Shiatsu is a type of bodywork. Like western massage, it uses pressure, stretches, holding, joint mobilizations and rocking, to affect the physical structures of the body. Unlike western massage it also works with the body’s Qi (Chi) – energy. It has positive effects on the body’s physical structures and the internal organs, but also, the emotions can be touched and helped to heal. Shiatsu is a therapy that addresses all aspects of our being: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
What is Qi?
Qi (sometimes spelled ‘Chi’ or ‘Ki’) is our life-force. Qi provides the energy for all our life processes. It gives our organs their transformative abilities, holds everything in place and supplies our vitality. It is also the organising force which enables our innumerable component parts to act harmoniously and in concert.
For example, we all know that the food we eat gets chewed-up, broken down, and the various components absorbed by the intestines. But consider what happens after this basic process. There is some unfathomable alchemy whereby this food is transformed and so thoroughly integrated that it actually becomes you. Western science cannot explain aspects of our life force such as this. Chinese wisdom does, and the understandings the ancient Chinese developed allow us to work with these subtle energies. This is one of the reasons why Oriental therapies can so often help when Western medicine has not been able to.
The Oriental approach has a completely different rationale from that of Western medicine. One particular aspect is that it does not separate our mental, emotional and physical aspects. These are all seen as manifestations of Qi. The emotional and mental components are Qi in a more rarified form than for the physical body — but just as real and present, nonetheless. Therefore, working with the Qi (to release blockages, stimulate or balance it, etc.) can help with mental and emotional problems as well as physical conditions.
How Shiatsu works
According to the Oriental view, the Qi flowing in each of the meridians has different qualities and functions. Health and wellbeing can be positively affected by working with these different energies. The Shiatsu practitioner is able to tune-in and resonate his/her own energy field and to offer, at a sub-conscious level, some possibilities for change – both physical and emotional.
There are some very interesting questions as to whether our physical body creates our Qi field (‘etheric body’, ‘energy-body’, ‘aura’, etc) or whether the energy-body creates the physical one. It is increasingly widely believed that much illness first occurs as a distortion in the energy field which then, because that field provides our ongoing template, introduces the distorted pattern of illness into our physical body.
The Western scientific approach acknowledges that Shiatsu will tend to sedate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and promote the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is associated with the ‘fight or flight’ response. In our society, this is activated far too much of the time by all the various stresses to which we are subject. The PNS relates to what we might broadly describe as the nourishing and healing functions (digestion, deepened breathing, blood circulation, etc). These are suppressed when the SNS is more highly activated.
What happens in a Shiatsu session?
A session usually begins with a discussion about your health. Normally this would include any specific problems you have, and a discussion of your work, family, eating and exercise patterns. On your first visit this may take up a substantial part of the time. On subsequent visits the discussion is usually much shorter and focused on any changes that have taken place.
This is followed by the Shiatsu treatment which usually lasts about 45 minutes. At the end there will be a little time to let the effects begin to settle in and to talk about the treatment.
What does it feel like?
The touch, or pressure used is usually pleasurable and comforting. Sometimes it is necessary to work more deeply and this can be uncomfortable, but this is usually only a small part of the overall treatment.
What conditions are Shiatsu good for?
Shiatsu is a safe and gentle therapy which can help with most conditions. Sometimes it works directly, but other times it offers support and space for people to begin to come to terms with problems they face.
Are there any times when Shiatsu should be avoided?
Shiatsu is a very safe therapy, but it should be avoided if you:
- have an infectious disease
- are suffering from any acute, feverish illness
- have internal bleeding or blood clots
- have had a major operation during the last 3 months
You should inform your practitioner of any condition that has been diagnosed by a doctor.
How many sessions will be needed?
Shiatsu helps the body’s energy to rebalance itself. If the “dis-ease” is long-standing, then the body’s energy patterns will have become accustomed to being out of balance. Usually, the longer a condition has been present, the longer it will take to heal. However, this is not always the case, and sometimes change is very rapid. Everyone is different!
What should I wear?
You remain fully clothed. You should wear loose fitting clothing, preferably with long sleeves. It is good to have a sweat-shirt or similar, for warmth, and not to rely on a tee-shirt (body-temperature often drops a little during the treatment). Avoid wearing a skirt or jeans, and wear, or bring a clean pair of socks. Leave some time between eating and having a Shiatsu treatment.
How will I feel after a treatment?
Many people find it leaves them feeling deeply relaxed, with a feeling of well-being and calmness. It can also leave you feeling intensely alive and energised. Sometimes emotional feelings surface, either during or after a treatment. This is perfectly normal and you should try to give yourself the time and space to let them wash-through you rather than suppressing them.
What if I am on medication?
Shiatsu will not interfere with your medication. It will often complement conventional medical treatment by giving an overall strengthening effect and improving the circulation of blood and lymph and reducing stress. If you are receiving medical treatment for a particular condition, then it may be advisable to inform or consult your doctor prior to having a Shiatsu treatment.
Can I have Shiatsu if I am having other complementary or alternative therapy?
Yes, although it is generally best to leave at least a few days between different treatments to let the effects settle-in. If you have any concerns about mixing treatments, please discuss them with your practitioner.