Do you give a Shiatsu about your body? If so this ancient Japanese healing art could be for you. Nadia Raafat and Laurie Davidson look at the two leading styles.
You say Shiatsu-Do
‘I have a client who’s been coming for a Shiatsu massage every week for 12 years,’ says Hilary Totah, principle of The British School of Shiatsu-Do, ‘and you know what she said to me? She said: “I have two great pleasures in life, one is my cleaning lady and the other is Shiatsu”. ‘
If you had experienced the traditional Japanese healing art of Shiatsu, you’d understand. After my session, the concerns, and problems of that day had simply dropped away. Vanished.
The British School of Shiatsu-Do practices a technique based on Zen Shiatsu. This is a particular kind of Shiatsu brought over from Japan by Shizato Masunaga in the 1950s. Before that, Shiatsu was an amalgam of vibrational palm-healing, acupressure and massage known collectively as Anma. Masunaga was responsible for systematising Shiatsu. He developed a method of touch diagnosis and treatment particular to Shiatsu, which he related to Chinese Medicine. But then, being a professor of psychology, he Westernised the subject by looking at the relationship between the body and the mind. It was also Masunaga who coined the name Zen Shiatsu to indicate that it had oriental routes. Today, in the US and UK, most forms of Shiatsu come from the lineage of Masunaga.
Shiatsu-Do means ‘The Way of Shiatsu’ and emphasises the practitioner’s own self- development.
Shiatsu, literally translates as ‘finger pressure’ although a practitioner will use their thumbs, palms, elbows, knees and even feet during a treatment session. The philosophy underlying all types of Shiatsu is that vital energy, or the life force, ch’i, – what the Japanese spell ki – flows
through the body in a series of electromagnetic channels known as meridians which contain points of high electrical charge called tsubo.
For many different reasons, ch’i (ki) can stop flowing freely, accumulate and stagnate, just like in feng shui, which in turn produces a symptom. Shiatsu seeks to improve the quality of the ch’i flow to revitalise stagnant areas and disperse other blocked areas.
“after my session, the concerns, worries and problems of that day had simply dropped away”
I am lying face down at floor level. My face is resting on a specially designed lifted face cushion with holes cut out for my nose and mouth, I am fully clothed.
Having diagnosed pain in my back and a liver malfunction, Hilary works her way down my bladder channel dispersing blocked energy. It feels painful and I have to breathe deeply into the pressure. She also works on my ‘heart protector’, which, protects the heart from invasion by disease agents, temperature changes and emotional trauma. She has diagnosed a build-up of tension there. She finds liver jitsu (excess or block) which she tries to disperse, and kidney kyo (deficiency) which, she attempts to stabilise.
As Hilary presses, rocks, stretches, and squeezes, working her hands along the meridians of my body, I feel my limbs flop and my mind take a back seat to my body. I am putty in her hands.
After my session, Hilary gives me a tour of the school; we tip-toe from room to room where classes are underway. All the treatment rooms are bright and airy with incense and candles, soft blue carpeting and Japanese screens.
I walk, mildly dazed with an insane smile plastered across my face. Sixteen stops on the crowded Underground later, I’m still smiling.
And I just say Shiatsu
As the sound of waves crash around my head I drowsily awake. Reality sets in and I find myself staring out into a lush garden, with an eerie calm hanging in the air. That’s where my ‘alternative
state’ ends. Not only have I not been asleep but there are no meditation tapes playing, no waves,
just a roaring sound in my ears.
Shiatsu can be a powerful method of relaxation as I found out, visiting Mark Bishop at his home
in West Sussex. Mark, who’s the Chairman and Principle Tutor of The International Shiatsu Commission, has had extensive experience in Shiatsu, other natural therapies and martial arts.
I watch a video of Mark incorporating Shiatsu into martial arts. As a student goes to attack
Mark, he grapples him to the floor. As I wait for the final blow, Mark explains this is where Shiatsu steps in. Instead of using the pressure points to hurt, he uses them to tame the attacker!
This is one of the reasons why Shiatsu is so versatile, not only can it be used within an aggressive sport, but you can practice Shiatsu on someone in almost any position. The person’s clothes can remain on, and you need no equipment. In short it can be used anywhere, on anyone.
However, Mark’s style of Shiatsu is different from most European practitioners and especially Zen Shiatsu. He practices the style of Shiatsu that first originated in Japan from Anma (the very first form of Japanese bodywork); the style that was first established by a man named Tokujiro
Namikoshi in the 1920s
“…. not only can it be used within an aggressive sport, but you can practice Shiatsu on someone standing, kneeling, sitting, or laying”
Mark and his wife Moya Fortune led me downstairs to a light room decorated with various Japanese pieces. I lay down on my front with my head to one side. ‘Shiatsu is preventative and curative,’ says Mark as he starts to work on me. ‘It help’s your body to regenerate through relaxation and free’s any of the blocked meridians that run throughout your limbs.’ I’m feeling more relaxed by the minute despite the twinges of discomfort from the pressure points. Everything else goes out the window, I forget to ask questions and instead concentrate (or unconcentrate as Mark says), on my breathing.
It’s important each breath comes from your hara, deep down inside you. I have to admit having two people massaging you at once is bliss. Pure indulgence. Mark tells me that I’m not as inflexible as I seem to think. My hips are fine; it’s my lower back that needs work. He’s right. He goes on to pinpoint every stretch that I find hard.
Although stressing that the original Shiatsu was not intended as a diagnosing method, Mark soon
finds the ‘knots’ in my ankles and starts to go about unblocking them. Within 10 minutes I get
a strange sensation of tingling in my feet and hands, which Moya reassures me is quite a usual
reaction to the massage.
Mark instinctively knows what hurts and how much pressure my body can take. Every single
part of my body is covered, with my favourite part being the stretch where lying on my side, my
legs are pulled backwards behind me, Mark places his knee into the hollow curve of my back and then pulls my arms behind me too, so that my body is in an arc shape. Strangely comfortable!
So what is the difference between this Shiatsu and a Zen Shiatsu? As opposed to Zen Shiatsu,
Mark says, the original form of Shiatsu did not mention the Five Elements, yin and yang or
meridian diagnosis. These came later on in 1977 from Shizuto Masunaga. It this was at this point
where Shiatsu branched off, with Zen Shiatsu becoming more popular with Westerners, rather
than the original style.
Instead of using Shiatsu to relieve pain from one particular energy centre (chakra), Mark’s
method is focused on revitalising the seven main chakras in order to release the pain altogether
rather than just moving it around the system where he says it’s likely to settle and cause more
havoc further down the line. The objective is to first relax the person, then and only then should the practitioner carry out the techniques necessary for that person. The emphasis is on treating each person as an individual and helping them to ‘release’. Mark says that while it effects each person differently, it’s not unusual for him to end up with his T-shirt covered in sweat or tears.
Mark says that ‘a skilled practitioner should explore each person, and adapt their techniques
to suit them rather than use a standardised approach. A good practitioner can treat any person, any condition.’
As for me, there were no tears, no excruciating pain releases, just the most incredible feeling of
freedom and calmness. I did have to wonder whether I’d fallen asleep, I felt so relaxed. Moya tells me as I’m ‘waking up’ the idea of Shiatsu is that you can achieve this amount of relaxation, faster and faster each time, with the end result being that you can use it during your day to relax yourself at any time (even for a couple of minutes in the ladies room!) and thus balance your energy out rather than use it all up in the morning leaving you tired and lethargic at night.
So would I go back again, I hear you ask? Defmitely. And in the meantime? You’ll find me ‘relaxing’ in the toilets!