March 1, 2011

Yoga as a Martial Art—Aikido as Yoga. ~ Chrystos Minot

We share 99% of our DNA with Bonobos Chimps. They can teach us a lot about ourselves as human animals.

In the same way, Aikido (a Japanese defensive martial art) can teach us things about Yoga.

Aikido uses many spirals to resolve physical conflicts. One of its main tenets is “Neutralize the attack with minimal harm to the attacker.”

Yoga (at least Ashtanga Yoga) employs twists and spirals, even in the intention of a downward dog. Yoga, for me, resolves inner conflicts. Say (purely theoretically) I want to balance the coyote-trickster in me with the reassuring, gentle healer.

Perhaps those archetypes are in intense conflict and competition, and this is engendering digestive and abdominal distress. Maybe the illiopsoas muscles are getting conflicting signals from the brain and are aching and chronically contracted.

Yoga may soften the iliopsoas, relax the digestive tract, and soften the positions of the coyote and the gentle healer. Perhaps, somatically and neurologically, a resolution could be crafted, like a mediation between management and workers. Yoga might be the Union mediators (Yoga-yoking-binding).

In nature, a bean plant has to push against the downward force of gravity. It grows upward in a spiral. In weather, a warm air mass wants to rise and is held down by a cold air mass trying to sink with its greater density. This can result in a hurricane, which is of course a huge spiral.

At home, sometimes our son wants yet another cup of warm, sweet goat’s milk before bed (and after his teeth brushing and flossing). Tara and I roll our eyes. Is this another procrastination technique or the genuine nutritional need of a growing boy?

Tara says, “No! Its way past your bedtime!”

He says, “Yes! I need it!”

Two linearly opposing forces! I come in and suggest a third way—perhaps a strategy of a cup of goat’s milk, then the teeth ritual again, with additional dental attention in the morning. Everyone smiles.

Our boy says, “You just did Aikido, Daddy!”

Aikido has no competitions or trophies. It has a strong tradition of more advanced students respectfully helping out and teaching the beginning students. So even though there is a hierarchy, there is a wonderful sense of the teachers (more advanced students) learning from the beginners how to be better teachers.

Another thing I really appreciate about Aikido is there is a lot of formalized gratitude. At the end of each class, every student bows and thanks the other students.

Aikido is all about spirillic throws. It’s about making the attacker surrender to gravity firmly yet compassionately. Yoga in a different way uses gravity, and spirals, for the healing of stresses within us.


In my thirty years of massage practice, I come across clients who have “demonized” one part of their body. They wish to “make it behave” and want to recruit me as an ally in their skirmish, or war, with this uncooperative (or dysfunctional) body part. Instead of buying in to this linear conflict, I  use spirals with my hands and heart to create a dance of the often many body areas involved.

For example, if they are complaining about sacroiliac joint pain, I might look to the piriformis to see how it is doing. How are the adductors bearing up? How about the abductors—the tensor fascia latae? How are the popliteals (knee stabilizer) muscles doing? The psoas and iliacus?

Or, from her history, I might find out that she regularly walks her beloved dog—and the dog is large and enthusiastic. He often tugs on the leash with his zeal for life. I then might find out that she always holds the leash with her right hand. Perhaps this has something to do with these spirillic tension patterns, which surface in SI joint pain!

There are many healing “dances”. Aikido is about Ai (harmonizing)—Ki—(life force)—Do—regular, disciplined practice. So from Japan we have Ki, from Yoga we have Prana. From China (and Tai Chi), the life force is called Chi, and has many forms and flavors. Although many yoga practitioners would recoil at the idea of contemplating a martial art, I believe it is one. A potent “martial” art to defend us against the ravages of greed, depression, heart disease, arthritis, bad sex, and so on.

Aikido similarly can be seen as a form of yoga, protecting us against the onslaught of win-lose scenarios we get from movies and television, and keeping us friends with gravity, falling, rolling with it, and recovering, again and again.

So, like the Bonobos chimps teaching us about our animal humanity, Yoga can teach Aikido practitioners about their beloved Aikido discipline. And Aikido, in dealing with the resolution of physical conflict again and again, can teach Yoga practitioners about the educational opportunities within conflict.

And nature, with its abundant magic, can teach all of us about spirals and the magic of conflict resolution.


Chrystos Minot has been doing massage therapy since 1979. He has been a dancer and performer for thirty-five years and doing yoga for thirty years. He is a poet, sculptor, and dedicated dad and family man. He lives with his wonderful wife, Dr. Tara Goldin, and awesome son, in Louisville, Colorado, near coyotes, wild geese, and the occasional red tailed hawk. He volunteers at his son’s second grade class eight hours a week, and it is profoundly rewarding. Chrystos hopes to get certified to teach grade school and make good use of his adoration of, and great proficiency in, teaching science, art, writing, yoga, dance, math, crafts, music, performance skills, social EQ, conflict resolution, and teaching really cool sound effects that the kids love.

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