Will Aikido help me lose weight? The short answer is “you are asking the wrong question!” The long answer is, of course, much richer and more interesting.
[pullquote1]It may not be the exercise you choose or the food you eat, but the goals you pick for yourself that make all the difference.[/pullquote1]Self-Determination Theory is the branch of psychology that studies human motivation, performance, and mastery. Research in this field demonstrates that any activity that is performed for external reward or validation is inherently unmotivating, and very difficult to continue once the reward structure has been removed. In fact, human nature shows that we need constantly greater rewards for the same activity, just to maintain the same level of satisfaction. Thus, exercise undertaken to achieve the age old objective of becoming more attractive to others is very difficult to sustain, especially as our desired goal is unlikely to appear except after years of consistent exercise! This certainly helps to explain the stacks of unused fitness equipment stored in closets and attics across North America. Without immediate, positive feedback from others we find attractive, the desired reward is often insufficient and too infrequent for us to maintain the required effort to reach our goal.
We first look to physical exercise solutions, I believe, because of infomercials, exercise fads, and because performance athletes are most frequently closest to our ideals of physical beauty. The irony is that no performance athlete achieved their goals through bodybuilding or weight-loss exercises. Their physical appearances result from their pursuit of mastery and love of their sport!
“When I go to the gym, I count the minutes and reps until I can be done. When I go to Aikido, I don’t want class to end!”
This is where Aikido fits in. Aikido can offer no quick fix for body image, and in and of itself the practice may or may not not lead to losing weight. However, a good Aikido Dojo can teach you to take joy and delight in movement and aerobic interaction with your training partners, through the pursuit of physical, intellectual and emotional mastery. You can certainly focus your Aikido study on more more physical aspects to the point that your training can be quite aerobic, building both strength and endurance, and leave you sweating and exhausted at the end of every class! However, like a professional athlete, any change in your physical appearance physique will probably be a pleasant side effect, and not the goal. Practice of Aikido will change your appearance in more subtle ways, including your posture, your confidence, and the impression you generate when you enter a room – all of which certainly affect your attractiveness. Aikido offers a path of lifetime study, and challenge and a pursuit of personal, individual change, unlike physical exercise undertaken to fit external ideals. The rewards of Aikido are inherent and self-measured; it offers instant and continuing feedback, and a deep sense of accomplishment and enjoyment in the very act of training.
It turns out that why you do something may be more important than what you do!
If you undertake training for reasons of physical insecurity or attractiveness, the results you achieve may be disappointing. However, if you undertake a study of movement for the pursuit of mastery, harmony, and the joy of the movement itself, it will reward you and others until the end of your life – and the side benefits might be everything you really needed!