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ST for sitting in Japanese seiza

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I am in a special aikido program in Kyoto, Japan, which involves training 3x a day, 5 days per week for a year.

Another kenshusei and I still cannot sit in seiza well after 9 months of training with daily seiza sessions as well as doing shikko knee walking and performing aikido techniques from this posture.

However, we both do NOT have the typical seiza problem of tightness across the front of the knees. We both have problems with discomfort behind the knees. We have both been to doctors and PTs here in Japan without results.

Earlier this year, all the kenshusei did a 1000-sit-ups workout. Afterwards, the two of us experienced decreased stiffness and decreased pain in the knees. I think this had to do with the poor form of our sit-ups, which involved a lot pulling on the heels (like 800 micro-hamstrings-curls), but I don't know why that would have an effect.

(1) Any stretch recommendations to improve the ability to sit low in a seiza posture?

(2) Any idea why 1000 sit-ups would provide knee therapy?


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Hello there, Chris,

As it happens, I have had to overcome the same problem myself, a long time ago, simply because you cannot eat any meals in Nippon in any traditional situation without being able to sit in seiza. For the non-Japanese, this term refers to:

Seiza (scroll down to the fourth image)

One learns to eat really quickly.

So, how can this be improved?

Chris wrote that it is pain behind the knees in his case that limits this position—this is a consequence of various tissues not being able to squeeze out of the way.

Have a look through this YT clip:

I am on a slow connection today, so can't give you a time stamp to go to, but somewhere in there is a sequence of me sitting in seiza with a stick in between my calf muscles and thighs: follow the directions, and you will feel the tissues involved. [later; see 1:34 and following]

When I went to Japan, my bottom was at least six inches away from my heels; the method I used to get right down to the floor was to simply put a thick cushion in between heels and bottom and, as the thighs relaxed, pulled the cushion out slightly, then thinner cushions. Motivation was high, so progress rapid. You can use both approaches, too.

Re. question 2): I am not sure, but possibly because when the abs and hip flexors get fatigued, the body will recruit any muscles that can do the job, and that included the hammies.

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Thanks very much for your advice. As you say, it feels like there is tissue that is just in the way. I have noticed that how I get into seiza makes a difference as to how low I can get and how long I can stay comfortable. This suggests to me that if you get into position in the wrong way, some tissues get "caught" or "trapped" and compressed. Other things that make a difference are what activities immediately precede the seiza. Doing repeated suwari-waza, such as in this video, makes it easier eventually, after maybe 15 minutes of practice.

<object width="420" height="315"><param name="movie" value="//www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYI9F-c9c6o?hl=en_US&version=3&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="//www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYI9F-c9c6o?hl=en_US&version=3&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="420" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>

However, doing standing techniques, especially basic forms like this, make it much harder.

<object width="420" height="315"><param name="movie" value="//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Flc57uq-5aQ?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Flc57uq-5aQ?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="420" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>

So I don't know if there might be a fluid shifting issue, too. Maybe over time, getting into and out of seiza pushes fluid out of the knees while putting stress on the knee in a standing position increases blood flow...?

Anyhow, I have noticed that when I get in a lot of discomfort, putting my hands between my thighs and calves actually makes things more comfortable. However, using a jo is quite painful. I will keep experimenting.

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