Practicing Seiza during pre-covid days | Image from Archives
Seiza is one of the fundamental sitting positions in Iaido. As innocuous as it looks, trying to learn it is simple, but mastering it is a lifelong journey. Yet, its benefits will be more than worth your while.
What is Seiza?
Seiza (正座) is defined as the standard formal way of sitting in Japan. Many traditional Japanese art forms (e.g. Kendo, Calligraphy (Shodo), Flower arrangement (Ikebana) incorporate seiza as an integral aspect of sitting. Seiza involves kneeling on the floor, with one's legs beneath the thighs. The ankles are turned such that the soles of the feet face upwards and the big toes touch each other in a "V" arrangement.
Seiza may be difficult to pick up initially due to many reasons; this article focuses on two of them - 1. Physiological factor: People who have not grown up sitting in this posture may experience the sensation of "pins and needles" or the burning sensation or even cramps or bruises. 2. Human-Factor engineering: the flooring where Seiza is customarily practiced is typically on tatami mats or wooden flooring, not concrete nor tiled floors.
One should be able to ease into Seiza through consistent, short, practices. To alleviate the flooring issue, one may try practicing Seiza with kneepads or on yoga mats.
Why do Seiza?
Apart from being an integral part of traditional practices, Seiza offers a way for one to practice and correct body posture. For example, the forward neck posture plagues many working long hours at the desk.
The basic Seiza practice involves sitting with a straight back, pushing forward the small of your back, pulling the shoulders slightly back to expand the chest, tucking the chin in while elevating the crown of the head. With elbows pointing downwards and arms in a relaxed state, the palms of hands may be placed on the thighs as-is. By lightly focusing attention on breathing (i.e. the air moving in and out of the nose), one could slowly clear one's thoughts too. By closing one's eyes, and carrying on the above, one naturally does mediation in Seiza. Through mediation, slowing down one's thoughts, ideas, emotions can help one feel more rested and establish a sense of clarity.
What if I'm not getting results as I should?
Some common misconceptions in Seiza and mediation are worrying about doing it the "right" way or trying to force sitting in Seiza/results fast. The most important thing rather is to focus on the journey. For sitting in Seiza, start slow, start small, and slowly build it up, just like starting mediation in small blocks of 5mins and gradually extending the duration.
What do I need to start?
The beauty of Seiza and mediation is also it doesn't require much physical space. While Seiza and mediation seem boring, they offer an excellent counter to the connected devices, notifications & emails constantly requiring our attention. Also, consider the simplicity and attention to detail for seiza and mediation. They are not lazy simplicity but are ones where the level of sophistication varies as one constantly practices, taking the body and mind to new levels.