When you think of Ninjutsu, Yoga may not be the first term that pops in to your head. Martial arts, as we know them in the Western world, were born out of yoga, which was born out of meditation. Although martial disciplines have diversified drastically since the time of Price Bodhidharma, they all share a common core of yoga exercises created to help monks to strengthen their bodies, permitting them to sit in meditative positions for longer periods of time. Similarly, Junan Taiso (body conditioning exercises) or Junbi Undo (warmup exercises or to do something), are a collection of yoga exercises to make the body stronger and more flexible while practicing Ninjutsu.
Ninjutsu and Yoga
While the popularity and application of yoga over the past twenty years has skyrocketed, the ancient principles of breath control while bending and twisting the body into seemingly unnatural positions remain the same. The flexibility and mental toughness gained while doing yoga prove invaluable for practitioners of Ninjutsu. The core values of breathing, flexibility, balance, strength and relaxation are embedded in both Yoga and Ninjutsu.
Through the practice of Yoga, one learns to master their breath as they hold yoga asanas (yoga postures) that send a conscious message of relaxation in the midst of tension and stress. As a result, the practitioner of yoga develops a calm reaction to stressful situations. Ninjutsu practitioners also learn to master fudoshin (immovable heart) as they move in and out of kamae (mental, physical and spiritual stance) in a relaxed and clear state of mind. When the mind is relaxed, reactions times are quicker and more efficient.
Junan Taiso is a form of yoga used in Ninjustu to develop flexibility and coordination of the whole body and individual body parts. It utilizes dynamic flexibility principles that can be performed before and after training sessions for warming and calming the body. These exercises speed recovery time and overall agility by strengthening core muscles.
The following examples serve to illustrate the correlation between the Junan Taiso of Ninjutsu and Yoga. These exercises should be combined with a consistent training regiment of dojo practice with your instructor of choice, weight training, cardio and a balanced diet for your body’s needs. By no means are the following poses an absolute record of Junan Taiso, readers would benefit from more extensive research and practice.
Junan Taiso Name: Tea Ashi No Furi Manashi (Waking Up the Shoulders and Hips)
Yoga Name: Trikonasana or Triangle Pose
- Revitalizes nerves, tissues, and veins while forcing the heart and lungs to work together
- Strengthens and flexes the last five vertebrae alleviating crooked spines, lower back pain and rheumatism
Begin with circular movements of both arms in front direction and back direction to prepare the shoulders. With feet slightly wider than shoulders distance apart, extend the arms out to the side. Point the right foot in a westward direction as you reach the right arm straight to the right and kick the left hip out to the left keeping the arms and legs straight. At full extension to the right, slowly bend at the waist until the right hand touches the floor, feet or shin. Breathe and repeat on the other side.
Junan Taiso Name: Hiza Koshi No Kushin (Waking up the spine and feet)
Yoga Name: Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation
- Improves posture and overall flexibility
- Regulates blood flow and improves the efficiency of the digestive system
- Reduces anxiety and restlessness, insomnia and enhances strength and vitality
Bending at the waist, touch the toes with the palms, the knees are straight. Rise up, take a wider stand and bend the upper body to backward with straight arms.
Cup the knees and execute circular movements. With the ankles linked, bring light pressure upon the knees straitening the legs.
Spread the feet wide and bring the body weight over the right leg while the left leg is straight and out to the side. Breathe and repeat on the other side.
Chin to the Knee
Junan Taiso Name: Ashi Yubi, Ashi Kubi No Taiso (Feet Massage)
Yoga Name: Janushirasana (the chin to the knee)
- Increases circulation to the thymus, intestines, thyroid, pancreas and liver and excellent for immune and lymphatic systems
- Relieves chronic diarrhea by improving circulation to the bowels
- Great for digestion, allergies and arthritis
While seated with crossed legs, grab the toes of the top foot and with circular movements massage them softly. Repeat also with the toes of the other leg.
With the right leg extended, bend the left leg and place it above the thigh of the extended leg. Once again execute circular movements, this time grab the first three toes and begin to make circular motions moving the entire foot. Be sure to apply in both directions on both legs. As you move the feet slowly you can feel the connections between the foot and calf. Once complete, gently press the soles of the feet feeling carefully for any pains, which if found should be massaged out lightly and carefully.
From a seated position with both legs extended, bend at the waist, touching the toes of the extended legs while trying to touch the knee with the chin. If flexibility is an issue, start at by trying to touch the toes, then over the toes, then move down the sides of the feet to the heels, eventually being able to touch hands behind the heels or even grabbing the wrist. Also bend the toes forward and backward, so as maintain the flexibility of the foot. You can attempt to bend the body sideways while holding the toes while trying to look to the ceiling if possible.
Bow Plow Camel and Cobra
Junan Taiso Name: Ashi Narabe Zenkutsu (Straining of the Vertebral Column and Leg Tendons)
Yoga Name: Dhanurasana (Bow) Halasana (Plow) Karnapidasana (knees next to the ears), Ushtrasana (Camel), Bhujangasana (Cobra)
- Aligns the spine while opening the shoulders, improves posture
- Strengthens ankles, thighs, groin, chest, and abdominal organs
- Stimulates throat, lings, thyroid and parathyroid
- Stretches spinal nerves relieving back pain
- Increases efficiency of female reproductive system and balances hormones
While lying face down bend legs backward and catch the ankles with the hands. The only thing touching the floor is the abdomen and pelvic area. Moving the hands closer to the knees increases flexibility. Bow pose.
While lying face up, lift the legs and slowly roll them over and behind the head above the vertebral column until the toes of our extended legs touch the floor. Flexibility will increase with time. Attempt to bend the knees and put them next to the ears when ready. Carefully roll to the front to the starting position, supporting the back with the hands, then execute the exercise again. Plow pose.
From a kneeling position, slowly begin to arc the back as you reach for the heels of your feet with both hands. Push the abdomen forward while keeping thighs vertical while releasing the head and spine backward. The point here is to arc away from the floor. Camel pose.
While lying face down with the palms face down near your armpits, slowly raise the upper body with the eyes looking up. The pelvis and front of thighs remain on the floor. Cobra pose.
Four Limbed Staff Pose
Junan Taiso Name: JOGE NI OSU (Japanese Pushups)
Yoga Name: Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)
- Improves strength and flexibility in the wrists, arms, shoulders, and back
- Lengthens and tones core muscles
The Japanese movements are not executed only as an “up and down” movement, but contain a simultaneous front and back movement. From a pushup or plank position, dive in and forward with the head, barely scraping the floor with the chest while pushing forward, up and back, returning to the original pushup or plank position. If the body was viewed from the side it would be moving in a clockwise elliptical motion. Chaturanga pose.
Junan Taiso Name: Ashi Soko Awase Zenkutsu (Straining of the Hip Joints)
Yoga Name: Baddha Konasana (Butterfly Pose)
- Strengthens and improves flexibility in the groin, inner thighs, and knees
- Helps prepare hips and groin for meditation postures
- Opens lower back and relieves sciatica
- Improves health of ovaries, prostate gland, gall bladder and kidneys
In a seated position, gather the legs together in front with the soles of the feet touching. Holding them with the hands, try touching the chin to the toes. Let the knees flutter up and down. They should, if possible, reach to the floor. Bend the upper body to the front and try to touch the toes with the chin. Then swing like a seesaw, right and left, where the head is moved at the same time with the knees (like a boat). Repeat the swing, this time however the head is moved on the contrary trying to reach the high knee (like a lizard). Butterfly pose.
From the initial seated position with feet touching, roll to a side and use body weight to lift again in a circular movement from the other side. Like a child’s toy weighted in the bottom center causing it to pop up when pulled to the left or right.
Cow Face and Lion Pose
Junan Taiso Name: Shushi Kata Manashi (Straining of the Shoulders and Arms)
Yoga Name: Gomukhasana (Cow Face), Simhasana (Lion)
- Stretches, shoulders, anterior deltoids, triceps, ankles, thighs, hips, lats and inner armpits
- Opens chest and heart and clears and focuses the mind
- Improves posture and circulation to the face
- Aids in digestion
- Stimulates the platysma (front muscles of the neck) and nerves in the eyes
Sit in Seiza No Kamae. Execute omote gyaku, ura gyaku, take ori on the hands to loosen the wrists. Rotate the shoulders in circular movements and to the front and back. Relax the head and turn it to the right, left, and in complete circles. Move the eyes to the 4 directions and in circles.
Sit in Seiza No Kamae. Reach the right hand up and behind the body trying to catch the opposite hand behind the back. Use a towel if flexibility is an issue. Cow Face pose.
Sit in Seiza No Kamae. Open the mouth wide and exhale hard trying to stretch the tongue and the eyes as far as possible while extending the fingers. Lion pose.
Lying Diamond and Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Junan Taiso Name: Kokutsu (Straining of the Thighs)
Yoga Name: Supta Vajrasana (Lying Diamond or Reclined Thunderbolt), Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Seat)
- Stretches thigh, abdomen and thoracic muscles
- Strengthens sacral region bringing flexibility to the back; those suffering from sacral pain should avoid this one.
- Increases spine and hip flexibility
- Cleanses internal organs and releases excess heat and toxins from organs and tissue
Sit in Seiza No Kamae and spread the knees and feet. Slowly lean back first catching the heels of the feet gradually lying all the way back. If flexibility is an issue, push the pelvis forward. The back has a tendency to bow in the early stages, resist this by pushing forward on the pelvis as this straightens the back allowing the body to sink further. Slowly lift up the body and return to the starting position. Repeat the Lying Diamond pose.
From a seated position, place the right leg in front of the body as is sitting in a cross-legged position. Place the left leg over the right with the left heel high up on the front of the right thigh facing the floor. Turn the head as much as possible to the left while using the left palm close to the base of the spine for support. Place the right elbow on the outer part of the left thigh and pull the torso further to the left. Repeat on the other side. This exercise strains the vertebral column, therefore this is important to keep the back straight. Half Lord of the Fishes Pose.
Wheel, Peacock and Candle Pose
Junan Taiso Name: Kata Tatsu (Wheel, Peacock and Candleandle)
Yoga Name: Chakrasana (Wheel), Mayurasana (Peacock), Ardha Sarvangasana (Candle)
- Strengthens hands, wrists, shoulders, ankles, feet, kidneys, stomach, pancreas and liver
- Increases spinal chord elasticity and blood vessel circulation
- Detoxification of liver and decreases acidity in the blood especially in the morning
- Stimulates psychological function and enhances concentration
- Stops hair loss and early graying
- Helps insomnia
While lying on the floor face up, place the hands on the floor palms down near the head, with the fingers facing the feet. Begin the engage the feet to help push the body off the floor while arching the back. For added resistance raise one leg then alternate. Wheel pose.
Sustain the whole body with two hands while forearms are vertical. Palms should be facing down with fingers pointing to the toes. Place the elbow closer to your center of gravity to equilibrate. This is hard! Peacock pose.
This position is like Plow but the legs don’t fall over your head but remain pointed straight in the air in a north-south direction. With just the back of the head and shoulders on the floor, the hands remain stuck to the back. Gently roll out when finished. Candle pose.
Enhancing Junan Taiso
All Junan Taiso and Yoga exercises should be performed with a relaxed body and emphasis on proper breathing to be fully effective. When the movements are done without emphasis on breathing and relaxation they only serve the purpose of physical conditioning. Benefiting from the mental and spiritual aspects requires strict attention to breath. Just as Yoga was created to help monks meditate longer and more deeply, Junan Taiso helps practitioners of Ninjutsu to develop stronger, more flexible bodies, minds, and spirits to practice Ninjustu with longevity and depth.
The need for stronger bodies during meditation gave birth to Yoga and that same need gave birth to Junan Taiso in Ninjustu. While most martial artist don’t consider the integration of Yoga into their training routine, the benefits of increased health, strength, flexibility, and agility should give a new found respect for this ancient and timeless method of body, mind and spirit conditioning.
UPDATED SEPTEMBER 20, 2014