Using your joints and moving them in every possible direction is crucial for keeping them healthy and mobile. The human body is made for movement, changing positions and being agile. We are not supposed to be in static positions doing only one thing for extended periods of time. This is a new thing for our bodies and many of us have experienced pain in our back, knee joints, shoulders and neck, even from a young age. I don’t consider joint pain normal. (Unless you’ve had an injury, of course.)
Think about all the things you could do as a child, without thinking about it. Kneeling for hours, squatting down and playing. Running, jumping, climbing trees, hanging from ropes. As kids we would naturally use our bodies. This movement knowledge is not forever lost to us, but it’s going to take careful training to get back what we have lost.
Our muscles, bones, joints, connective tissue, blood vessels, nerves and even our brain crave movement for optimal function.
Our modern lifestyle doesn’t offer much of natural movement. Most of us will get our daily movement when walking to a car or a bus or a train. The rest of our time is spent sitting, in one way or another. Research is showing that sitting (not moving) is as bad for your health as smoking!
Playing shamisen is both static and moving. Your wrist is locked in a full flexed (bent) position while your thumb and pinkie are going for the maximum reach. The elbow is pretty still and you’re trying to get your bachi to move from the shoulder, so you can be loud and strong when needed. You’re also pinning the dou to your body and working hard with the other hand to reach the right positions on the sao, to get those extraordinary, clear notes.
Most of the time we play shamisen sitting in a chair (some of you might prefer seiza on the floor). To become a good shamisen player you need both flexibility and strength. You need to be flexible enough to allow for good posture and to be able to hold the bachi correctly and you need strength in those end ranges of motion to keep your joints safe and happy.
Getting movement and a little strength training will also increase your creativity, so you might come up with some sweet licks after doing these exercises. Other training, like running, going to the gym or doing a yoga class will have similar effects.
The exercises in this video and the one i posted before as a thread in the forum () all can be used for general strengthening and increasing flexibility of the upper body and also your core. When you start feeling stronger you can do them from a full plank pose instead of on all four. Believe me, it is possible!
You can use these exercises as a warm up before doing heavier weight lifting, a mini work out at the office (especially if you are on a computer all day long), or as a rehab practice if you have wrist, elbow or shoulder issues.
Remember to always listen to your body and only go as far as feels okay for the day. It is very important that all exercises are done with precision and care. You want to use the muscles around your joints all the way through this workout. That will give strength in the flexibility. Start out slow and light and then increase the weight on the arms and speed as you feel more comfortable.
Pain is okay, but it should be of the muscle ache kind, not a stabbing, pinching or radiating pain. A little numbness in the fingers is okay while doing these exercises, but it should go away as soon as you come out of a position.
Let me know how you liked this article and if it is helpful for you.
I was thinking the next step would be to give you some tips and tricks on how to work up a good seiza that you feel comfortable sitting in for a longer while (so you can impress your Japanese friends when you play a gig). Let me know if you would be interested!