Stretches for Zazen

Makkoho, a traditional Japanese sequence of stretches, are very helpful in preparing the body for zazen. The postures are done in order, and typically held for a minute each. You can hold them longer or shorter as you are able. Enter into each pose gently and attentively. Breathe deeply and slowly. Use caution when performing these stretches and do not force yourself into any position. Few are able to do these stretches to their full extent, so the photographs below show each of the poses in both the full and partial form. Overextending your stretches is counterproductive and will only make you tighter. With regular practice, your body will become more flexible and you will be able to practice zazen more easily.

Position 1 
The legs are spread wide and bottoms of the feet are placed together and drawn as close to the groin as one is able. Ideally the legs are flat against the floor. The trunk is extended as close to the floor as possible, with the arms extended over the head.

Makkoho 1, Easy

 More advanced:  
Makkoho 1


Position 2
Next, the legs are straightened and the trunk bent as far forward as possible. The arms reach forward and hands grasp the legs or feet.

Easier version:
Makkoho 2, Easy


More advanced:
Makkoho 2


Position 3
Next, the legs are spread as wide as possible, and the trunk and arms extended forward as far as one comfortably can.

Easier version:
Makkoho 3, Easy


More advanced:
Makkoho 3


Position 4
In the last pose, the legs are folded back so your feet are by your hips, and lower your back to the ground and extend your arms over your head. 

Easier version:
Makkoho 4, Easy


More advanced:
Makkoho 4


 You can also support the back by leaning on a pillow or against a couch:
Makkoho 4 with a cushion