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Saturday, June 13, 2009
Morning exercises going to the birds
By AMY CHAVEZ
Have you ever wondered why Japanese people live so long? What is it that makes them keep on keepin' on? Some people think it's the healthy Japanese diet, but I know differently. I've lived among the old people on this island long enough to know their secret. The secret to longevity is rajio taiso.
Some people translate rajio taiso as "morning exercises" but really it would be more accurate to call it morning stretches. Rajio taiso has been broadcast over NHK radio since 1928. So any morning at 6:30 if you tune your radio to NHK, you'll hear a male voice belting out the rajio taiso instructions. You can be sure that people all over Japan will be gathered around their radios doing just as the man says.
Rajio taiso increases longevity not because it stretches your muscles but because it stretches out your life.
You see, rajio taiso is always done in the morning. NHK has its radio broadcast at 6:30 a.m., company employees may do it just before work starts at 8 or 9 o'clock and schools may do it before the start of a sports festival. There is a good re ason for this timing.
While you're sleeping, your body shrinks. This shrinkage is what may cause you to feel stiff in the mornings. If you're prone to sleeping in the fetal position, it's even worse because your body is actively trying to scrunch up back to its roots. Those bent-over old ladies you see walking around in Japan have obviously not been doing rajio taiso. They are dangerously close to going back to where they came from.
I've always been an early riser. Rise, however, didn't always mean get up. I would sit up in bed, drink my coffee and look out at the sea. After the caffeine kicked in, I'd get up. And that was only because the coffee I drank was so strong, it induced movement.
But lately I've been getting up in order to attend rajio taiso with the islanders and I can tell you that after a while, you get addicted. I need that rajio taiso fix every morning now. Next thing you know, I'll be wearing white gloves and a hat on 40 degree days.
Our rajio taiso session starts outside the B&G while the guy inside the portable radio leads us.
There is lots of reaching up to the sky on tippy toes, an attempt to reverse any of that overnight shrinking. Reach up, up, stretch out that life! This is followed by reaching down to the ground, to the ants, possibly even the termites, to lengthen your back.
When you're young, you stretch because it's something everyone does before sports. When you get older, you stretch because it feels good. You get back in touch with your joints and revisit the muscles that still hope for sporting activities rather than working ones. Those once supple muscles feel more like old rope now, and the knots need to be untied. Tug, tug, ahhhhhh!
I was surprised to find out that rajio taiso has two parts. Only the real fanatics do the second part, another several minutes with lots of "hallelujahs" where you toss your head back and throw your arms open as if you were giving God a big hug.
There's also a part where you flap your arms like a bird, then stretch to one side. Then you flap and stretch to the other side: Flap, flap, stretch, stretch, flap, flap, stretch, stretch. I can hear the birds laughing at us.
We may be an eyesore to nature but the birds won't be laughing for long. Have you ever wondered what happens to them when they get old?
Birds, like all animals, go through an aging process. Yet you don't see older birds with canes to prop up their wings, and you never see birds on the ground having just expired from old age. That's because most birds die from predators before they get a chance to age.
So the dumb birds may be laughing at us but the smart ones will be joining us . . . to stretch out their lives a bit longer. Flap, flap, stretch, stretch, flap, flap, stretch, stretch.