Turning Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life
By Aimee Bernstein
First published in Holistic Health Magazine

The more you want success, money, love, power or even peace of mind, the more you invite pressure into your life. Think about it. You strive to attain a top-level job and then feel inundated by the demands and responsibilities of the position. You finally magnetize a great love to you and find months later that the things that most attracted you to your mate are the exact things that frustrate you the most. Determined to find peace of mind, you meditate, only to feel the pressure within your system become so intense that your mind screams, “Get me out of here!”
These days even those things that used to be no big deal, such as employment with a living wage or paying your mortgage on time, have transformed into pressure mongers. As we have all experienced, pressure can either destroy your health, your business and the relationships you most cherish or it can turbo-charge your performance, improve the quality of your life and lead to transcendent knowledge of some of life’s deepest mysteries. It all depends on how you relate to pressure.
Few of us, however, think about our relationship to pressure or even acknowledge that we have one at all. Instead most of us experience the pressure we have in our busy lives as burdens to be accepted or as enemies to be eliminated, managed or controlled. Too often we rely on willpower and force just to get through the day. This approach to life exhausts us; it requires too much struggle, too much energy to maintain the status quo.
Even those who have befriended pressure on the sports field, the stage or the negotiating table rarely have an understanding of how to translate that knowledge to other parts of their lives. Creating a positive relationship with pressure is not something we are taught in school or at the company’s orientation program. But every now and then, we witness someone who behaves so masterfully when under pressure that we become inspired to deepen our own ability to turn pressure into a positive force in our lives.
One of those times to bear such witness was at a sold-out concert in New York City featuring celebrated violinist Itzhak Perlman. To thunderous applause, the master stepped onto the stage, dragging his crippled leg. When he reached his chair, he set down his crutches, opened his violin case, tuned up and proceeded to make the most extraordinary music. And then the unthinkable happened. A violin string broke. The audience, assuming Perlman would have to retrieve his crutches and once again make the slow journey across the stage for a replacement string, murmured its disappointment. However, instead of being paralyzed or diminished by the situation, Perlman expanded his presence and played the most breathtaking concert on three strings.
Like Perlman, all of us have experienced moments when we have used pressure to our advantage. Perhaps our experiences were not as grandiose, but we knew nonetheless that they contained magic. In these extraordinary moments, we may have felt small, afraid and unsure but found the courage and energy to forge forward anyhow. As we shifted from our disempowered self to the one in us who radiates a relaxed presence and confidence, a mini-miracle occurred, bringing a better result than what we could have imagined. Yet, without a map to guide us, these experiences remain random occurrences.
Exercise, counseling, bodywork, walks in nature and meditation can reduce stress but too often busy schedules prohibit us from taking the time. Even when disciplined in your efforts, you can’t call for a time-out to meditate or do a few yoga postures when the boss chews you out in front of others or when you catch your significant other blatantly flirting with someone who happens to be better looking than you are -- at least without not looking a little loony. Instead you need a way to rapidly transform pressure from an enemy to an ally that can be used at any time and within any activity throughout the day.
That’s exactly what I learned from seventh dan
aikido master and inner mapmaker Robert Nadeau. Aikido is a Japanese martial art that means the way of harmony. For more than twenty-five years, I have taught executives from such well-known companies as Chanel, Baptist Health Systems and Dolce & Gabbana, as well as entrepreneurs, professionals and artists, to effortlessly transform their limited reactive habits and function more skillfully by shifting their energetic patterns. The work teaches them to relax when under pressure and become bigger than their problems.
At its core, the energy work of aikido teaches how to align the human mind/body/energy system with the universal energy field. A basic principle of aikido states when ever you have a job or task to do, pressure, which is the energy of life, moves through your mind/body/energy system in order to help you do the job. If you open and align to it, you experience well-being, aliveness and joy. On the other hand, if you resist, you experience discomfort, stress and possibly disease. So how do you align to pressure?
You begin by centering yourself. Consider that where ever you place your attention becomes your center. In Western society, many of us learn to keep our attention in our thinking minds and concentrate on what is in front of us. Thus, we analyze, judge, and debate and all that is before we even begin to converse with anyone else. Being in your head is great when it comes to writing a treatise or solving a math problem but it limits you considerably in life. As your attention can only be fully in one place at a time, when you are in your head you forfeit your feelings and sensing capabilities and limit your perspective.
Furthermore, being future-oriented, your attention tends to be ahead of yourself, which leads to a loss of connection with the universal field of energy that supports you. No wonder so many people feel alone! Other people habitually place their attention inside others. This skill enables them to be excellent caregivers and doormats. Locating your center outside of yourself sensitizes you to what others think, feel, need or want. Unfortunately, you probably have a harder time knowing what you think, feel, want and need and may sense at times that you’ve lost yourself. Then there are those who place their attention so tightly inside themselves they lose awareness of others and become narcissistic.
The energy practices of aikido teach how to maintain your attention in your hara (center of gravity located a couple of inches below the belly button) while radiating your energy like the sun on a hot summer’s day. Through practice you imprint on your nervous system how to re-center quickly when the winds of change throw you off balance. You learn what it means not only to have your feet on the floor but to be like the oak tree whose roots spread underground, giving it a profound ability to weather the storm.
From this way of being, supported by earth and sky, front and back, resistance fades away, allowing you to trust and move with the stream of life with a confident grace. As you open and embody the energy of pressure, to your delight, you will find new ways of perceiving, new opportunities and a confidence that comes with knowing that, even in the most difficult times, you are connected and guided by something larger than yourself. By embodying the energetic elements for aligning and opening to a universal energy field, which increases your ability to relate positively to pressure, you can translate this skill to any activity, relationship or situation in your life.
At the end of Perlman’s concert, after the applause subsided, the violinist said in a quiet reverenttone, “You know sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
Jack Reamer, a journalist for the Houston Chronicle, was in the audience that night. He wrote, “What a powerful line that is. Perhaps that is the way of life – not just for artists, but for all of us. So perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music first with all that we have and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.”
When we learn to turn pressure into a positive force in our lives, in good times or bad, the music that is uniquely ours elegantly plays on.

Author's Bio: 

Aimee Bernstein is the President of Open Mind Adventures, a coaching,consulting and training company.
(www.openmindadventures.com)Her specialty is in guiding leaders and organizations to transform into the next best version of who they are.Aimee's work generates collaborative, engaged and high performing workplaces capable of amazing innovations. Her book, When Push Comes to Shove: 9 Timeless Truths for Turning Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life will be published in the spring of 2013