What’s the connection between Goldfish and Exercise?


Goldfish are a species of carp that have been bred and domesticated by the Chinese and Japanese for at least 1000 years. Today there are over 125 different varieties.

Fascinated by the elegant motion of their bodies as they swim, the Japanese saw that goldfish have one very obvious advantage over human beings. In fact most members of the animal kingdom – whether living in water or on the land - have a certain degree of sideways flexing movement in their bodies as they move around, whether by swimming, walking on four legs, or slithering like a snake. Goldfish evoke a sense of the fluidity and graceful flexing motion that all creatures with spines can enjoy - unless they are erect like humans when it becomes a bit more difficult to achieve without some effort!

Many people consider that humans too evolved from non-erect forms in prehistoric times, and that it is very likely our bodies retain an innate attraction for such a sideways flexing of the spine.

Clearly we have gained many advantages by becoming erect. It would be hard to achieve all the sophisticated tasks we take on every day without having our standing two-footed posture. However, there are significant challenges when it comes to maintaining the health of the spine. Bad posture not only puts a great strain on the spine, it can lead to knock-on effects throughout the body in many ways.

At the same time there is less chance for stimulation of the nervous system. The spinal cord which runs from top to bottom of the spinal column receives little stimulation in normal standing, sitting or even walking/running postures. Yet when it experiences the snake-like flexing of the spine that happens naturally when the pelvis moves from side to side, it is very clear that this stimulation has a big influence on respiration and circulation. Anyone trying a chi exercise machine for the first time will notice this effect.

One of the first Japanese healthcare practitioners – perhaps the first - to popularize the various health benefits of creating this sideways pulsing motion in the pelvic region was Seigo Nishi. He coined the term Goldfish Exercise and taught a self-applied technique while lying on the floor as part of his Nishi-shiki approach to self-help healthcare as early as 1927.

Many other Japanese healthcare practitioners realised that various health benefits are stimulated by creating such a motion. Dr Shizuo Inoue, a follower of Seigo Nishi, talked of at least eight ways of creating this movement in his book “Aerobic Respiration, Exercise & Health”. The movement can be achieved by a therapist swinging the legs of the patient manually - as they do, for example, in Shiatsu, a Japanese massage technique. Trager therapy which originated in USA uses a similar technique.

Goldfish Exercise became easier to experience - with no effort involved - when the first chi exercise machine was invented in 1990. More recently there are improved designs available - with adjustable speeds and easy-to-use controls – which have made this stimulating form of passive exercise readily accessible by people of all ages and fitness levels in their own homes.