Movement Helps Children Learn

Aikido combines learning through movement, awareness of our own bodies in space, and mindful moving meditation.

In Aikido, students learn experientially, with the guidance of an instructor. We are shown the basic shapes of the techniques, but the real learning comes through doing. We feel our way through, taking our bodily sensations and the movements of our partners as feedback. Kids benefit tremendously from this kind of activity (and so do adults).

Lara N. Dotson-Renta, sheds a whole lot of light on the subject of learning through movement, calling upon a variety of excellent sources in her article Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement — Children acquire knowledge by acting and then reflecting on their experiences, but such opportunities are increasingly rare in school, in The Atlantic.

“Children learn by experiencing their world using all of their senses. The restriction of movement, especially at a young age, impedes the experiential learning process.”

Vanessa Durand, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia
Quoted in the above article.

The article tells us that children need lots of movement-based free play in life. Experimentation, pretending, problem-solving. But there’s also room for more directed activity involving movement.

“… Enrichment programs engaging children in movement with intention (yoga, meditation, martial arts) are also gaining traction.”

Lara N. Dotson-Renta, The Atlantic
Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement

Aikido can be a great way — for children and adults alike — to get in touch with their bodies, learn to feel and respond, and get out of their heads for a while. What a great activity to balance sitting at a desk all day in school or at the office.

Aikido is a Healthful Activity for Post-menopausal Women

This seems intuitively obvious, but it never hurts to have science that backs up a sensible idea:

“Women who exercise regularly after menopause tend to maintain their physical strength and mental acuity longer than those who don’t…”

Kathryn Doyle, Reuters Health
Exercise may slow physical and mental decline after menopause

Stunning revelation, right?

The Reuters article, Exercise may slow physical and mental decline after menopause, by Kathryn Doyle of Reuters Health discusses the research of Debra Anderson, Charlotte Seib, and Laura Rasmussen: Can physical activity prevent physical and cognitive decline in postmenopausal women? A systematic review of the literature.

“We found that all the studies showed that physical activity was associated with decreased rates of cognitive decline and that even becoming active in later life as opposed to a lifetime of physical activity still lowered the risk compared to those who were inactive,” said Debra Anderson.

From the above article. Emphasis mine.
Debra Anderson worked on the study at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation of the Queensland University of Technology in Kelvin Grove, Australia.

Current guidelines call for older adults to get the equivalent of 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times per week.

“For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.”

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, Executive Summary (PDF)
United States Department of Health and Human Services

To put those US HHS guidelines in a bite-sized bit of advice, each week we should all be getting:
– 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise
or 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise,
or a combination of both,
spread throughout the week.

That’s a lot. At a minimum, that’s 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, or 50 minutes a day, 3 days a week, doing moderate-intensity exercise. That would be activities that get you breathing fasting, raise your heart rate, like fast walking, fairly intense housework, bicycling, yard work, hiking, or dancing. Minimum.

Returning to the article…

“We found that moderate to vigorous exercise is better than mild and gentle exercise,” Anderson told Reuters Health in an email. “There was a dose response in moderate to vigorous exercise which showed more was progressively better.”

You know what I call “mild and gentle exercise?” Not exercising. Yes, if you need to do lightweight physical therapy exercises for rehabilitation, great, do that. But if you’re doing a few curls with 5-pound weights and think you’re “getting your exercise,” no, you’re not. Yoga, Tai Chi, and stretch classes are great. Keep doing them. But they don’t count toward the amount of exercise we need to be getting.

Taking those guidelines further, the authors of the study discussed in the article suggest:

… doctors might consider ‘prescribing’ more intense exercise to older women.

Based on our findings we feel this should be 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least five times per week for midlife and older women,” Anderson said.

Previously, older women have been encouraged to keep their exercise moderate, but now it seems very important that women exercise to a point where they cannot finish a sentence while exercising and breathe hard and sweat, she said.

Kathryn Doyle, Reuters Health
Exercise may slow physical and mental decline after menopause

You do not have to wait for your doctor to “prescribe” more activity. Find something you love to do (or you won’t do it), and get moving. For you it might be hiking, swimming, dancing, training with kettlebells, or group exercise classes.

Conveniently, Aikido is a great activity to consider. Classes tend to vary between moderate and vigorous. In addition to the physical aspect, training is inherently social, and also cognitively challenging. These are great qualities for activities at any age, but particularly important for older people.

Another important point is that Aikido training improves mobility and balance, builds muscle mass and bone strength, and teaches us how to fall safely—a potentially life-saving skill for older women.

Practice Aikido—Improve Your Brain and Your Reality

In this 20-minute TEDx presentation, therapist Mark Robert Waldman discusses the neurological effects of our thoughts, from big ideas and spirituality, to complaining and ruminating on negative thoughts. Our thoughts physically change our brain—they change what we are prone to thinking and feeling.

The talk is a little dry, but it’s important information. I hope you’ll watch it. Paraphrasing loosely from the video:

“Big ideas, like peace, compassion, or love can help you build a better brain, reduce anxiety, or improve cognition and social awareness.”

In Aikido training we are focused in a kind of moving meditation on these big ideas – things like gratitude, trust, partnership, and compassion. We are literally engaging in the kind of practice that makes our brains healthier and more resilient.

“By visualizing a big idea, you begin to align yourself with your dream, your goal, your vision. When you focus on peace, that begins to become your inner and your outer reality.”

Aikido: It Can Change Your Life

This inspiring article is an excellent introduction to some of the important benefits of training in Aikido. It describes the story of Kara Stewart, who—through her Aikido practice— found the awareness and courage to leave an abusive marriage. Students often find the practice wakes us up to the reality of our circumstances, develops a strong center, and provides positive ways of facing our challenges.

“After a few months on the mat, I started realizing there might be another reason I was drawn to Aikido, perhaps a bigger reason.”

Kara Stewart
Quoted in @elletitude: Fighting Back with The Art of Peace

“Her commitment to the practice of Aikido was changing her. The strength she found in the dojo and through her practice, reinforced by the consistency and strength of Blevins Sensei and Sempai Steveson, bled into all other aspects of her life.  “

Elle Groves (@elletitude), writing for 303 Magazine
@elletitude: Fighting Back with The Art of Peace

I encourage you to read her story for yourself. You can find the full article here: @elletitude: Fighting Back with The Art of Peace

Incidentally, Kara found Aikido in the same way I did—through the horsemanship teacher, Mark Rashid. This aspect of her story sounds very familiar.

“… Initially,  in 2006, Kara began practicing Aikido to improve her horsemanship. She had been involved with horses since she was a child and was on the path to becoming a professional horse trainer– her teacher, Mark Rashid, had begun using Aikido as an adjunct to his own horsemanship and the way he taught his students. According to Kara, tenets in Aikido like focus, breath, redirecting energy, intent and consistency are similarly important in the study of horsemanship in terms of creating mutually respectful bonds and relationships with horses. After Kara’s first class, she knew that she would be practicing Aikido for life.”

Elle Groves (@elletitude), writing for 303 Magazine
@elletitude: Fighting Back with The Art of Peace

Cholesterol and Aikido—Fewer Drugs, Better Health

At first glance, this article from 2013 appears to say that darned near everyone should be on statins for cholesterol. It begins: “If you’re not on medicine to lower your cholesterol yet, you might be soon.” But way down in the middle of the article there’s a lot more said about the benefits of consistent physical activity.

I encourage you to read the entire article, and watch the associated video to better understand the new guidelines, and be informed to discuss options with your doctor.

“We tend to focus on ‘quick fix’ answers such as a pill … whereas the risk reduction from lifestyle changes, such (as) exercise three-four days a week, reduces risk nearly double to that from any one of the medication interventions.”

Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory University
Quoted in CNN article, Not on cholesterol meds? New guidelines may change that

Did you catch that? Lifestyle changes like exercising 3-4 days a week are twice as effective at reducing your cholesterol-related health risks than drug treatments like taking statins.

Seriously. That’s important information. Don’t just sit there, do something!

One excellent option is (of course) Aikido. Training is a fun, vigorous activity as a member of a committed, supportive group of friends. Three or four one-hour classes per week would be a nice, steady practice. Find an Aikido dojo near you and check it out!

Aikido – A Safer Activity for Kids (and Grownups, Too)

In Aikido, our goal is to keep ourselves and our partners safe. Injury is not supposed to be part of the practice.

When thinking about activities for your children (and for yourself), please consider choosing Aikido. In training we don’t punch or kick our partners, and we learn to roll and fall safely, protecting our bodies from hard impacts. This is especially important in avoiding traumatic brain injury (TBI), which can cause a lifetime of troubles and disability.

The risks associated with repeated head trauma are better understood, and have been widely publicized in recent years. Here you can watch Frontline’s League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis on

Aikido is an especially good option for kids and teens, whose bodies are not developed enough to withstand the pounding of high-impact activities.

And the training goes much deeper than just a sport. Aikido teaches us to work together, with each other and with our circumstances, not to oppose, fight, and conquer. Aikido training serves us in our lives off the mat, too.

Aikido, and Exercise for Disease Treatment

A regular habit of vigorous physical activity can be as effective as drugs in preventing, treating, or managing many health conditions – especially “diseases of civilization,” also called “lifestyle diseases,” like diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity, and many more.

“… The review, which analyzed more than 305 trials with 339,274 participants, compared drug and exercise interventions and found that exercise proved similar to medications for heart disease prevention, heart failure treatment, and diabetes prevention. For those who had suffered a stroke, exercise was more effective than drug treatment. In addition, physical activity often provided patients with fewer side effects and injuries. …”

Exercise as Effective as Drugs in Disease Treatment
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Health and Nutrition News, Oct. 3, 2013

Membership in your local Aikido dojo is less expensive than many prescription medications, and training in Aikido offers more benefits than taking a pill—increased endurance and mobility, a supportive community, and feelings of confidence, accomplishment, and even joy. It’s a lot more fun to train with your friends than to schlep to the pharmacy for expensive refills.

We might dismiss play and fun as frivolous, but for most people the only way they are going to participate in a physically challenging activity is if they really enjoy it. People often find Aikido pulls them in—they are excited about going to the next class, and eager to keep training. This is exactly what we want if we are to develop consistency—it had better be fun, interesting, and rewarding, or we won’t keep going back.

As they say in the drug ads, talk to your doctor and see if exercise is appropriate for you.

Women and Aikido – The Importance of Moving Beyond Our Comfort Zone

Tara Sophia Mohr (@tarasophia), founder of the women’s leadership program Playing Big, and author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, observes that the behaviors we learned as girls in school— studying, preparing, performing, being “good students” —can be just the opposite of what we need in our careers, where we need to handle the unexpected, manage conflict and challenges, and improvise with confidence.

“We want to learn to be uncomfortable. So much of women’s playing bigger is really about learning how to be out of our comfort zone, have fear flowing through our veins, have a little adrenaline going, because we’re out of the status quo and familiar. We’re stretching. But we can get comfortable with that feeling of being uncomfortable. And that’s something that school often doesn’t train us for a well, because it’s so routine, and we can get into a certain comfort zone.”

Tara Sophia Mohr
In the video at the Huffington Post article, Why Women Need To ‘Unlearn’ Classroom Skills In Order To Succeed At Work

Mohr was not talking about Aikido training, but what she describes is exactly what we practice on the mat. Aikido isn’t about being prepared with a constrained set of responses. Instead it’s teaches us to go with the flow, stay relaxed, and work with our circumstances as they unfold, even under pressure. We learn to be OK with uncertainty, a rush of adrenaline, and a little fear. We become less limited by our past conditioning.

Whether you are a girl in school (or a parent of one), a young woman just getting started in your career, or a more mature woman looking for more freedom and spontaneity in life, and grounded flexibility in your work, consider the benefits of training in Aikido. Expand your comfort zone beyond being prepared only for what’s expected.

Aikido, and Developing Resilience

Read the article below to learn the inspiring story of Molly Hale, who currently holds the rank of godan—5th degree black belt—in Aikido. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of training with Molly at several seminars. and she’s been a good friend and mentor on my Aikido journey. She’s a strong, positive, sweet woman, a passionate equestrian, and a brilliant singer, too!

Imagine having that kind of ability to work with what life deals you, instead of living in denial, pushing back against your circumstances with anger or negativity, or just giving up.

Hale credits Aikido for the unfailing mental resolve and resilience that powered her through the challenging, years-long recovery process.

“In Aikido, you’re going with the flow and you’re responding to the attack that shows up. On some level, it was almost as though I had been in training all of my life for this experience,” says Hale. 

— Carolyn Gregoire of The Huffington Post, in her article How This Woman Went From Quadriplegic To Black Belt — And Is Helping Others Do The Same

Be sure to watch the video, Moment to Moment, at the end of the article.

Aikido, and Coping with Vertigo and Balance Disorders

This is an interesting article, and a good introduction to vertigo, balance issues, and vestibular disorders.

My vertigo (BPPV) has improved a lot since I started training in Aikido. The vigorous movement in all directions seems to be therapeutic—maybe it keeps those canaliths loosened up in my inner ears.

“Dr. Stoffregen rejects the theory, which, he says, fails to explain why women are more prone to motion sickness than men or why it’s harder to stomach being a passenger than a driver. He argues that humans become nauseated in situations where they have not yet learned strategies effective in maintaining a stable posture.”

Peter Andrey Smith
From his New York Times blog post, Rethinking Motion Sickness

While I don’t get attacks of vertigo as often as I used to, before I started training, I know from personal experience that when my inner ear gets screwed up, I’m in trouble. Walking can be challenging, and sometimes I’ve not even been able to stand. The balance skills I’ve learned in Aikido—having a stable base and strong posture—are probably a big part of making vertigo less of a problem for me.

And I suppose if all that fails, I can put my safe falling skills to the test!