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One characteristic exercises from when I studied Aikido was sitting seiza for periods of time, either for a short while between exercises/while watching or as part of an exercise where, sometimes, a great deal was done from a seiza position. I've also seen people recommend sitting in seiza as a way to improve flexibility.

Are there any specific benefits to sitting seiza, either in terms of proper posture (avoiding back/hip/knee trouble) or in terms of development (e.g., strength, flexibility)? Especially as it compares to the Burmese sitting position?

  • 3
    I sit seiza, there's nothing wrong with sitting seiza, but I find it interesting to note that many explanations of the benefits of traditional practices are post-hoc rationalizations. Looking for reasons to do something after already choosing to do it means that we're looking for excuses to follow tradition instead of choosing a goal (e.g. strengthening the legs and hips, or meditating, or developing posture, or increasing our flexibility) and researching the optimal methods to achieve that goal. – Dave Liepmann Mar 18 '13 at 16:47
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From my experience, sitting in seiza confers a couple of advantages in other, related, areas.

First, I don't know if you have to do this, but when people from the dojo I train at go to test, we end up sitting in seiza for long periods (~30 mins per period). It is seen as disrespectful (though not uncommon) to not sit in seiza, so practicing is a good idea for that.

Second, sitting in seiza will make you more comfortable with suwariwaza techniques. Your legs, by sitting in that position, will to some degree adapt to that position over time. Although you may not do a lot of suwariwaza formally, shikko is a very useful skill (knee-walking) in everyday life (especially if you have a young child).

Lastly, though this one is more related to doing shikko practice: it will improve your balance. Knee-walking while keeping your center alignment is very difficult, and will affect your movements outside of just shikko, but only over time; it's not a quick or instant thing.

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In my experience it is simply a traditional and formal way of sitting at floor level.

Other than the social aspects of it (everyone is considered to be of equal height when sitting in seiza) it has no special benefits - although it should be noted that it is a position that is both stable when seated and easy to rise from while keeping your balance centered.

The only benefit I've ever noted from extended sitting in seiza is that once your legs go to sleep it is arguably easier to meditate.

  • A quick note: meditation (at least the Zen sotoshu practiced today by some O-sensei uchideshi) is usually not performed in seiza but in lotus or cross-legged position, while sitting on a zabuton. – Ring Ø May 22 '13 at 6:09
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No, sitting in seiza is just etiquette and nothing more. It has no other practical value whatsoever. If you have not been practising since you were a child, you will always find it painful and difficult for long period of time. The only tiny benefit is that your legs are out of the way in case some falls towards you. If you practices suwariwaza, then you can move quickly out of the way.

However, suwariwaza has many practical applications. The most important one is to help focus on your technique to use your hips and not your legs. This develops power and once you have power, you can add speed via leg movement.

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To talk about seiza we need to look on this from the historical and cultural point of view. Seiza was used and is still used by oriental people as a form of sitting as we use chairs. Why that position was chosen well we would have to dig deep in to the tradition. The main thing is that this is just a form of sitting. The traditional martial arts are using seiza because this is tradition and part of a cultural etiquette.

Now about good things about seiza and bad.

Good

The position in fact was giving quicker reaction and ability to move from resting position to fight. Are we sitting in seiza at home or in work or in bar? Not really. Is it quicker to react from the chair. I think yes.

Sorry I ment to talk about good sides. This is a tradition and traditional systems use it to continue the tradition and I agree with that.

Bad ones

  • long sitting in that position might cause.
  • knee pain and in long run injury
  • circulation problems

Did you ever felt pins and needles in your leg after long seiza? That what it is. The problem is that if you stop the circulation for a long time your body will gather toxins, and if there are enough of toxins and you release them quickly, you will be dead. I mean really dead.

"Suspension trauma" is common when people are subjected to car accidents and are compressed against stuff or fall from heights wearing harness and are suspended for more than 20 minutes. Some may argue that oriental people can sit for a long time. That is true for two reasons.

One is they practice from a young age and train their body to get used to that. You can do the same with time. Two, they use small pillows or wooden seats. So be careful when instructor is asking you to sit for 30 min. Regarding meditation, you can meditate in any position that is not restricting you to breath. I bet you can meditate longer when laying on your back than in seiza.

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I agree with almost everyone so far, except for the one that affirms that it is purely etiquette and nothing more.

Almost everything above is true, except that one thing was ignored. A very important aspect of Aikido, inherited from, amongst others, Shinto is Mokuso. Mokuso is the initial 'meditation' before and after each training session.

Although the Mokuso practiced for those 5 minutes at the Dojo is not nearly enough to get someone into proper state of meditation, it is, nonetheless a good introduction for people to then go and practice their mokuso at home. Entering the meditation state of clear mind takes time. One very important aspect of meditation is proper breathing: it is by controlling your breathing that you allow yourself to focus on clearing your thoughts. This in turn allows your mind to be at ease and clear, so that you can actually meditate about your subject of interest. This takes time, so this person needs to be in a position that is 'comfortable' enough for the person to stay in it for a long period of time (but not too comfortable as not to fall asleep) while keeping good posture. Seiza allows a clear passage of air so that you can control your breathing more easily during your long meditation.

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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15840949

Here's a medical article on that topic. It mentions that "...Seiza with large knee flexion produces harmful effects on the cartilage of knee joints and hemodynamics of the lower legs."

For a personal example, my mom has bad knees and her doctor told her that the ideal position of the legs for the knees is: stretched out in an angle of more than 90 degrees, but not completely straight, just with a slight angle, as if you put a small pillow under your knees. And that's for everyone, not only for people with bad knees. I try not to sit in positions that put my knees in unnecessary strain.

In conclusion, i think seiza is bad for the knees.

  • 1
    It's very good that you have included a source. The source, however, does not actually say anything about cartilage; that's in the introduction and covered by other research. This paper basically says that sitting in seiza cuts off the blood flow to your legs and reduces your ability to distinguish sensations and balance, albeit only temporarily. – mattm Mar 27 '18 at 21:29
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I have noticed one benefit of the Seiza position today: It stops legs jerking (because legs then just cannot move at all), and reduces the accompanying anxiety.

When in a period of stress, I tend to have jerking legs. A bit too much. Even for a little stress only. I have noticed that this very leg movement is also feeding the anxiety state of mind.

Today the experience was striking: When legs are stopped I do sense a stronger calm in me. Really enjoyable. I will keep this position for working (I have a large chair without back that allows this posture).

And when the legs starts feeling pins and needles, I can put them back to normal, and they are just like asleep.

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In my opinion, sitting in seiza is probably not permanently bad long term for the knees, because, well, the position hurt me horribly and I do not suffer permanently because of it.

I can tolerate it for short periods, but as Sardathrion suggests, if one hasn't been doing it since childhood, then starting to do it when older will result in pain.

Nevertheless, the act does not contribute to my performance of any Aikido, Hapkido, or Karate techniques, when/if we do it. It does cause me to have to recover for a minute or so just to be able to move around, and so in this way, it's probably not good, since that inability to capture balance or feeling sensation below the knees can be dangerous. But really: how long does that sensation truly last? I don't think it lasts long enough to be a problem at all. On the other hand, for me, after sitting in seiza for a long enough period to get paresthesia, during that recovery period, my blood pressure tends to drop a little, as I experience temporary dizziness. I suppose this could be a secondary problem, whereby being dizzy while standing, and then not having the ability to feel anything except the pins and needles sensation could have a deleterious effect on training. But as I said, it's temporary. I never get this feeling after getting up from sitting in a cross-legged position.

Is it definitively a bad thing, like we know that smoking is bad for your health, and that there are no positives to it? There are not many studies out there suggesting anything one way or another.

There is one article that suggests it "could" be dangerous...

A case of crush syndrome induced by the kneeling seiza position

In it, it says crush syndrome resulting from as little as 20 minutes from sitting in seiza has been reported, and, that's about the longest I've seen anyone sit in that position at a martial arts seminar. I suspect that anyone who is not used to this position will readjust themselves long before 20 minutes is achieved, unlike what could happen in an accident, as suggested in the article. Also, the victim's weight probably played a factor in that accident. Most people sitting in seiza for martial arts practice have the capability and freedom to readjust to a more comfortable position, so, I suspect that any crush syndrome will not result from any martial arts practice.

It should be noted that there are many articles on this subject, but most of the time the articles suggest an acute condition, such as temporary paresthesia. There is no suggestion that sitting in seiza can lead to chronic problems, whether sitting once or over a lifetime. If there was, I suspect that the Japanese and Korean Surgeons General would call for a war on Aikido and Hapkido - two styles which use it a lot.

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