Aikido Handshake: Being Visible and Vulnerable

In a recent Feldenkrais training segment at the Feldenkrais Training Academy, I was grabbing a quick snack, having spent the break chatting with people.  Across the room I heard Jeff Haller (our lead instructor) calling my name.  I felt a little embarrassed, chewing my granola bar as I joined him on a table in the center of the room.  He wanted me for a demo, what he called the Aikido Handshake.

It took me a few moments to settle into being in the spotlight of everyone’s attention.  Not my happy place.  A classmate who caught the expression on my face (mostly me chewing without trying to look like I was chewing) called out, “Does she want to?”  Kind of funny that she saw my chewing face and read it pretty accurately that on the inside I didn’t really want to be center stage.

Jeff said, “I invited Cheryl because she has long experience playing with aikido.”  He called everyone closer to see distinctions in self-organization, how we can prepare ourselves for an activity, anchored in our sit bones.   The content of the demo – we clasped each other’s hands, sitting across from each other and he asked me to push through his arm.  His job – to listen.  What was he listening to?  He said he is listening to the schema of how I created the activity in myself.  Said another way, “We’re listening to how the person generates the force.”  He taught the demo – asked me to push through his arm and he would listen.  I found 5 different ways to generate the movement to push through his hand and arm (from my hand, from my elbow, from the top of my hip, from my shoulder blade, from my sit bone/pelvis); he sat and listened to the movement.  

I have this reaction so often – when the moment comes to be more visible, to step into the spotlight, whatever that means, I just flinch a little on the inside. In this case, I felt no room to stay in the shadows.  I was nervous inside at the beginning of the demo and this re-emerged when I was called up for a second time. 

Like my experience when my aikido teacher calls me up to demo something in front of the class, it is a lesson I really learn because I get to hands-on feel what is happening.  My body learns. After the demo with Jeff, when we partnered up to practice, I could relay that body-based lesson easily and clearly to my partner.  So if I know that I learn well this way, why am I so shy to volunteer for this kind of opportunity?

I see from this experience that at the moment of shrinking, when I feel torn between wanting to play and wanting to hide, that I can support myself to ride that moment out, to step forward, to let my competence show.  I have spent lots of time involved in the stories of why I stay in the background, self-esteem, confidence, feeling like what I bring isn`t relevant, fear of being judged, criticized.  With this experience of feeling deeply supported within my own body, these stories become thin, like a light tissue paper that dissolves on the surface of a bright, hot light. Just me shining through.

So I see it as a choice going forward – knowing this sense of myself, this image of myself that can solidly shine, that I can feel is easily, deeply supported – I can associate and identify with this self.  And bring this Cheryl out into the world.  Or I can collapse back into my familiar stories, the self who peeks out from behind the curtain, who takes the chair at back of the room.   I could just let this new experience go.  The familiar is so, well, familiar.  Except for one thing.  I know what is possible now. And I really liked that me – connected, strong, resilient. Powerfully present. 

In the second demo, when Jeff guided me into solidly sitting, feeling the structural support in my own body, he said, “Can you see the beauty of her organization?”  I reluctantly, many weeks after the training, re-watched the video to see what I looked like.  I looked beautifully present.  And that’s how I felt.

Do you find sometimes you are reluctant to step forward and be seen?  How do you support yourself when you want to withdraw? I would love to hear your stories – contact me at or join my Living beyond Limits group.