Many parents and dojo members ask me if these exercises are healthy and harmless to the locomotor system. My answers come from anatomy and physiology, as always.
The hips are the key to those answers in aikido, as a martial art. As we sit in seiza, the hips control the pelvic girdle while in a relaxed position. And as we know, the pelvis is the basic supporting structure of the spine. If the spine rests upon a correctly positioned pelvis, it will not need much effort to remain vertical, harmonious and balanced.
In seiza, the whole body is positioned for correct breathing, especially, breathing that reaches the pelvic floor which is how we understand to be the correct way of breathing. That places seiza far ahead of any other sitting positions, no matter how modern and technicaly developed chairs are used. Seiza relieves your spine from the stress of chairs, car seats, sofas. It allows the spine to use its whole mobility potential, elasticity and softness.
Shikko – knee walking
From my point of view I see only advantages to this exercise.
So I start with the hips again: the hips connect your legs with your pelvis performing movements with the short rotator muscles (external and internal), and help to control the centre of gravity. That is the answer to stability in all techniques no matter they are executed whether at a low or high level. The short but very strong muscles of the hips need to be elastic and strong to cope with the challenge of coordinating our locomotor system. Thanks to these muscles, our body does what we need it to do, the right side of it communicating with the left, the upper with the lower. The hips are simply the locomotive brain of the human body. When shikko is performed correctly, the body posture is balanced and the spine is not forced to make unnecessary and harmful movements. And if we manage to connect shikko with proper breathing, the body will thank us for that with grace.
What about the knees? Is there a problem?
The knees in seiza and shikko are properly and safely locked, so their sensitive construction and function are not in danger in any way. Seiza is immobility and does not place the joints at risk. Nothing bad happens to the knees while sitting in seiza. When moving, we use only a small but extreme part of the total range of joint movements. As I often repeat, if we decrease the range of movement of any joint, it leads to joint limitations and inefficiency of movement. This is a part of degenerative disease. The knee patella is safe in both seiza and shikko and there is no need to worry about its surfaces or anything else.
And what about the feet?
The feet are not a concern either. In seiza, we place them in a position of extreme flexion that helps to preserve passive movement for years. In shikko, we support the body weight on the joints that connect the toes with the middle part of feet in a way that promotes all foot dynamics and passive strength. This exercise also stimulates the long and short foot muscles to function properly. Strong and elastic feet equal long life for these body parts. And when we step into older age, these parts will work much much better than feet that lack the correct shape. Extreme range of toe movement results in excellent leg extension, and easy and long steps and the ability to walk lightly without the need for compensation using the hips, pelvis or spine.
Both seiza and shikko have been tested for centuries by Far East movement masters and have proved their value. Both exercises are excellent for promoting health and conditioning the body. Several thousands years of tests cannot be wrong. To preserve the elasticity and longevity of the hips and knees, we should practice seiza and shikko. As an illustration, ask some of your colleagues to walk across the dojo in shikko if they are not familiar with this exercise. This will display the side effects of prolonged sitting while resting or working and not working out. It is worth the effort to abandon our sofas, chairs and beds and land on the floor to take care of the most important aspects of our physical and emotional body. It is there to serve us for a lifetime. It is also a part of what I understand to be physical awareness and care of the body.
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