Meridians in Yin Yoga: The Ultimate Guide
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC
meridians in yin yoga
Your body is not just a physical structure; it also has an intricate, subtle energetic system known as the meridians. The meridians in yin yoga provide a way for us to use yin yoga poses that subtly influence the flow of energy and bring balance to the body, mind, and soul all at the same time.
The meridians come from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Although they don’t have an exact physical structure, they are primarily a way for us to understand how energy flows through the body and how we can begin to shift it. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the meridians in yin yoga so that you can begin to infuse this knowledge into your own yoga practice and teachings. Let’s get started!
In traditional Chinese medicine, the main component of the subtle anatomy of the body is the intricate system of meridians. The meridians are channels in the body where Chi or Qi, known as the vital life force energy, moves through and nourishes your entire being.
The meridians are traditionally called “Jing-Luo” In Chinese, which roughly translates as “to go through that which connects” or “channels.” Essentially, chi moves through the network of meridians bringing life to your body and helping you to sustain various physical, mental, and spiritual functions.
Yoga and Chinese medicine are both energetic practices. When we unify them together in yin yoga, we can harness a deeper understanding of the subtle systems that run throughout us and how we can begin to shift these energies. The meridians serve as the basis for many yin yoga poses for us to conceptualize how physical and energetic changes occur from different poses.
When connecting the meridians to yoga practice, you can easily see a similarity in this system with the yogic system of the nadis or channels in the body and the vital life force energy called prana. Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine were intricately connected and historically shared many ideas, which is why these systems have so many similarities in how we understand their functioning, just with different names.
Yin yoga is not just another way to stretch the body and improve physical health. Yin yoga is a subtle energetic practice that works with the energy of chi and the flow of energy through the meridians to help release blockages and improve the functioning of the entire mind-body-spirit system.
The meridians give us a framework to understand how the body works on a subtle level and to apply these principles through yoga practices. But it is essential to understand the intricate workings of the meridian system to begin applying these concepts to your yoga practice with greater care. Using the yin yoga principles of tension and compression, you can release blockages in various meridians and stimulate energy flow.
The best way to work with the meridians in yin yoga is by using them to inform the creation of your yin yoga sequence. For example, you could design a yoga sequence based on one meridian or a combination of a few meridians to balance certain energetic principles in the body. You could also create yin yoga sequences for the meridians that keep in mind the seasonal fluctuations and how each meridian requires additional balance during certain times of the year.
The first step to using the meridians in yin yoga practice is understanding the basics of the 12 primary meridians and which yin yoga poses influence those meridians. Then you can begin to explore these practices in your own body and find what works best for you!
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are 12 major meridians. This group of meridians comprises 5 yin meridians (heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, liver), 5 yang meridians (small intestine, stomach, large intestine, urinary bladder, gallbladder), the pericardium meridian, and the San Jiao meridian. Below we will explore the energetic principles of each meridian as well as a few yin yoga poses to balance them.
1. Heart Meridian
The heart meridian is the center of emotions, thoughts, and speech. It is known as the “king” in TCM. The element is fire, and it is most active in the summer season. Some yin yoga poses for the heart meridian include the melted heart pose, broken wing pose, sphinx pose, and supine twists.
2. Spleen Meridian
The spleen meridian is connected to your willpower, self-esteem, and energy level. The element of this meridian is earth, and it is most active in the late summer. Some yin yoga poses for the spleen meridian include camel pose, child’s pose, dragon pose, and saddle pose.
3. Lung Meridian
The lung meridian plays a role in immunity, grief, detoxification, and establishing chi in the body. The element of this meridian is metal, and it is connected to the fall season. Some of the best yin yoga poses for the lung meridian include the supported fish pose, banana pose, and melting heart pose.
4. Kidney Meridian
The kidney meridian is another primary excretion system in the body that plays a significant role in energetic flow, balancing fluids, and overall stamina. The kidneys are also important in supporting courage and determination. The element for the kidney meridian is water and the winter season is when it is most active. The best yin yoga poses for the kidney meridian are reclined butterfly pose, straddle pose, seal pose, and reclined hero’s pose.
5. Liver Meridian
The liver meridian is essential in detoxification, balancing the body’s rhythm, and clearing out stagnation. This meridian is also often connected to the emotion of anger. The element associated with the liver meridian is wood, and it is connected to the spring season. Some popular yin yoga poses for the liver meridian include child’s pose, sphinx pose, shoelace pose, and reclined twist.
6. Small Intestine Meridian
The small intestine meridian is a yang meridian that plays a major role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and mental clarity. This meridian is also connected to the fire element and the summer season. A few yin yoga poses that are beneficial for balancing the small intestine meridian include thread the needle pose, banana pose, and eagle arms.
7. Stomach Meridian
The stomach meridian is another central meridian for digestion and plays a role in muscle function, self-esteem, and mental peace. The stomach meridian is associated with eh earth element and the late summer season. The best yoga poses to stimulate the stomach meridian are saddle pose, cat tail pose, camel pose, and child’s pose.
8. Large Intestine Meridian
The large intestine meridian is the primary excretory meridian, so it plays a significant role in the release of both physical and mental waste in the body. The large intestine meridian is connected to the metal element and the fall season. The best yin yoga poses for the large intestine meridian are the cow face pose, melting heart pose, and thread the needle pose.
9. Urinary Bladder Meridian
The urinary bladder meridian's primary role is to balance bodily fluids through excretion. The bladder meridian is connected to the water element and the winter season. The best yin yoga poses for this meridian are the supported fish pose, caterpillar pose, bridge pose, and twisted roots pose.
10. Gallbladder Meridian
The gallbladder is another yang meridian that plays a role in metabolism, planning, and organizing. The element for the gallbladder meridian is wood, and it is connected to the spring season. The best yin yoga poses for the gallbladder meridian are the child’s pose, toe stretch pose, half butterfly pose, and sphinx pose.
11. Pericardium Meridian
The pericardium meridian is an energetic pathway that plays a role in protecting the heart and balancing emotions. The element connected to the pericardium meridian is fire, and it is also most active in the summer season. The best yin yoga poses to stimulate the pericardium meridian are banana pose, melting heart pose, bridge pose, and happy baby pose.
12. San Jiao Meridian
The San Jiao meridian, also known as the Triple Burner, plays a significant role in stimulating circulation and regulating and nourishing chi. The element of this meridian is fire, and the season it is most active in is summer. The best yin yoga poses for the triple burner meridian are reclined hero’s pose, shoelace pose, frog pose, and savasana.
The meridians in yin yoga help us tap into the deeper subtle process of yoga so that we can begin shifting the energy both within and around us. Everything in this universe is made of matter and energy. When we figure out how to move both of these properties simultaneously, we can get even closer to the ultimate goal of yoga – union.
If you are a yin yoga teacher or just a curious yin yoga student, then make sure to check out our new continuing education course with LaToya Cooper, E-RYT-200, RYT-500, YACEP, titled “Advanced Yin Yoga Teacher Training Certification: Journey into the Meridians.” This course will give you all the information you need to begin influencing the flow of the meridians in your yin yoga practice and teach these subtle practices to your students. When we learn how to unify the physical, mental, and spiritual through the meridians in yin yoga, we can truly begin to tap into the more profound benefits of yoga both on and off the mat!