The Makk-ho Stretches
The Makk-ho stretches are a Japanese system of stretching based on Traditional Chinese Medicine. They are believed to strengthen the internal organs and overall immune system.
One of the most fundamental principles in Traditional Chinese Medicine is to create balance between Yin and Yang. There are several different techniques from acupuncture to Tai Chi that can help restore and maintain balance. Another popular activity is to stretch. The Makk-ho stretches can sedate or tonify the organs and remove any blockages along the meridian lines.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) works with five elements:
- Wood – can be bent and straightened
- Fire – flares upwards
- Earth – permits sowing, growing and reaping
- Metal – can be moulded and can harden
- Water – moistens downwards
These represent the five basic processes of nature. The five qualities of natural phenomena, five phases of a cycle and the five inherent capabilities of changing phenomena.
Each element has a Yin and Yang organ, meridian lines and a diagnostic guideline to follow. They also follow certain seasons, emotions, senses and align with a specific chakra. Qi, much the same as prana, moves along the meridian lines.
The Yin meridian lines run on the inside of the body towards lower positions such as the legs. The Yang along the outside of the body towards the upper positions such as the head.
Not only do you need to balance the energies within each organ and element, but also as they operate in a complex whole entity. Each element should support the other elements to function optimally. The Makk-ho stretches are an ideal way to do this.
The organs are as follows:
- Wood – Liver & Gall Bladder
- Fire – Heart & Pericardium ( Emperor Fire), Small Intestine & Triple burner (Minister Fire)
- Earth – Spleen & Stomach
- Metal – Lung & Large intestine
- Water – Kidney & Bladder
Makk-ho stretches allow the practitioner to balance each of the five elements. There is a stretch for each pair of meridians. A simple routine like the Makk-ho stretches done every day, will improve the overall flow of Qi or vital energy throughout the body.
Our current lifestyles are becoming increasingly sedentary. As a result the muscles and joints start to deteriorate from inactivity. Leading to aches and pains, accumulation of tension and postural problems.
Movement and exercise create significant improvements in maintaining overall mind-body well being.
This simple routine has been used for centuries as a self healing technique for both body work practitioners and students. At no time should you force yourself into a position that is painful. The goal is too release tension, not create it. The emphasis should be on the stimulation of moving Qi rather than the physical stretch.
Please follow the sequence as shown below when practicing your Makk-ho stretch routine. This is based on the cycle of the 5 elements within TCM.
- Take your time and use relaxed, regulated breathing.
- Each stretch should be held for three to five deep breaths
- Repeat the entire cycle three times.
- Be mindful of which stretch you preferred the most and which one you least enjoyed.
- Repeat your favourite stretch – allowing yourself a little bit more time here
- Repeat the stretch you disliked the most – work a little bit more quickly into this stretch, allowing the stuck Qi to release and flow.
- For each stretch focus on the breath control and be aware of the changes, however subtle, taking place within your body, mind and spirit.
Metal – Lung and Large Intestine
Stand up straight with feet shoulders width apart. Allow a micro bend at your knee joints. Place your arms behind your back with thumbs interlaced. Take a deep breath into your Hara (belly area). As you take in the breath, stretch your interlaced fingers behind you and begin to bend forward from the waist as far as you can comfortably and exhale. When you have reached your limit, take four more deep breaths. Breathing in new energy. Exhale, letting go of tension. Inhale once more and, as you exhale, bring your body back up to a standing position.
Earth – Stomach and Spleen
This exercise has four variations. Do the variations to your best ability. Only complete the variation you can do comfortably and pain free.
Kneel on a mat or other padded surface. If you can, sit between your heels as in Vajrasana. If not use a pillow or Yoga block placed between your heels. Inhale deeply into your Hara. As you exhale, place your hands, palms down, facing backward (fingertips facing away from your body) on the floor behind you. Lean your torso back, leaning on your arms and hands. Relax your neck and let your head fall back. Repeat this for four more breathing cycles. On the forth cycle, return to the upright position.
Repeat the stretch as in Stage 1. On the forth cycle of breath, lean back further and onto your elbows. You can place your hands on your feet. Stay in this position for four cycles of breathing. On the forth cycle, slowly come up to an upright position.
Complete the first two stages, after Stage 2 to lay your body flat on the floor and stretch your arms straight out over your head. Keep this position for two to four cycles of breath. Then come up slowly, going back through the first two stages.
If you have any contraindications for the knees use this variation. From standing lift one heel towards the buttocks and hold in this position for three to five deep breaths. Repeat on the alternate side.
Primary Fire- Heart and Small Intestine
Begin this stretch by sitting on the floor with the soles of your feet touching – creating a diamond shape with the legs. The legs should be relaxed and your spine straight and upright. Inhale deeply and grasp your toes with both hands. With an exhale, relax your body and bend forward. Bringing the head toward the toes. Your elbows and forearms can rest on the floor. Keep this position for three more cycles of breath. With each breath, relax more into the position. Come up on the fifth breath.
Water – Kidneys and Bladder
Sit with your legs extended out in front of you. As you inhale, lengthen your spine upward and raise your arms towards the sky. On your exhalation, lean forward from the hips, keeping your back straight and reach as far forward towards your feet as you can. Take three deep breaths, with each exhalation relax more into the stretch. On the fourth breath, inhale to raise your body slowly, uncurling your spine, vertebra by vertebra.
Secondary Fire – Pericardium and Triple Heater
Sit on the floor cross-legged or in your butterfly posture. Keep your spine straight and upright. Cross your arms and place each hand on the opposite knee (left hand on right knee, right hand on left knee). Your arms should be crossed the same as your legs (right leg over left and right arm over left). Inhale deeply, as you exhale, relax and bend your torso down towards the floor. Keep this position for two more breathing cycles, relaxing your body into the stretch with each cycle. On the fourth cycle, come up slowly. Repeat this stretch with your arms and legs crossed the other way around.
Wood – Liver and Gall Bladder
There are two options for this stretch.
Standing upright with your spine straight and feet a little bit wider than your hips. Link you fingers together, palms facing outward and stretch upward toward the sky as you inhale deeply. As you exhale, turn and look at your right foot while leaning your body toward your left foot. Hold this position for two more breathing cycles, relaxing our body a little more each time. Come up slowly on the fourth cycle. Repeat this on the right side, as you look towards the left. End this cycle by stretching and leaning forward, relaxing onto two breathing cycles and back to an upright position on the fourth.
Come to a seated position with legs out wide, you might feel more comfortable to bend one knee, as in Janu Sirsasana. Inhale lifting the arms overhead, taking a slight twist lean over the straight leg and reach the fingers to the foot. Take your gaze underneath the shoulder to the opposite side. Be careful not to strain the neck muscles.
Repeat to the opposite side.
The Makk-ho stretches are a great teaching tool and a simple daily practice you can combine with your existing Yoga practice.
If you would like to learn more about these complimentary principles for Yoga. Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org
I will be covering introductory principles to Traditional Chinese Medicine for several teacher training courses with Shakti yoga
Follow the link to view a video clip going through the teaching of the Makk-ho stretches. Keep in mind it is common to find slight adaptations and/or variations on some of the Makk-ho stretches.