Feature: Chinese Meridians Yoga Workshop at The Shala
I recently went to a yoga workshop hosted by Nicola Van Schaik at The Shala, a beautiful yoga studio in Dunkley Square, Cape Town. One of the walls was half covered in colourful paper butterflies, above an old, rustic door & windows leading to nowhere. The sun was pouring onto the studio floor, giving it such a dreamy effect.
Nicola welcomed us all and first discussed the different meridians within the body (which are also where our fascial tissues go). She showed us where they run along our bodies, and how to activate them. She then led us through a series of exercises and poses to activate our lung and large intestine meridians, since they are considered to be paired together, and are associated with Autumn (the season Cape Town is in right now).
The lung meridian controls breath and energy. It goes from the inside of your thumb, along your wrist, up the top inner part of your arm, up to your shoulder. It also descends down to the large intestine. Apparently this meridian deals with some intense emotions such as sadness, grief, and anxiety. This is also where disorders of the chest, lungs, throat, and nose arise. When this meridian is balanced, you’ll apparently have high self-esteem. Intriguing. Something to do with opening up the chest maybe? There is a lot of research showing that if you stand in a more proud stance (chest up, not curling your body inward or forward), then you feel better about yourself, so I could see a connection.
The large intestine meridian “plays a major role in the balance and purity of bodily fluids and assists the lungs in controlling the skin’s pores and perspiration.” It goes from the outer corner of the index finger, along the outside of the arm, crosses the shoulder blade, along the side of the neck, along the lower gums, and over the top lip, beside the nostril. It also goes down your outer hip. If your bowels aren’t working very efficiently you can apparently activate them by doing deep diaphragmic breathing.
Like the lung meridian, the large intestine meridian is also affected by things like anxiety, grief, and sadness. Have difficulty making decisions or letting go? That’s centred around these meridians too.
I learned another new word: kumbhaka – ie. holding breath. It is the pause between an inhale and exhale. According to Wikipedia, “It’s being observed that the more time spent for pranayama [breath control] (and kumbhaka); the more is the concentration and the better is the control over the mind.” We focused on this, along with a special way of focusing on our pranayama, such as holding our arms in the air in fists and then inhaling and exhaling quickly.
We also had to breathe in, hold our breath and hit our stomachs (relax, not hard, just hard enough to feel like we were activating some movement in there). That was a first! It’s a bit of a weird sensation to hit your stomach when you’re so full of air, but it makes you focus on the area really intensely.
Nicola led us through some fluid movements of opening up and closing in the chest, and joked (but seriously!) that in a couple of poses, we should try Charlie’s Angels fingers to intensive the stretch. To work the colon we also did a form of puppy pose.
We ended of with pigeon pose to open the hips, and a deep Shavasana meditation.
Thank you for a lovely class, Nicola! It was fascinating to learn about the different meridians!