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Old 12-11-2003, 07:19 PM   #1
rachmass
Dojo: Aikido of Cincinnati/Huron Valley Aikikai
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stiffness, suggestions to cure it?

Hi all,

What methods have you all used to help someone overcome stiffness. This is overwhelming stiffness that the party is well aware of and has been working diligently at eliminating.

Bring it on!
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Old 12-11-2003, 08:28 PM   #2
aikidoc
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Is this joint stiffness or is this muscle stiffness?
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Old 12-11-2003, 09:08 PM   #3
rachmass
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Hi John, I think it is muscle stiffness. My student also grits his teeth when he's executing (or being uke) a technique. Fear or nerves makes it worse. He's also in his late 40's, so that contributes to the problem as well. So far we have tried:

1) concentrating on relaxing shoulders and pushing from center

2) pushing from the abdomen (like a BM even!)

3) no grabbing, just a connection through the palm and little fingers

4) extension; pushing against the wall to get the feeling of extension

5) constant reminders to "soften"

6) constant reminders to stop gritting teeth

7) keeping your butt underneath you as uke

He is trying really hard to do this! I think it is a combination of being a bit older, as well as having a stiff body naturally.
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Old 12-12-2003, 02:00 AM   #4
Bronson
 
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Something I've seen work is to get him to focus on keeping his face relaxed. Let the body do what it will, forget the body, we don't care what it does, his focus is only on his face. I've seen this work a few times. Apparently it's difficult for some people to have a stiff body with a relaxed face.

Have him smile or chuckle throughout the technique.

Have him hum a favorite song or catchy tune. Focusing on keeping the timing of the tune while he's doing whatever technique or exercise.

All things I've seen work.

Good luck,

Bronson

"A pacifist is not really a pacifist if he is unable to make a choice between violence and non-violence. A true pacifist is able to kill or maim in the blink of an eye, but at the moment of impending destruction of the enemy he chooses non-violence."
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Old 12-12-2003, 03:45 AM   #5
JJF
 
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If all other sugestions fails - perhaps a short break would do the trick. I often feel that I'm much more relaxed during practice if I've missed a week or two. Probably because I enjoy being back so much that I forget to worry about what dosen't work.

Not a fix-all solution though

- Jørgen Jakob Friis

Inspiration - Aspiration - Perspiration
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Old 12-12-2003, 06:59 AM   #6
Ted Marr
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Meditation. And lots of stretching. Possibly some yoga.
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Old 12-12-2003, 07:08 AM   #7
rachmass
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Hi all, thanks for your answers so far. Interesting one Bronson; I've asked him to stop gritting his teeth and pointed out when he was getting tense in the face, but haven't tried your suggestion. We'll try it soon.

Yoga is good, however I can't ask my students to take another expense. We do a lot of spinal stretches in class (twists from side to side) because I have back problems and find this seems to help tremendously. Being stiff through the back isn't helpful. Actually I think he's most stiff through the shoulders and arms, but his back as well.

Any specific stretches you are thinking of? Hamstrings?
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Old 12-12-2003, 07:48 AM   #8
Ted Marr
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Hrm... hadn't given a lot of thought as to what stretches to use... I usually just get to class a bit early and stretch whatever feels tight. One thing that I don't think most aikido people do is a bit of aerobic activity before stretching. I heard somewhere that if you stretch cold, you're more likely to injure yourself, and the stretch doesn't lead to long term flexibilty. You're apparently supposed to do about 5 minutes of aerobic exercise (enough to get your heart rate up), and then stretch afterwards. I don't know about the long term effects, but I do know that a bit of time on the stairmaster makes me loose that hard unyielding feeling in the muscles when I stretch.
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Old 12-12-2003, 08:37 AM   #9
Eric Joyce
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Rachel,

I would advise some basic streching exercises in addition to the ones that are done prior to class. There is a website call www.humankinetics.com that has several books on stretching. I do a lot of personal training and I have found that the stretching exercises in aikido don't do the body enough justice (for some people...not all). Also I would recommend that this individual go to a massage therapist once every 2 weeks and get a nice, deep, sports massage to help him relax. If cost is an issue, then I would just recommend buying the book and doing the stretches on ones own time. All you need is about 10-15 minutes a day really. Just food for thought.

Eric Joyce
Otake Han Doshin Ryu Jujutsu
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Old 12-12-2003, 10:14 AM   #10
Cliff Geysels
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Just rest baby, it's the only thing that really works for sore muscles.
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Old 12-12-2003, 10:16 AM   #11
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I'm 45, so I know a little about muscles that age. I find that heat/activity/use all help with stiffness; often I'm at my least-stiff (flexible) at the end of a class; all that movement and being pinned is good stretching for me. The "warm-ups" of a class realy don't help me much.

If I really need to be flexible for a class, I would start about 8 hours before, with some meditation/chant/prayer, then good breathing throughout the day, then a light meal about 3 hours before class, a nice walk for digestion and relaxation, perhaps a good soak in a hot tub, some yoga, then walk to the dojo (assuming you are in a nice warm location). I would avoid some of my tension-inducers like driving a car or watching a television (or even surfing the Web!).

But for serious stiffness right in the middle of a class, well, I think that is probably a little late. Best hope for me would be to avoid injuries or cramping--just go easy. In the middle of a class is not really, in my opinion, a good time to work on stiffness issues, just work with them.

Peace.
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Old 12-12-2003, 10:37 AM   #12
akiy
 
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Hi Rachel,

Quick question. How much of your student's inflexibility do you think can be attributed to purely physical stiffness, and how much due to "self-inflicted" tension? Whenever I see someone gritting their teeth while training, I get the feeling it's more tension than stiffness...

One thing I often work on during ukemi class is to have people work at a slower-than-usual rate. This may include just really slow rolling practice (ie doing a forward roll or a backward roll as slow as possible) but also includes "regular" paired techniques, too. To me, this type of practice (without speed nor emphasis on the "need" to throw/fall) really allows my body to work in a state where I can remain relaxed. It also gives my body/mind a reference point from which I can work -- in other words, I get to feel, consciously and subconsciously, what it feels like to move without tension.

I, too, like Bronson's thoughts. A related idea I've had passed onto me is that having a relaxed jaw tends to also relax the neck, shoulders, and upper body.

Lastly, does your student have any background in other activities such as playing a wind instrument or acting? Often, when I relate the bodyset and mindset of when one is playing a wind instrument or projecting across a theater sometimes helps people, too.

Just my thoughts,

-- Jun

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Old 12-12-2003, 10:40 AM   #13
rachmass
Dojo: Aikido of Cincinnati/Huron Valley Aikikai
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Thanks Jun, and thanks Frank (and everyone else). I have forwarded this link to my student and asked him to check it out. He might be able to chime in (or not) with what he is feeling directly in terms of stiffness and/or tension.

Please keep the ideas coming!
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Old 12-12-2003, 10:48 AM   #14
fvhale
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Dear Rachel,

Your wrote: "5) constant reminders to 'soften'; 6) constant reminders to stop gritting teeth"

We're all different, but for me, this would probably make me very stiff, tense and I'd grit my teeth! Sometimes too much attention to tension causes tension! Perhaps if you ignore the student's tension and stiffness, the student will relax and do better, even if the student asks for you attention to his tension. There may be all sorts of factors here beside the merely physical which would cause attention to the tension/stiffness to actually be counterproductive.

Peace.
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Old 12-12-2003, 11:09 AM   #15
rachmass
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Interesting assessment Frank; you might be onto something with that thought....
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Old 12-12-2003, 12:03 PM   #16
Janet Rosen
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I agree with Jun that the issues are not "muscle tightness" that stretching will fix, but anxiety and emotional/mental tension.

Rather than pointing out "don't"s like "stop gritting teeth", I think positives and distractions are good.

Distractions, as somebody suggested, like cracking a joke, or suggesting that he hums or something (it seems silly, but its a somatic activity that can simply replace the gritting and frowning).

One of my instructors will sometimes say "that looked good, now how about trying it again and this time look like you are enjoying it?"....

Janet Rosen
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"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 12-12-2003, 12:23 PM   #17
aikidoc
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Hi Rachael. If it is muscle stiffness you might have him take a hot shower right before class. If it is mental, self hypnosis progressive relaxation might help. You might also have him practice feeling (can't feel and tighten simultaneously) the technique. Sounds like this is somewhat on the ukemi side. If so, he might be afraid of taking falls and need to work on getting more competent.
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Old 12-12-2003, 12:57 PM   #18
BC
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I have also been told a number of times that one should stretch after class rather than before, because the body is warmed up. That said, some people are just stiff, and it can take some time before they become more limber.

Also, proper breathing during practice can serve to relax some people. I find that if I'm tense, I'm also not breathing in a natural and relaxed manner. If you teach him to breath in through his nose, and out through his mouth, he might stop grinding his teeth also.

Robert Cronin
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Old 12-12-2003, 04:00 PM   #19
Patrick O'Reilly
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Stiffness

I'm chiming in. I'm the one in Rachel's class that is so stiff. She has tried just about every thing to get me to not be so stiff. So far the best thing I think that has worked is last weekend when I was getting ready to do a kye test pretest she told me to be soft in my technique. Some how that's the only thing that's clicked so far. I could imagine "soft", I haven't been able to imagine "not stiff" yet.

I have read some interesting things on this thread and I thank Rachel and every one for all their help. I don't play a wind instument but I got an electric keyboard a couple of weeks ago and am learning that. It might help. And yes I do have a bit of stage expience in community theater so I will have to use that(I already am actually, it's how I'm preparing for my 5th kye test tomorrow, no tension there, so I can block out every thing except my uke and my techniques).

So I guess a bit of my history is in store for every one looking at this thread. I am 45 years old. I don't think it's as much tesion as it is physical problems. I was a welder for about 20 years and it took it's toll on my back and neck. I had to wear a welding sheild, hard hat and other equipment all day long for all those years. The last nine years welding I spent in a shipyard and had to be a contortionist a lot of the time just to get to the work area. I sat in "seiza" hour after hour welding (I have worn out the toes of many pairs of work boots doing this). With all the extra weight on my upper body for all those years it has caused me chronic neck and back pain. Rarely is there a day I don't hurt from it. My upper body, from the upper chest up, is so tight and sore it can't relax.

Not only do I grit my teath but my lower jaw is constantly tight, partly I think to try to offset the pain in my neck, you know, "bite the bullet to help releave the pain". It's the muscles in my neck/shoulders that hurt. They hurt so bad it gives me headaches. For instance I am going to hurt tomorrow just from typing this reply, that's how sensitive my neck muscles are.

I didn't realize until I started Aikido how stiff I have become. I can't really feel it myself, I I've been sore stiff and sore for so long it seems normal. I don't think it's going to go away in a day or a week. I have done some of the things mentioned on this thread. I use a heat pad, hot showers before class and some of my own stretches for my neck muscles before class. The one that I find helps the best is to tilt my head to the side and down on an angle. This really stretches my neck muscles and the muscles behind my shoulder blades all the way down my back. Some times I find that the area between my thumb and forefinger is sore and messaging that helps, I've heard it helps get rid of a headache.

My question is has any one out there used acupuncture for any thing like this? I have seriously considered it and been meaning to ask Rachel if she knows of any one. I have done some physical thearapy and had a message once every two weeks for seven years when I worked in the shipyard. One stretch I got from physical thearopy that I still use when I remember is to stand in an open door way, my feet about 12-18" back, my hands on the door frame at shoulder height then lean into the door way. This stretches the muscles in my chest. My shoulders are some what rounded, probably from being so tight.

So if there are any physical thearopy types out there that have any suggestions for good upper body stretches I would be interested in hearing them.
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Old 12-12-2003, 04:08 PM   #20
Dan Rubin
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I agree with Robert. Our senior student has been telling me for years that I'm stiff because I hold my breath during ukemi. A month ago I finally started concentrating on breathing in and out as I attack, and breathing out as I hit the mat. (I've also discovered that I have been holding my breath while nage.) The improvement in my ukemi was almost immediate, and my ukemi has steadily improved since then.

Dan Rubin
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Old 12-12-2003, 04:08 PM   #21
rachmass
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Hey Patrick,

Thanks for chiming in here! I hadn't realized you were having neck pain; should have thought of that! Glad that the positive "softening" comments have helped somewhat, and I did notice (and commented to you about it) that earlier this week you were feeling a bit softer. Cool! Lets keep working on that one. In the meantime, anyone who has PT experience, please speak up and make suggestions that could help.

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Old 12-12-2003, 04:39 PM   #22
Patrick O'Reilly
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Thanks Rachel.

Speaking of "softening" again, last night when we did our first technique, Shomen-uche Irimi-nage, I focused on being soft and flued and was so surprised at how strong and smooth my technique felt that I wondered if it was actually me doing it. There was no stain or fuss. It felt like how I've seen others do it. I think we're at a turning point with my stiffness problem. Cooooooooooooool.
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Old 12-12-2003, 05:12 PM   #23
Janet Rosen
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Hi, Patrick. Several of us over on aikido-l have found that for really chronic tension and pain there are trigger points that have been activated over time that stretching and massage certainly do ease short term but do nothing to improve/resolve on any long term basis. A couple of folks there are practitioners of myofascial release or myofascial trigger point therapy have had excellent results working with us at seminars. You may want to check local yellow pages, alternative papers, or websites for a referall.

best of luck.

Janet Rosen
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Old 12-12-2003, 07:18 PM   #24
rachmass
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Quote:
Shomen-uchi Irimi-nage, I focused on being soft and fluid and was so surprised at how strong and smooth my technique felt that I wondered if it was actually me doing it. There was no strain or fuss.
yup, why do you think I left you alone

It is amazing how powerful and effortless aikido is when you don't fight it.

Thanks for writing in Janet, I think you might have hit on something as well myofascial release thing. It is amazing how much tension we can store in our faces, jaws and necks. Are any of the Aikido-L folks in the Southeast Michigan area?
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Old 12-13-2003, 03:43 AM   #25
indomaresa
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some things that may help

1. gradually increasing continuous movement of stiff muscles, exercise this once a day for an hour ( first test the limits of your stiffness, and then expand your movement area slowly )

2. find an expert massage

3. find an expert reflexologist

4. spa ( solus per aqua )

if all else fails.. eat more jelly

The road is long...
The path is steep...
So hire a guide to show you the shortcuts
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