In Ki-Aikido, we use a firm push on the torso to check balance stability as a form of “no-tech biofeedback” in learning to how to center. If I place my attention at my center-of-balance (in the gut a few inches below the belly button) I remain stable without having to work at it; if I shift my attention to, say the top of my head, I immediately wobble on my feet when my partner pushes on me.
At last weekend’s Minding Your Balance workshop at Denver Ki-Aikido, a participant who is a retired tennis pro had a great question regarding the centering exercise and test. Tennis requires quickness of movement – a tennis player rooted to a spot will not respond with the agility or speed needed to connect with the ball. The question – will centering, which makes me stable, be a help or a hindrance in a game of tennis?
Aikido, like tennis, requires agility, speed, and precision in the midst of responding to constantly changing events. If I’m flatfooted when someone comes with a punch I’m likely to get hit. At the same time, if I’m unstable prior to the attack I’m likely to be out of control of my movement once I take action.
The centered state, while stable against a push during quiet standing, isn’t a state of immobility; it is a state of dynamic equilibrium – a flexible aware state of being that optimizes mobility. Someone else cannot easily knock me off my feet, but I remain in control of my own capacity to move.
That makes it the perfect state of being for responding under pressure – I’m stable against forces that come my way, I’m aware, and I’m ready to act.
Mobility by necessity requires balance and vice versa. Balance problems in aging threaten mobility even as a lack of mobility undermines balance. While maintaining physical strength and flexibility are critical, we can take a lesson from Ki-Aikido and utilize our awareness to simultaneously optimize our balance and our ability to keep moving.