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What would constitute good routine after you get up in the morning to make your body more acclimated for hard lessons later in the day? I'm talking not just about muscle exercises, but stretching and meditation as well. Is there some common knowledge that I should know in this regard?

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Varies much depending on your Aikido practice.

Meditation, for instance, is not practiced at all in many dojo, and rightly so. Do you need it ? Depends.

This is a typical novice question, as novices don't know what is best for them. And the real difference between a novice and a expert is just that experts do know what they need.

In order to become expert and progress, you need to do what is really required, to understand what you need to progress.

Your solo time is only yours. It's the time you can take for yourself to experiment, without having seniors and even the teacher to interfere with your experiments. One of the things novices miss most in aikido is time to think about it and experiment.

There are many things to do. Choose by yourself, you don't even need to stick with a particular exercise.

As for me the only thing I've been constantly doing for years is solo movements: tai sabaki and shadow techniques (that's to say: mimic a ikkyo/iriminage etc without a real partner).

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In many [Japanese] arts, there are a series of techniques called (with some minor variation in naming convention) hojo undo, or supplementary exercises. They may also be called taiso, which implies an awakening of the body.

While studying Aikido, I took notes on the various warmups we did at the beginning, which I'll post for you here:

  • Tekubi Furo Undo - Shaking the Hands and Fingers Exercise – With your hands hanging limply at your sides, all tension removed from your shoulders, begin shaking the hands and fingers vigorously as if trying to dry them. This is to encourage blood flow into the extremities.

  • Sayu Udefuri Undo - Twisting the Body to the Side Exercise – Stand with your feet apart at about shoulder width. With control, twist your body (including your head) and let your arms be carried about by the motion, to and fro. Your feet should remain still.

  • Sayu Jotai Undo - Sidelong Upper-body Exercise – Still with your feet apart at shoulder width, swing one arm over, reaching across your body to stretch your sides.

  • Zengo Jotai Shincho Undo - Forward/Backward Upper Body Morning Prayer Exercise - With your feet still apart, swing the arms up to stretch the chest and abdominals, then back down to stretch the back.

  • Nikkyo Undo - Second Technique Exercise – With the right hand, grab the left, right thumb encircling the left thumb. Press and stretch the hand, pushing against the back of the hand and fingers, gently pushing the fingers toward the inside of the forearm. Repeat on other side.

  • Kotegaeshi Undo - Reversing the Wrist Exercise – Raise the left wrist to chest level, and rotate outward (if looking at the back of the hand, rotate clockwise) so the left pinkie and side of the hand face toward the chest. Place the wright hand around the left, with the right thumb resting between the ring and middle fingers of the left, pushing in against the wrist and move in outward circles while gently stretching the wrist.

    Next, rotate the left wrist counterclockwise until again the pinkie and side of the hand are again facing the chest, and stretch the wrist while moving in inward circles toward the chest. Repeat both parts on opposite wrist.

These were the ones I recall doing daily, though we had occasional exercise-heavy classes in which most of the time was spent going over some 40-odd warm ups. Ukemi is always a great exercise when free space allows.

While not precisely relevant, performing these sorts of body-awakening exercises can offer you a few moments of peace before a busy day, which can be a perfect time to ponder brain teasers or zen koans as an exercise for the mind; these sorts of exercises provide new insight into the way we approach our daily lives, and create new neural pathways which can result in faster threat assessment and problem solving in simpler problems.

Some things I've pondered, based on various teachings, that may be of use to you are:

Koan

  • Will a stone canoe float?
  • In a world without thought, would sin exist?
  • Does a dog have a Buddha Nature?
  • How do you remove a chicken from a box with no openings?

Lateral Thinking Puzzles If you're unfamiliar, these are a portion of a much larger story. There may be multiple scenarios which will lead to the conclusion offered by the story, but only one is generally wholly satisfying. The point is to consider what you know, and determine what would have caused it.

  • A child falls from a 20 story building and survives.
  • A man is found dead in a field clutching a broken match.
  • Why is it better to have round manhole covers than square?
  • In the middle of the ocean is a yacht, and several corpses are floating nearby.

I do not encourage people to meditate while stretching or as part of their morning ritual; this tends to lead to the false assumption that meditation is an activity that must take place under a prescribed set of circumstances. Instead, meditation should happen in every moment; problem solving however can lead to the ability to naturally and instinctually clear your mind of external thoughts.

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I had very good experience with a short (under 10 minutes) routine based on the Five Tibetan Rites:

First Rite

Stand erect with arms outstretched...spin around until you become slightly dizzy.

Second Rite

Lie full length on rug or bed... Raise the feet until the legs are straight up. If possible, let the feet extend back a bit over the body toward the head, but do not let the knees bend. Hold this position for a moment or two and then slowly lower the feet to the floor...relax completely. Then perform the Rite all over again.

Third Rite

Kneel on a rug or mat with hands at sides, palms flat against the side of legs. Then lean forward as far as possible, bending at the waist, with head well forward—chin on chest. The second position of this Rite is to lean backward as far as possible. Cause the head to move still further backward. The toes will prevent you from falling over backward. The hands are always kept against the side of the legs. Next come to an erect (kneeling) position, relax as much as possible for a moment, and perform Rite all over again.

Fourth Rite

Sit erect on rug or carpet with feet stretched out in front. The legs must be perfectly straight -- back of knees must be well down or close to the rug. Place the hands flat on the rug, fingers together, and the hands pointing outward slightly. Chin should be on chest -- head forward.

Now gently raise the body, at the same time bend the knees so that the legs from the knees down are practically straight up and down. The arms, too, will also be vertical while the body from shoulders to knees will be horizontal. As the body is raised upward allow the head gently to fall backward so that the head hangs backward as far as possible when the body is fully horizontal. Hold this position for a few moments, return to first position, and RELAX for a few moments before performing the Rite again.

When the body is pressed up to complete horizontal position, tense every muscle in the body.

Fifth Rite

Place the hands on the floor about two feet apart. Then, with the legs stretched out to the rear with the feet also about two feet apart, push the body, and especially the hips, up as far as possible, rising on the toes and hands. At the same time the head should be brought so far down that the chin comes up against the chest. Next, allow the body to come slowly down to a ‘sagging’ position. Bring the head up, causing it to be drawn as far back as possible.

Sixth Rite

An abdominal breathing exercise.

N.B.: The Sixth Rite is "optional" and should not be practiced (according to the original source) unless you decide to abstain from sexual activity. YMMV - I don't practice it, for example

Another thing that is important to know is that this system includes a specific "progression" scale. You are supposed to start by performing each Rite exactly 3 times. I.e. in the case of First Rite, you spin around 3 times, then move to 3 repetition of the Second Rite etc. When you feel like you can move up a bit you add two more repetitions, and therefore you perform all 5 rites 5 times. Then, again when you feel like it, you add 2 and are now at 7... you self-regulate your progress until you hit 21 repetitions. And that's it.

I talk a bit more of this here.

I am 50, have been practicing Aikido (Iwama Style) for 24 years, and since I started doing this I don't get any sore muscles after seminars or when I start practicing again after the summer/Xmas breaks.

Note that I practice it in the evening instead of in the morning (it just works better for me like this, but I practiced it in the morning for a few months, when I was experimenting) and that I do this as a purely physical routine, but you may incorporate some meditation along with it (in fact, I am probably doing it wrong precisely because I just do this as physical work).

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Could you outline the exercises briefly here? –  Dave Liepmann May 22 '13 at 14:31
    
The Wikipedia link I included in my answers has a short paragraph for each. Also, you can hit Youtube and get a billion videos of people showing how these work. There is no need for special equipment (I routinely do this even when I am in hotels on a trip) and really take very little time. –  p.marino May 22 '13 at 14:47
    
I'm going to copy the Wikipedia text, because it's preferable here to show the answer instead of point to an external source that may change or disappear. –  Dave Liepmann May 22 '13 at 14:50
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In the morning I used kokyu (breathing) and some warm-up excercises:

  • kokyu: breathing excercises (we never called them by names, I just them here - not in English though - and hope I have not messed it up:
    • Jang note kokyu
    • Jin note kokyu
    • (Gaeshi kokyu we did only after the end of lesson to regain energy)

And then we did many warm-up excercises:

  • rotate arms in shoulders - forth, back, and then each hand in the opposite direction, hands meet in the vertical position above head. Good for backbone.
  • relax your arms and just by hip rotation twist your hips (and upper body) swiftly to the left and to the right. Hands are just flying loosely in the air from side to side. Good for backbone.
  • various head twisting and rotation, slowly, carefully especially in back-bend
  • "cradles" - the stage when you fall backwards when you cradle on the floor
  • ... and many other things for hips, backbone, knees, etc.
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Here are a few things that any level of student should be able to do on their own:

  • Sit in seiza and breath slowing in through your nose, hold for a moment, and then exhale through your mouth. You might try to visualize something while you do this (such as when you inhale imagine clear pure water entering your body, when you exhale imagine all the dirty filthy water leaving your body).

  • Practice ukemi (small or standing rolls)

  • Go over basic movements (kaiten, tenkan, irimi) and basic attacks (shomen uchi, yokomen uchi, munetsuki). Make sure you know how to do these properly before you start doing them though. It wouldn't do to engrain the wrong way into your mind.

  • If you are familiar enough with a technique, perform it solo. Imagine your opponent and go through the movements.

  • Practice Kata or Suburi with jo or bokken. Again, make sure you are proficent enough that you aren't developing bad habits.

All of these things can help keep you in a constant mindset of Aikido.

In The Secret Teachings of Aikido O'Sensei said that Aikido is a pathway to enlightenment. When asked how long it would take to reach enlightenment by practicing Aikido the founder said that it would take someone training everyday at least 10 years.

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The only thing I do is to hydrate a lot during the day. A two hour class is exhausting enough without having to run to get water all the time. But do drink during exercise, as it is better for you and your performance.

On days without a class, I tend to visualise techniques while waiting for coffee or the kettle. But do not over do it. Your brain needs time to think about other things if you are to learn effectively.

As tacone said, tai sabaki and basic movement are always useful to do if you are doing them right. Do not reinforce bad habits.

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