Several years ago, I practiced Aikido. It was recommended by a friend who told me the practice would help me be more intentional in my work and in my daily living. I was in the midst of lots of change and anything that could help me gain control seemed like a good pursuit.

So I signed up for a class at the local YMCA. I was skeptical. I was afraid. I had never done any kind of martial arts. I wasn’t interested in throwing people on the mat. Even after my short time in the class I learned several valuable lessons that have helped me when faced with big changes.

Moving slow when in a stressful situation is a sign of internal peace and strength. For most of my life I would work hard at solving problems and “get it done.” In Aikido, with time and practice, it is possible to learn slow, deliberate, attentive movements. These slow movements help the body relax and balance; living between the desire to resist the force or to give in to it. As you might guess, I worked hard at relaxing. As my movements became more deliberate, I could feel my strength increase.

Aikido promotes cooperation not competition. Aikido promotes the attitude of becoming one with each situation and to create harmony with friend or foe. Strength comes from the attitude of cooperation so it is possible for anyone reg,ardless of age or physical strength to perform the arts. Unlike some other martial arts, the goal is to defend yourself and protect your attacker from injury.

Aikido is a series of circular motions. My instructor said that circular movement will synthesize everything and will resolve all problems. He repeated over and over: “All circular motions are preceded by a spiritual circle.” My spiritual circle became the prayer I prayed for my actions and those of my partner.

True victory is victory over oneself. This is like the flight attendants instructions for using the oxygen mask. Put yours on first and then help others. Without the discipline to balance and control oneself it is hard to avoid an attack or to practice the principles effectively on others. Self-control is the key to living a harmonious life.

As you might have guessed I began the class with the hopes of learning how to control others and bring them around to my way of doing things. I gave that up about 30 minutes into the first class. This is what I try to practice when faced with a difficult situation or the need to change:

  • Breathe deeply and move with deliberation;
  • Find the place of cooperation that is possible and cause no injury to my opponent;
  • Move in circles that are surrounded by prayer; (Think of the way conversations often go in conflict. Try to bring your opponent closer.) and
  • Pay more attention to my balance and self-control.

Jesus gave very similar instructions to his disciples. Love your neighbor as yourself. Turn the other cheek. When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.

Change is difficult. Whether you are trying to break a bad habit, be healthier physically or financially, or give up complaining, these lessons can increase your spiritual strength in the face of adversity.

Mary Ann Moman serves as executive director of the Indiana Conference Rejuvenate Ministry.

Moving slow when in a stressful situation is a sign of internal peace and strength.