Blending Work and Aikido

By Beacon Staff

Work consumes the day. In the evening, personal time begins. The morning brings work yet again and personal life is put back on hold.

People learn to accept that cycle, two local therapists say, and this creates a great divide between their business and personal lives. But is this how it should be?

That is the question posed by Mark Leitzel and Leigh Schickendantz, owners of Two Rivers Center of Holistic Counseling and Healing Arts. They address it with a new program that utilizes the principles of Aikido, a non-combative martial arts, to help people cope with work-related problems and improve their job skills. Mostly, they want people to enjoy what they do.

Two Rivers, which has offices downtown in the KM Building, uses holistic approaches to health for the mind, body, spirit – and now – business.

“Somehow this separation happens,” Schickendantz said, “from making a living and making a life.”

Leitzel and Schickendantz believe, while acknowledging distinctions between home and the workplace, that it’s impossible to isolate people’s personal lives from their work lives, though this is what many people try to do today.

They implemented their program, Building Professional Excellence Through Personal Mastery, into the regular Two Rivers therapy schedule this spring. It teaches, or simply reminds, people that their personal lives are reflections of their philosophies, ideals and beliefs – things that don’t just disappear when work begins.

Whether someone is a lawyer or a part-time employee at Wendy’s, Leitzel said, work is a large part of that person’s life. If you don’t like your job or the people you work with, your personal life is affected. You’re probably not happy, he said. Conversely, problems at home affect work.

“You bring your work home and you bring your home to work,” Leitzel said. “You never leave behind the personal.”

Workplace tension is a common problem, Leitzel said, because people who may not know each other outside of work spend all day together in an environment that can be stressful and uncomfortable. Clients with work conflicts often come to Leitzel and Schickendantz.

“There are relational issues at work,” Leitzel said. “If you can work these things out, it helps you become a family.”

Tere Nelson, owner of Dental Distinctions, has taken her entire staff to Two Rivers’ Aikido sessions for more than a year. The principles they learn there help them at work, she said.

“We spend more time with workmates than with family at home,” she said. “(The Aikido principles) help us stay grounded.”

It’s important that everybody at work is on the same page, Nelson said, or problems arise. Two Rivers’ sessions help reinforce this sense of teamwork, she said.

“When you have a team committed to something as a whole, rather than individually,” Nelson said. “Then everybody’s happy.”

Leitzel and Schickendantz met in the master’s program for Holistic and Transpersonal Psychology at John F. Kennedy University in California. Schickendantz is a Great Falls native who went to California after stints at the University of Montana and Montana State University. Leitzel ended up in California because of the army. The two are married today.

“We fell in love,” Schickendantz said.

After completing their masters programs in 1995, the couple moved to Kalispell so Schickendantz could be back in her home state and Leitzel could fulfill a dream to see Montana. They started Two Rivers that same year.

Leitzel and Schickendantz stress that they don’t teach Aikido. They adapt certain Aikido principles to their own therapeutic vision. These principles encourage a person to approach conflict with confidence, not confrontation. A businessman who is confident with his business practices, and himself, doesn’t worry about competition, much like an Aikido master doesn’t need to hurt his opponent to prove himself, Leitzel said.

This approach of looking inward at one’s self instead of outward at competition goes against the teachings of modern competitive business, Leitzel said.

“Why does business have to be competitive?” Leitzel said. “Why does it have to work on someone’s dignity? Do you have to run over 200 people to get to where you want to be?”

Leitzel said that people who answer “yes” to the last question most likely wouldn’t seek Two Rivers for counseling.

During sessions, Leitzel and Schickendantz guide clients through encounters that serve as physical embodiments of personal relationships. Two people face each other, with potential conflict looming, and then move in unison, instead of barging forward or backing away. Conflict is not instigated, nor is it avoided. It is resolved.

Although the majority of businesses that come to Two Rivers are health care services, like Dental Distinctions and the Flathead Attention Home, Leitzel said the teachings are universal.

“I think any business can benefit from this,” he said.

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