(Only English version available)
Find here all illustrations of the meridian exercises.
Below I’m giving quite some background information to help you with the exercises. If it is too much, don’t worry, you can just scroll down and choose the pieces that are of interest to you:-)
For doing the exercises it isn’t necessary to know all about Ki (energy) and the meridians (pathways of energy in the body). More important is learning to feel what is going on in your body. However, in case you are interested in these subjects, please just let me know.
Introduction to the meridian exercises
Shizuto Masunaga is the founder of Iokai Shiatsu (also known as Zen Shiatsu). Aside of practicing shiatsu, he was looking for an accessible way for people to treat themselves. He therefore created the meridian exercises, which are a really valuable addition to shiatsu. Personal participation (by doing the exercises) will bring you to a deeper understanding of your own body. This will help you to better listen to what the body wants and needs.
The exercises are designed to strengthen the Ki, the life force, within you. By stretching the meridians a free flow of Ki is stimulated. This will help you to achieve and maintain a state of balance, mentally and physically. Also you will achieve increased flexibility although that is not the primary aim.
The focus of the exercises is on relaxation and awareness; the exercises are non-strenuous. Releasing tension will improve the function of the internal organs and autonomic nervous system.
While learning the exercises it is important to pay attention to your breathing. When mastered the exercises the breathing should become smooth and natural accompanying the movements without conscious control. Also, try not to copy postures or movements in parts, but rather form an image of the entire movement (by visualization), which guides your body through the exercise. This will facilitate the flow of energy through the whole body and enhance the function of the meridians. Learn with the body, not the head!
The 6 basic exercises (there are many more) will only take you 10 minutes a day (or longer if you like). Try to practice them daily and at least for a month to experience what they can do for you. Learning to experience movement on a deeper level can be very enjoyable and satisfying in itself > joy is very important to keep doing the exercises;-).
How to practice the meridian exercises
Good to know before you start:
- It is important to do the exercises in the order given (this has to do with the function of the meridians)
- The exercises are most beneficial when practiced slowly, attentively and in a relaxed manner; take your time.
- It is not about copying the outward form. Don’t attempt to force a stretch; you will miss the point of the exercises. Every body is different. It is about your own experience.
- Holding the posture for a while has the beneficial effect of enhancing the function of the meridians. At least take 3 long deep breaths in each position as explained below.
- During the whole sequence of exercises keep paying attention to your breathing and sense how your body is responding to each exercise.
- Some soft, but solid underground is recommended for exercises 2-6, for example use your yoga mat, carpet, blanket, etc.
! The breathing should be slowly and quietly to aid a relaxed and smooth stretch. Exhale completely before you start inhaling. At every in-breath you imagine that your Hara (lower abdomen) is filling with Ki. At the end of an in-breath, pause and imagine that Ki expands outwards from the center point of your Hara to your arms and legs. Then start exhaling and feel your body relax while remaining in the fully stretched position. Allow the stretch to happen a little bit at a time with every exhalation.
The point of the exercises is not to force a stretch. It is not about stretching the muscles, but learning to feel the energy flowing through the whole body: learn to release Ki with every exhalation and in this way resolve tension.
Each exercise is named after the meridian pair that will be stretched.
Exercise 1. Lung and Large Intestine meridians
Stand with your feet apart somewhat more than shoulder width. The toes are directed a bit outwards. Try to feel that you remain standing solidly on both your feet during the whole exercise. Interlock your thumbs behind your back and spread your fingers outwards. During an outbreath you bend forward while keeping your arms straight. Stretch your arms over yourself as far as they will go. Don’t use force; rather imagine that someone is pulling your arms. Then start quietly to inhale. Where do you feel tension or stiffness? When exhaling feel your body relax.
Remain in this position for 3 long deep breaths. Stand up again, change the interlock of your thumbs and repeat the same movement.
Exercise 2. Spleen and Stomach meridians
Sit down between your heels with your buttocks on the floor (or on a little cushion if this isn’t possible). While exhaling, lean slowly backwards. Try to keep your knees as close as possible together without forcing. Don’t worry if they move a little bit apart from each other. Also, it might be that your knees will lift a little bit of the floor. That is okay too. It is important, that you don’t feel your lower back!
If it isn’t possible for you to lean all the way back, there are in between options (see above photos). In case you reach the floor stretch your arms above your head and reach. You can interlace your fingers to see whether that will enhance your stretch. If you do so, also change the interlock of your fingers after some breaths.
Breathing – When you are ‘settled’ in your position, inhale and stretch your whole body so that it extends and straightens. During the exhalation relax your body while remaining in the fully stretched position. Repeat this for another 2 long deep breaths: with every breath you might extend your stretch a little. Then quietly get up again.
Exercise 3. Heart and Small Intestine meridians
Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together and your knees falling outwards. Sit upright and hold your feet with your hands. Draw your feet in towards yourself as close as you can. Bend forward on an exhalation. While doing so, try to keep your knees down as much as possible without pushing. Most people go halfway and that is totally fine. Just observe what is going on in your body.
Take 3 long deep breaths before you get up again.
Exercise 4. Kidney and Bladder meridians
Straighten your legs forwards and keep your heels together. Your toes don’t need to be necessarily held together and also not be held upright. On an exhalation you bend forward with your arms in front of you. Go as far as you can while keeping your back straight. Also, keep your knees stretched to the ground. Turn the palms of your hands outwards, so your thumbs will be facing downwards.
The main thing is to relax completely and reach the farthest point of the stretch at the end of each exhalation.
Take 3 long deep breaths before you get up again.
Exercise 5. Heart Constrictor2 and Triple Heater3 meridians
Sit cross-legged where each foot is placed on the other thigh (in lotus position). If this isn’t possible, you can sit cross-legged where only one foot is placed on the other thigh (half lotus). Or else you can sit with your legs crossed without placing any foot on a thigh.
The closer your knees are to the floor, the better. But do not force them. Cross your arms and place them on opposite knees. The arm that is on the same side of the leg that is on top should be on top of the other arm. Relax your body downwards to the floor. If you don’t feel enough stretch you can ‘walk’ your hands further out to the sides.
Direct your attention to what it feels like to be in your body at this moment.
Take 3 long deep breaths and get up again. Change the position of your arms and legs and repeat.
2 The Heart Constrictor is related to the central circulatory function (in Oriental medicine)
3 The Triple Heater controls peripheral circulation and lymphatic flow (in Oriental medicine)
Exercise 6. Liver and Gallbladder meridians
Sit with your legs as far apart as possible keeping your back straight. While doing the exercise it is important to keep your knees to the floor. Keep the back of your legs in touch with the floor, so your legs don’t turn in- or outward. Stretch your arms above your head and interlace your fingers, palms of the hands facing up. Then move your body sideways in direction of one leg. Your body is facing forward, so not downwards.
The exhalation will cause the lines of tensions to relax and stretch your body a little bit farther.
Take 3 long deep breaths and get up again. Change the interlock of your fingers and repeat on the other side.
After you have done the exercises
After you have done the exercises you lie down on your back and relax with your arms and legs spread out comfortably (Shavasana in yoga). Keep your awareness on your breathing and how your body feels. If you feel relaxed from head to toe, you did the exercises well:-).
If you have any questions or feedback about the exercises, please let me know! It is also possible to plan a session to go through the exercises together to get you going. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Meridian Exercises, The Oriental Way to Health and Vitality. Written by Shizuto Masunaga and translated by Stephen Brown
– Shiatsu, Theory and Practice – Carola Beresford-Cooke