Shiatsu our path to wellness – naturally
Shiatsu as an expression of giving
Shiatsu or a Miracle, you decide?
Natural Healing therapies vs Allopathic Medicine
We deserve better
Now we’re going somewhere
Learning from our histories
There are many facets to Shiatsu as a ‘hands on’ therapy and I want to start by giving you the mechanics of how it works. Shiat –Su roughly translated from Japanese means finger pressure. A practitioner will use fingers, thumbs, elbows, feet to gently press and manipulate the body following its energetic pathways called, meridians. The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare states:Shiatsu therapy is a form of manipulation administered by the thumb, fingers and palms, without the use of any instrument, mechanical or otherwise, to apply pressure to the human skin, correct internal malfunctioning, promote and maintain health and treat specific diseases.
The basis of Shiatsu is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which found its way into Japan via Korea. There was a monastic tradition through Buddhism and of course Zen Buddhism inJapan, monks became the repositories of this ancient knowledge and people would visit them to find remedies to their problems. This tradition was also true in the west, in the Middle Ages; the sick would visit a monastery to find a cure for their ailments.
In some ways Shiatsu works like acupuncture in so far as an acupuncturist will insert needles into certain points along a meridian to unblock it and to allow energy to move again. Acupuncture is better known as a practice than Shiatsu. The main differences between the two practices are that in Shiatsu we don’t use needles, and we also treat the whole body, whereas an Acupuncturist will diagnose the symptoms and treat specifically the cause. A Shiatsu practitioner passionately believes that the cause and effects of dis-ease are not always apparent as everything in the body is linked and therefore we leave no stone untouched in our investigation and practice. Over the years different schools have emerged with their own Shiatsu Masters developing their own styles of Shiatsu. In the end the objective is the same to bring balance and harmony to the body.
The underlying philosophy of TCM is the Tao, pronounced ‘DOW’ and even spelt like this in American English. We are all familiar with the Yin and Yang symbol of the two fishes swimming in a circle around each other and these represent equal and opposite forces finding balance in the universe; however, such a balance is dynamic and is easily upset by the forces acting upon it, the same is true for the body. For me TCM is very logical, dis-ease represents dis-harmony, so therefore you look for the origin of this and unblock the cause to restore the body to equilibrium. The philosophy of Taoism is not complicated to understand but does remain a mystery and so will be subject of another blog later on, nevertheless, to students who practice Tai Chi, Qi Gong and the marshal arts the foundation of these practices is all based on practicing Taoism. Already stated the body is in a state of constant flux and so once is never enough, we should be aiming to have a Shiatsu at least once every 6 weeks and at the very least during the interseasonal periods (four times) when we are all in a state of transition and transformation.
Shiatsu as an expression of giving
When we talk about Shiatsu we talk about healing through love, in fact all hands on healing comes with love and also all things natural have been created with love. All these forms of healing do not seek to exploit nor do they destroy they are expressions of a gift and perhaps one of the greatest gifts one person can give to another and that is love.
Shiatsu originated in Japan, sometime in the 19th Century, a period of great social and cultural change. At that time and into the 20th Century, the poorer communities were unable to pay for doctors or medicines and so the sick went largely untreated. There are countless examples of where people came together to help each other in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity brought about by poverty and societal repugnance; for example blind people in Japan mutually healed one another through massage and thus developed their own, instinctive brand of hands on therapy called ‘Shiatsu’, and Isabelle Laading in Shiatsu Voie d’equilibre (2007), talks about Shiatsu in Japan as being familial in origin. More so than today, members of the family would massage each other as a daily ritual thus taking responsibility for their own health and well being.
As a general rule this is something we no longer do, apart from perhaps a mother cuddling and massaging her baby or to appease a crying child, it is not part of our modern culture, but it is something fundamental to life and our wellbeing. Perhaps I am being too generalist and too critical in my observation of our modern ways, time will tell; however, I treat many people who quite honestly need a good cuddle! Will my remark make you stop and consider your own lifestyle and feel great this is something I can adopt to help myself and/or my family or, ummm something else….?
Shiatsu or a Miracle, you decide?
Another story, one more personal to bring this point home is from Shizuko Yamamoto a celebrated Shiatsu practitioner practicing in theUnited States. The story of Shizuko Yamamoto, who was born into a poor community inTokyo, shows the acute suffering of poor people inJapan. Shizuko’s Grandmother was very ill and the family were in a state of despair. Shizuko instinctively began massaging her Grandmother in the vain hope it would bring new life to her and also to relieve her of the great pain she was suffering. What happened next….? To some of you it would appear by luck, a miracle, or just one of those fanciful stories you read about in pulp fiction, because, yes indeed, her grandmother did recover and went onto to lead a happy and fulfilled life.
The question arises what part did Shiatsu play in the healing of Shizuko’s Grandmother? No one can say conclusively that Shiatsu was responsible for the dramatic recovery of Shizuko’s Grandmother; however, for Shizuko, the experience was enough for her to write about it years later in her book on Shiatsu, for her it was conclusive proof that indeed the healing touch of hands is enough to relieve suffering and bring life back. You can read about this story and others in Shizuko Yamamoto’s book: Whole Health Shiatsu.
There is so much just in one simple technique of what is no more than simply touching a body therapeutically that it seems incredible to the majority of us that we can find a cure for all of our problems just through touch. Our antecedents, to heal themselves, did the most natural thing in the world to help each other and that was to lay their hands on one another. To me this is the ultimate expression of love and I feel strongly the love coming through these accounts of hands on healing, of Shiatsu, and this story is repeated in countless other people’s experiences from all around the world.
Natural Healing therapies vs Allopathic Medicine
Already you know my background, well some of it anyway, in relation to my enthusiasm for Shiatsu as a method of healing the body. As a Shiatsu practitioner and Yoga teacher I see many bodies and unfortunately many in sickness and many who have been down the route of modern allopathic medicine to look for a treatment and been failed. We can all recount stories of sitting for what seems interminable hours waiting to see a General Practitioner or specialist to then have a consultation lasting 5, possibly 15 minutes, to be given a slip of paper for the pharmacist and then leave and to leave gratefully as the stress caused by the experience was too much. Do we feel better from this experience, do we get better from the pills and potions prescribed, leave your comments at the end. As a rule I would say no. Yes I know, I have glossed over the many benefits of modern medicine, we can start a debate about this.
When someone comes to me for a Shiatsu they will have 2 hours; half an hour or three quarters of an hour for consultation and then hands on practical shiatsu and they will leave me with practical advice on how they can help themselves. Many of these problems lie deep seated with their origins hidden away in the person’s emotional past, long forgotten histories yet still registering in the physical body or as Eckhart Tolle describes it our ‘Pain Body’, from his book, The Power is Now, and for many their healing has begun. For followers of Ram Dass, Love, Serve, Remember, here is one of his classic stories that sums up the distinction between our modern medical systems and how it serves us and the alternative, natural pathways of healing.
In theHarvardMedicalSchoola notice was pinned to the wall. There was to be a visit to the school by the personal Physician of the Dalai Lama who would be conducting a diagnosis through Tibetan Medicine. One particular student doctor recounts the story. The visit was to take place at a certain time to a female patient dying of congenital heart disease and she had been in the hospital for a long time. The visit took place, the Tibetan Physician duly arrived followed by his entourage and they entered the room of the patient. The Tibetan Physician had received no brief as to the illness suffered by the patient; this was to be conducted by the Physician himself. Students were arranged around the bed expecting to see some ‘hokus pokus’, folk lore medicine that had once been practiced by the first nation tribes that lived in theUnited Statesand long been discredited! The Physician spoke softly to the woman, fully engaged in her and looking directly into her eyes, while he laid his hand on her stomach and alternately took her pulse. To the assembled students this process seemed unnecessarily long and arduous, for them, they rarely spoke at length to a patient and the taking of a pulse was a perfunctory practice lasting no more than a minute, certainly not as long as half an hour. At the end of the consultation, everyone crowded round eagerly for the Tibetan Physician’s diagnosis, which was given as: congenital heart disease, or a hole in the heart. No one had told the Physician of the illness beforehand, this he had deduced solely through his hands registering the rhythm of the woman’s body.
The doctor writing of this experience later wrote, I wanted to be this woman, I wanted to be held in reverence, and it was as if God had visited the patient that day. At the end of the consultation, the woman turned to the Physician, in his flowing saffron robes, and said, “thank you doctor”, to which he smiled and gently left. The Doctor also observed that while we quickly take a shower as we fly our of bed in the morning, grabbing a bite to eat on our way to work and a coffee to keep us going, the Tibetan Physician will have arisen early to perform his morning rituals and to prepare himself for receiving a patient, nothing in his daily pattern of life would be taken for granted, every detail of life was to be worshiped as special and meaningful, he would be fully and patiently engaged in the present moment.
We deserve better
Every human being is special, every human being has a story to tell and through the power of love and kindness we can reach out to the soul beneath the suffering body, our vehicle in this lifetime, and to aid that human being in their hour of need in any way we can.
In our modern busy lives, there is not enough time to be human let alone frail, for most of us our objective is to get through the day as painlessly as possible to come home, switch on the telly, microwave our ready meal and if there is enough time left, tuck up our kids in bed before we, ourselves sink into a bottle of wine to ease the strains of the day away. We are so conditioned to living like this, in our western model of life that to consider another possibility is not an option. Mortgages, loans and the desire to have the latest, as advertised on TV, to bring instant gratification only brings us the realisation (if we stop long enough to be conscious of it) that underneath this facade of what we call life, we are, in truth, deeply dissatisfied, and our houses packed full of stuff bares testimony to this. Proof, OK well, we only have to look at the rising tide of people diagnosed as suffering from stress and depression including our children at school and yet never have we had it so good (to coin a phrase of a celebrated UK Prime minister) but deeply are we happy? One thing is for sure, we are certainly not well!
Do I have to be so negative about the way we live, “hey, what are you trying to sell, that we have to feel so bad about how we live our lives?” No, I don’t think I am, I’m telling it how it is and how I have experienced it, so that’s the position we are in so what is the cure, ah yes …. Shiatsu?
So just to show the manifestation of this type of lifestyle in the body, in TCM, overwork in both a physical and mental sense will weaken the kidneys, translated into: dizziness, tinnitus, vertigo, poor memory, thirst, sore back, ache in bones, constipation, weak legs, impotence and infertility. So examine your lifestyle and see if any of these symptoms fit you and over what period of time, this could be the wake up call you need.
Now we’re going somewhere
The antidote to all of this is to adopt a more natural lifestyle, one that respects the body and the planet on which it depends for its physical existence. The path of acceptance begins with ourselves only then can we begin to heal. When we heal we can eliminate the fear that besets our lives to reveal our authentic self, for while we allow fear to dominate our lives it distorts our decisions and we live a life of illusion and one that is far from satisfactory, it certainly does not represent a happy existence. This leads me back to the Tao. For example, when we go on holiday so many of you will say the first week I spent ill and the second week I began to relax. Constantly to meet the requirements of our busy lifestyles we ignore our body’s needs: not enough sleep, not enough good nourishing food, stressful situations piled on stressful situations and so we carry on. This kind of lifestyle is typically Yang in character. Illness will quickly follow a person living a life like this as this is the body’s way of saying, unequivocally, STOP. Illness is therefore a Yin condition. So the next time you feel tired, listen to your body instead of doggedly keeping on going and as it is widely acknowledged overworking does not make you anymore efficient, in fact quite the opposite.
Learning from our histories
I very much like Shiizuto Masunaga, in Zen Shiatsu, his definition of the challenges of the society we have created for ourselves in the west and how we can find solutions to these in our life through Shiatsu. I use the term ‘Shiatsu’ generally here to describe a process of unblocking pathways, whether they are energetic pathways in the body or in our lives, in some respect they are one of the same.
If we keep our bodies healthy we do not need medical help. Our bodies are amazing machines and if we understand our bodies in relation to the Taoist principle of Yin and Yang (the two fishes swimming together in a circle) you will understand that everything goes in cycles and that the body has the ability, given our chosen lifestyle, to adapt to the external environment in which it finds itself, the body can literally heal itself.
As Masunaga states history has shown us the state of medicine reflects the social conditions of the time. During a time of social change, let’s say the Industrial Revolution in Nineteenth Century UK, characterised by a huge urban population living in unimaginable squalor epidemics prevailed and there was a need for medicines. TCM states that where there is a need for medicine then we are living abnormal lifestyles and therefore we must treat the cause of dis-ease. So with respect to the urban poor during the Industrial Revolution medicines developed to overcome the social and industrial diseases; and yet we cannot consider this an advancement because we need to cure the social ills to prevent the associated diseases!
Modern medicine treats ill people and yet there are so many people living a life half-way between healthy and sick but allopathic medicine cannot help these people until they reach a chronic stage. In TCM, and the practice of Shiatsu ‘half-sick’ people can be treated immediately before a dis-ease becomes apparent.
I find it interesting in my Shiatsu practice insofar as I see many people who are ill and for whom modern medicine has been unable either to diagnose the malady or indeed find a cure. Clients present a range of symptoms that mystify the doctors and because they cannot name the symptoms patients leave undiagnosed and untreated. In TCM we do not need to name the disease but we can find the cause in the dis-harmony of the functioning of the body’s vital organs and treatment can begin immediately. Some of my clients come for a couple of sessions and leave once they feel better, other book in on a regular basis to keep their bodies in balance, particularly those who do have busy work commitments and know the link, only too well, between stress and illness. In short as a Shiatsu practitioner I treat the phenomenon and not the disease. This is also true in Ayurvedic Medicine practiced inIndia; they treat the patient rather than searching for a particular disease.
There is a need for the two medical systems, TCM and allopathic medicines operating side by side by side, and I will finish with a story. One of my clients has had breast cancer, the invasive form, and she latterly underwent a mastectomy. To conclude, in my research for the care of this client, I found a very good article from the London Women’s Shiatsu clinic, which looks at the role played by Complimentary Medicine in the treatment and after care for breast cancer patients. As well as stating that the provision of modern medicine is inadequate, especially in providing emotional support for patients, it also stated that the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK lists the benefits of Shiatsu in boosting the immune system against the disease as well helping patients who are on a course of chemotherapy overcome the side effects and invasive toxicity of the drugs, and of course in providing emotional support through touch and therapeutic understanding that the NHS acknowledges are lacking in their care programmes for breast cancer patients. So there you have it. Need I say more? I feel very privileged to be caring for this client. All comments are welcome to my blog, thank you for reading.