affected by our posture. A number of meditation practices emphasize an upright posture, affirming the connection between body and mind. Many of us also have observed that when we stop slouching and lengthen the spine, we feel a mental “lift” even though it may be fleeting. This lengthening gives our Aikido practice more freedom of physical (and mental) movement.
While a teacher can draw a student’s attention to posture, the student lives in the body and can study posture awareness full time, on the aikido mat and away from it. Some things to consider in this self study include:
- Tension in the neck and shoulders. Lift and drop the shoulders to help deal with this.
- Openness under the collarbones. If one is hunched forward, the space under the collar bones is minimized. Lengthen up the spine and let the shoulder blades drop down the back.
- Let the arms drop with gravity; don’t hold them up when your activities don’t require the muscular tension.
- Sit up, lengthen the spine, feel the sitting bones (not the tail bone) when you are sitting.
- Exhale frequently and completely to ease anxiety and tension.
Posture is important to our Aikido lives, and that is why we will focus on it for the month of March.