View Full Version : Seiza and Calves Pain

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Thomas Ambrose
08-12-2004, 02:23 AM
Hello, this is my first post here, so please forgive any newbie-ness!

I am 24 years old, and I have just started to learn aikido. To date I have been attending regular classes for just about a month and have accumulated around 24 hours of training. I think that I am about average in flexibility and strength, though maybe with a slight stiffness to my muscle build.

Lately, I have been having trouble with seiza. It hasn't bothered me until about a week ago. Right now, I have an extremely hard time getting into seiza without much stretching beforehand.

Each time I get into seiza, I feel a burning tightness in the bulge-muscle on the back of the lower leg, just below the knee-joint (I think the calves but am not sure.), especially towards the top and around the knee joint. A little bit above the knee as well.

This is only a problem when I first get into seiza at the start of practice. It doesn't seem to bother me nearly as much while the instructor is demonstrating techniques, though sometimes it bothers me towards the end of practice.

I have asked a few of the dans at my dojo (all dans, but not sure to which level) and have been instructed in a few extra stretches I can do before practice to loosen up. I have also been told that having not done seiza my whole life, it may take a while before my body will comfortably rest in this position. I certainly trust their advice, but I am looking for ways to combat this stiffness.

Right now, I am doing stretches daily, and also trying to sit in seiza with the aid of a pillow or two between my lower legs and buttock.

Any feedback on the situation would be much appreciated. Is this a common thing for newbies in aikido to go through? How long does it usually last? Any tips on how to stretch out and loosen the muscles and joints involved would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you so much!

08-12-2004, 02:59 AM
Seiza is a difficult position anatomically for the knee joint and can lead to somewhat restricted circulation in the calf. On e way to combat this is to warm up the calf muscle thoroughly (a few hops or jumps) before class and it might be why its not so painful to sit for you during class.
Another issue is make sure that you are properly hydrated; again to maintain circulation in the lower leg, prior to practise.

P.S. Seiza never becomes "comfortable" just less excruciatingly painful

Anders Bjonback
08-16-2004, 11:42 PM
P.S. Seiza never becomes "comfortable" just less excruciatingly painful

I don't know... I sometimes find it more comfortable than sitting crossleged in certain circumstances because it naturally supports my posture. I especially find it more comfortable if I've been sitting in it regularily (if I've been doing tea ceremony, etc), and have become more used to the discomfort. Of course, it still gets irritating if I sit in it for a really long time.

Clayton Drescher
08-17-2004, 01:27 AM
I find that seiza can sometimes be more uncomfortable after warmups, dunno why that is, maybe because my blood is pumping and then seiza restricts it again

08-17-2004, 02:31 AM
Dear Tom,

I presume you have never done any seiza prior to aikido; don't be too hard on your lower limbs. Sit in seiza and alternate between cross leg sitting and seiza whenever either sitting position becomes uncomfortable. When your body becomes used to this way of sitting it will be able to tolerate longer. Maybe one day, you may have forgotten you are sitting in seiza and may be likely to sit in seiza throughout your aikido session without you realizing it.


Thomas Ambrose
08-19-2004, 02:35 AM
Thank you all for your kind advice! Lately I have been arriving to my practices 15 minutes early and stretching out a bit extra. I also do crouches and hops to try to warm up the muscles. As a result, during practice, my seiza feels better but it is still difficult to get into the position for the first time on any particular day. I am also trying to keep properly hydrated, difficult as it is this summer :-). I will let you know how this goes!

08-19-2004, 03:16 AM
If I may...

Yes, you may find seiza more uncomfortable if you get too much blood pumping in your legs prior to adopting the posture. This may be why you are finding it more difficult toward the end of class - along with other reasons. So stretch the legs (front and back, lower and upper) and the back but don't get the limbs in question too pumped.

What I always tell my students, aside from the usual "you must give yourself time" (which is accurate and really the most relevant solution here), is that they can do two more things: a. before you adopt the posture in class, while on your knees, be sure to stick your thumbs into the back of your knees, grab as much lower leg muscle as you can and roll them outward - then sit down (being sure to not sit on your feet - cross your big toes at the most, we do right big toe over left big toe); and b. get yourself a zafu and use that as your main seating furniture at home. Spend your leisure time (e.g. video game viewing, tv watching, etc.) and/or your study or work time, etc. sitting in seiza on the zafu as much as you can. Since you are not actually sitting on your feet you will find that you can sit longer - which will help your body more gently acclamate itself to the posture. (When sitting on a zafu in seiza - remember - if your back starts to hurt you are sitting too far back on the cushion; if your knees are starting to hurt, you are sitting too far forward on the cushion. Note: a zabuton makes things kinder on your knees.)

Hope that helps,

08-20-2004, 01:00 AM
When i first started training in Aikido I had the same problem, i found that i was getting extremely sore legs and had to frequently sit up slightly or shift my weight. I think the only cure is time and practice, mayby try sitting in seiza for 5 min everynight....also i no this is kinda hard but when you sit in seiza be as relaxed as possible, you need to get your muscles used to it and relaxing them makes it easier. ;)
I know now i can sit in seiza for a long time and only feel little discomfort but its hard to stand up after it though, your legs feel like jelly :D
I think my biggest problem is my ankles now, if any one has advise or remidies for sore ankles when sitting or going into seiza please let me know....mayby all they need is time to but who knows!!!
i hope my advice helps a bit!!!

ayla f
New Zealand :cool:

08-20-2004, 02:42 AM
If you are finding it hard to get up after seiza because your feet/etc. are asleep - it is always a good idea to not go ahead and try and stand up out of instinct right away. That has caused many a twisted ankle or worse. When your feet go to sleep you might find it very helpful to get up on one knee (say your left knee) and then rub the bottom of your right foot on the mat by sliding it back and forth over the surface of the mat. When you feel the blood return to that foot from the circulation you are promoting with the friction you are causing, go ahead and stand up and do the same process with the left foot.

If you are not allowed such time, like when you are a member of the uke pool during a test, and you are plauged by your feet going to sleep, you might find it a good idea to switch seating postures (back and forth between cross-legged and seiza) often.


Thomas Ambrose
08-23-2004, 02:18 AM
Thanks for the continued input!

I definitely realize that this process will take time. Currently, seiza only poses a problem at the very beginning of class, and the hardest part is getting into it the first time on a given day. My bowing-in is probably far less than graceful! Sometimes it gets a bit painful at the very end of class, when we are all lined up, just before we bow to our partners. I continue to try to stretch out as able. When I asked my instructor he told me not to worry about it too much yet, and wait to see if it is still causing problems after a few more months.

I am considering another possibility. Just this last week, my legs/knees have been a bit sore/stiff outside of the dojo as well. I also read the following article http://www.aikiweb.com/training/goldfield1.html I realized that in the month and a half I have been taking classes, I have accumulated 31 total hours training. In any given week, I would spend around 6 or 7 hours training at the dojo spread out over 3 or 4 days. I typically attend 1 hour at the basics level, 1 hour on basic weapons, and the rest at the general or mixed levels. I am beginning to think that I might be pushing myself too hard, and not giving my muscles enough time to recover. In other words, I wonder if I might be tearing my muscles up more than I should.

In your experience, what is the optimal amount of practice one should attend in a week? Should I look at it by the hours spent in the dojo during a given week, or by the number of days I go to classes? For last week, I took a few days off, and skipped the Zazen meditation that I normally attend. I am considering cutting back to a slightly less intense schedule, and come September, I will have scheduling difficulties that will force me to attend fewer classes anyway.

Anyway, I will ask my instructor the same question tomorrow, but any advice or experiences you can share would also be greatly valued! Thanks so much!

Thomas Ambrose
08-23-2004, 02:37 AM
... get yourself a zafu and use that as your main seating furniture at home. Spend your leisure time (e.g. video game viewing, tv watching, etc.) and/or your study or work time, etc. sitting in seiza on the zafu as much as you can...

I have actually considered purchasing a zafu and zabuton anyway, since I have been doing some Zazen meditation at my dojo.

Being a college-age student, I do spend a "generous" amount of time playing video games or watching the tv. Lately, I have been trying seiza around the apartment using two pillows. One beneath my legs on the ground, and the other folded in half and then placed over my lower legs and then under my upper legs/butt.

Since I knowing practically nothing about buying zafus and zabutons, are they all basically the same quality-wise, or would you recommend any particular dealer or manufacturer?

I find several sets on ebay for $50-$75, but I don't know enough about zafus and zabutons to make a safe judgement there.

Thank you for the advice!

08-23-2004, 11:32 AM

Of course there are many types of cushions and mats, but I think the traditional ones (round zafu/kapok-stuffed) are the most versatile and best suited for long practice. I always direct my own students to purchase their sets from Chopa. They have a very nice zafu/zabuton set for a very reasonable price - go here to see it:


We require the set to be black in color (the traditional color), so you might want to check with your dojo before you show up with any other color - if that stuff matters where you train.

Hope that helps,

08-23-2004, 04:26 PM
Thanks for the continued input!

I am beginning to think that I might be pushing myself too hard, and not giving my muscles enough time to recover. In other words, I wonder if I might be tearing my muscles up more than I should.
In your experience, what is the optimal amount of practice one should attend in a week?

Hi Thomas
It is really hard to know limits on how many days you should be doing Aikido, escpecially to start off with. I absolutely luv aikido and would go to as many classes as possible but i have different limits to you. With Aikido when you first start out its good to get an idea of your limits first thing, so if your walking around with slightly sore muscles its a good thing but dont push it past there! if your walking around with extremly sore muscles then take a weeks break or something!!! ;)
Like i said before it is hard to know your limits but its even harder to know someone elses whom you havnt met before!!! :D
I think only you can decide what your limits are. But mayby because you have only just started mayby only go 2-3 times a week, and then build it up from there. I no when i started i only did 1 class a week and then 2 and now 3 (we only have 4 classes a week) I also think its a good ides to talk to your sensei as well.
Hope all this helps! :D


dan guthrie
08-24-2004, 08:52 AM
Could your pants be binding around your upper calf? That would cause a tourniquet and restrict blood flow. Just a thought, tug on the cloth near your knees as you sit.

Thomas Ambrose
08-25-2004, 03:56 AM
Once again, thanks to everyone for the advice! Seiza is still "not exactly comfortable" but I doubt the fix will come overnight! ;-) On the other hand, tonight I noticed that my flexiblity in the stretches we do at the beginning of each class surprised me. I am able to do them much better now, particularly the ones that affect the various leg muscles. So I will say that I am comfortable with my current progress. As far as seiza is concerned, I will keep working on it, and consider all of your kind advice! Thank you so much!

David Valadez, I am looking into a zafu and zabuton now. At my dojo, the dojo-owned zafus are all black, and the zabutons are mostly black, with a couple of purple or red ones as well.

Ayla Falloon, I think I agree. I used to swim competitively in High School (long ago :-)) so I think I can tell the difference and use my judgement between "good sore" and "bad pain." Anyways, I spoke with my Sensei, and decided that I will continue at my current rate, taking a day off as needed. On the other hand, it really might not matter too much, because on September 1, my next term at school starts, and that interferes with the training, so I will be cut back to fewer classes during the week. Thanks though, I think I am beginning to understand my current limits, or getting closer!

Dan Guthrie, I don't think it is the pants being too tight when I get into seiza. If anything, my pants could still stand to shrink a bit more. Regardless, I tried pulling at them around the knees this evening, and it didn't change anything. Thank you for the idea though!