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Seminar Reflection: Ki Development and Music-Making in Daily Life with Ileana Shaner Sensei

posted May 8, 2019, 9:07 AM by The Center for Mind-Body Oneness   [ updated May 8, 2019, 9:08 AM ]
During the last weekend in April, we had the pleasure of welcoming Ileana Shaner Sensei to lead the Minnesota Ki Society annual seminar, on "Ki Development and Music-Making in Daily Life". Shaner Sensei is a fifth degree black belt, one of the highest ranked women in Ki Society, and a regular instructor of children and adults at the South Carolina Ki Aikido dojo. She also holds Yatra yoga teacher certification, and is a classically trained pianist.

Shaner Sensei masterfully embodied her theme of Ki and music-making throughout the weekend through her teaching, pacing, and the flow of the seminar. We began with hitori waza, our one person exercises. Shaner Sensei emphasized that in every hitori waza, the movement naturally originates from the breath, from the one point in the lower abdomen. This unification of breath and action naturally leads to cleanness of movement. There is living stillness between each beat of count/movement, like rests between notes of a song.

When we move, we can also notice: Are we adding, controlling, or tensing? We can let our movements be free, relaxed, and uninhibited. This was especially evident in udefuri choyaku, where many of us noticed we were adding to our natural movement and over-rotating the trailing arm, while tensing the forward arm and raising the shoulder. This breaks bodily integrity and causes instability. However, when the trailing arm comes to rest in line with the shoulders, and the forward shoulder and arm are relaxed, the body is naturally stable and strong.

Shaner Sensei then invited the kids from our regular Friday classes onto the mat for a special Kid's Class. As she led us through games to practice nonverbal communication and connection, taught backwards rolls, and reviewed an art, several themes of teaching our younger members emerged:

  • Show first to inspire others, then invite them to try it also.
  • Teach from what you know. Shaner Sensei broke down components of a back roll into simple, progressive steps that allowed each kid to master a back roll by the end of the class.
  • Set clear expectations by example.
  • Let learning be fun and joyful!
On Saturday, Shaner Sensei built on Friday’s foundation by reviewing several foundational kyu rank arts, then teaching the first six arts of Taigi 23: Jodori. Before we began practicing the taigi arts, she shared a story of preparing a complex piano recital program for a year, then playing this program for a retirement community. She noted that even as audience members shared the joy and emotion they had felt through her music, she felt dissatisfied with her performance. She resolved to play the program more - and instead of focusing on attaining perfection, she turned her attention to appreciating the incredible music she was able to share. As a result, her experience of the music and her performances changed dramatically.

We can approach our arts and taigi similarly. We can be anxious and focused on our mistakes – “I will never be good enough to do this perfectly!” Or, we can choose to enjoy practicing these beautiful arts with our friends, opening to our breath and movement, learning together how the art moves. As we approached these challenging arts with this positive intention, students from fifth kyu through yudansha participated fully in leading and receiving these techniques with full attention, experimentation, and enjoyment. 

The seminar concluded on Sunday with Shaner Sensei leading a Yatra yoga session, guiding us through feeling our breath, stretching our bodies, and staying with our reactions and emotions as we explored different and unfamiliar postures. The pacing of the yoga, leading into our closing session of Ki breathing, was a perfect coda to our weekend of moving in harmony.

These lessons in rhythm, relaxation, and moving together were intensified while serving as Shaner Sensei's otomo. I rapidly found that trying to think ahead - just as in playing music! - resulted in being off-time and out of place for what she needed. Instead, the more I relaxed and noticed where her attention was, and what her natural rhythm and patterns were, the more I could be at ease and move with her. This experience allowed me to see how many walls I have put up against connection, and how often I think and do instead of relaxing, letting my attention rest on one person, and trusting that I will see what is needed. I am deeply grateful for the gift of Shaner Sensei's patience, kindness, and presence, and the experience of opening to someone I could trust deeply.

Through relaxing and opening to the rhythm of what is happening - in our breathing, our movement, our techniques - we can fully experience this moment. We can delight in our friends' presence and community, appreciate their support, and thoroughly enjoy this practice, without becoming stuck, anxious, and dissatisfied.

As Shaner Sensei shared during our Sunday yoga class: "Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment." -- Thich Nhat Hanh

Thank you for embodying music-making in daily life, Sensei, and guiding our rhythms during the seminar weekend! We look forward to applying what we have learned of relaxation, rhythm, and harmonious connection in our daily lives.