As with all the Makko Ho exercises, MASUNAGA’S ZEN STRETCH for WINTER should be performed gently. This exercise invites you to use your unforced breath and sensitivity to develop your awareness of the Bladder and Kidney meridian energies as you “move the KI” to both open and tonify those meridians. So put aside any ideas of strengthening, pushing, straining or big stretching (not a great idea in Winter in any case) and focus on how you feel – physically, mentally &/or emotionally – and how this changes (or not) throughout the exercise as you gradually ease out and stretch those Winter meridians. Let’s get started.

>> activate the Winter meridian energy

Sit on the floor in the position shown in Figure 1 but with the arms still by your sides. To optimize your position, activate the Winter meridian energy and get the most out of this Zen Stretch, follow these easy tips:

  • Pull back with the balls of the feet to fully expose the Kidney 1 Point and extend fully through the Achilles tendon behind the ankle.
  • Keep the outside edges of the feet active so that the feet are “flat” and the edges are not falling away from you. (This may mean that you need to actively pull them towards you – bringing the ankle bones to touch.)
  • Lift up under the occiput so that the neck lengthens and the chin tucks slightly.
  • Then raise the arms above the head, bringing the backs of the hands together.
  • Gently extend the little fingers and the thumbs so that you can feel a slight stretch along the two corresponding edges of the arms.
    Be wary of lifting the shoulder blades and crowding the neck.

>> breathe & extend with ease

As you exhale, bend forward from the hips; keep the back long and the chest open, the knees straight and the arms extended. Only go as far as you are comfortable and at the pace at which you are comfortable – this may take a few breath cycles but only move on the exhalation.
At your unforced (straight back) forward bend limit, allow the spine to soften a little as you release the hands to connect with the legs/feet in one of the following variations:

  1. under the knees or calves;
  2. around the Achilles (as pictured) or;
  3. around the outside edges of the feet (right hand to right foot) OR;
  4. for an added degree of difficulty, cross the arms and take the hands to hold around the outside edges of the opposite foot (right hand to left foot).

Whichever variation is appropriate for you, this is your “hold & release” position for your Winter Zen Stretch.


Inhale, and then on exhalation settle further into the stretch. Repeat for three two more breath cycles. Hold this position before slowly releasing the hands and returning to the original sitting position by rolling up through the spine.

Before you repeat the whole exercise (X3) consider the experience you’ve just had:

  • If you felt good, take more time as you as you repeat and really relax into it.
  • If you felt not so good, breathe & move more quickly – still without straining – through the repetitions and allow the stuck KI to release and flow.

Would you like to know more? Find out about other Makko ho exercises or get some tips on classical yoga for Winter.

PLEASE NOTE: the images for this, and all other Makko Ho posts on this site, are by Pepe Infantozzi and borrowed (with thanks) from the website of Diego Sanchez.

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