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Shizentai

The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.
– C. Dubois

Shizentai means ‘natural posture’ in martial arts – ‘shi’ means oneself, ‘tai’ means ‘body’. It is the simplest pose in Judo, the relaxed but alert stance where all other judo movements originate. Outside any dojo – shizentai takes on a whole different meaning.

Unfortunately the word ‘posture’ has become one of the most mis-quoted words in health and fitness – it is often used to sell worthless products and gadgets that deceptively claim to fix bad posture. Good posture is not about forcing your body into position; it is about how well you can control your body, in whatever position you might be, relative to the ground that you stand on, or in the chair that you sit on, or on the road that you run on or wave that you surf on.

Body control at its simplest is the ability to perform any action with precision and accuracy, along with a sensation of ease, with no wasted energy
– Jarlo GMB

The more you move, the more control you need. The best surfers, dancers, capoeira artists, yogi’s all demonstrate good shizentai and some have incredible control of themselves even when they are airborne, standing on their head or moving on water. Some people demonstrate it through simply walking or running; you might have admired a graceful walker or a fluent runner passing you on the street without even realising why.

Primed to walk or primed to fly?

Good body control comes from a combination of two key skills – strength and flexibility. Strength gives you stability and power; flexibility gives you the necessary range to execute each movement. Merge them both proportionately and you have control.

Whether you want to learn to do a backside air on a wave or sit at your desk without nagging back pain, you need ample control of all your joints and muscles. Poor hip mobility can make you walk or surf in a rigid manner, poor shoulder flexibility can cause you to sit with a slouch, or over rotate your neck on a turn; poor ankle strength can cause you to fall whether you standing on land or surfing a wave.

Find your shizentai

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
– Emerson

Books and articles about posture often try to pigeon hole your body into a ‘type’. There is no true type of any posture. Everyone’s shizentai is unique and outside the dojo there is no right or wrong way to stand or sit or move – it’s about how much control you have over your body that counts.

Developing good body control is mainly about play. Understanding what your body can do you through using your own body as a guide is the best way to learn to be naturally strong and flexible.

If you regularly exercise, for a few minutes, try to forget everything that you have been ‘taught’ and explore some simple movements without the use of any machines or weights. Perhaps find a bar (or a tree) to hang from or a beam to walk on or a mat to play on – explore what movements feel natural and what movements don’t.

Here is a video to help inspire you…

If you are fairly inactive or need a bit more guidance then find some space in your front room or outside in the garden and try these three body weight exercises

See this exercise like a child would walking into a playground for the first time. There are no rules or judgements. Try everything to the best of your ability, expect to fall, be comfortable with a little discomfort (not pain) but most importantly have some fun.

In my next blog – Stretching the truth – we will focus on the dos and don’ts of flexibility.

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