Shiatsu comes from Japan but its roots touch upon the traditional Chinese healing arts known today as traditional Chinese medicine. TCM aims not to suppress symptoms of various health problems; it searches for the causes of diseases and determines diagnosis and treatment according to them.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF SHIATSU
Pressure of Fingers
Shiatsu literally means pressure of fingers. Although it is not solely about this technique, pressure of fingers on certain points on the meridians is important. The pressure is applied using the natural weight of the therapist (using thumbs, elbows, feet). This pressure significantly influences the energy flowing through meridians. This is the energy that we refer to as Ki.
Ki (qi in Chinese) in itself is invisible. However, in certain situations, the results of its “work” are strongly visible on the body. It is thanks to Ki that a wound heals “by itself”. Ki is the name for universal life power. Ki is a vibration with no beginning and no end. It keeps changing, like everything in the universe. All that exists has been created by this power. When a person is active and looks healthy, it shows that they have plenty of Ki. When energy flows fluently in the body, everything works well. However, when energy flows slowly, we feel weak and tired and we can fall ill, eventually. During shiatsu, we stimulate the body, so that it gets energy and can use it. The energy flow can become smooth.
Meridians are channels through which Ki flows. In certain body areas, they follow the same lines as muscles and veins. They are not visible because they do not have any material form, but they are easy to feel and play several important roles: they control movements in the body (blood, air, water, gas); connect head, arms and legs with the chest; facilitate communication between the outer and inner environment as well as the upper and lower parts of the body, they control (regulate) the activity of the organs.
There are 12 basic meridians flowing in the body. Each corresponds to one of the 12 basic body organs and carries its name (e.g. the heart meridian, the kidney meridian...). The meridian is not related just to the organ itself. According to the Eastern concept, it also relates to the function of the relevant organ. For instance, the large intestine takes care of elimination. At the emotional level, it is related to loss, separation, the ability to free oneself from problems etc. The patient concerned may have problems with constipation, but great financial expenses may influence the large intestine as well.
Yang meridians are on the back and the outer surfaces of arms and legs. They belong to the organs of the digestive tract, the so-called hollow organs (stomach, the intestines, urinary and gall bladder). Yin meridians are places on the front parts of the body and the internal surfaces of arms and legs. They belong to the so-called solid organs, organs with specific tissue (lung, spleen, heart, kidney, liver).
Tsubo (classic acupuncture points) are points of the meridians characterised by Ki accumulation. Ki is easier to contact and manipulate through them (in the good sense). From the energy point of view, a tsubo is bulb-shaped with narrow neck on the skin surface and bulging belly inside the body. We exert pressure to contact Ki at the point. Each point has its specific characteristics or effects.
Everything on Earth has its point of balance, so does the human. It is located in the hara, an area around the navel, the physical centre of gravity. Hara is the physical as well as energetic centre of the body, which needs to be strengthened. Digestion occurs here; food is broken down and transformed into energy. In this area, the human foetus develops and gets its physical charge, vital for its early growth.
During shiatsu, palpating the hara gives us an image of the diagnosis of individual organs and meridians. At the same time, shiatsu is most efficient when it is coming from the therapist’s hara and when the therapist is connected to the earth through the hara. We can strengthen it either by regular shiatsu treatment or by individual work through exercise, mediation or simply being aware and living with it.
It also focuses on observing nature and its regular and logical transformations. If we fail to respect them, we expose ourselves to the risk of disharmony, which ultimately leads to disease. Shiatsu uses the same energy channels and points in the body as acupuncture. During shiatsu, however, they are stimulated in a much gentler way - by touch of palms, pressure of thumbs, and, in adults also the pressure of elbows or feet. Apart from working with the points, it also contains various techniques such as limb stretching to open the joints to energy flow, breathing exercises, kneading, heating, vibrations, shaking... Shiatsu belongs among massage techniques but given its ability to work with the body’s energy, it influences its energy and thus stimulates the correct functioning of internal organs.
Significant Concepts for Understanding the Philosophy
Yin and Yang
Yin and Yang are not statuses or differences but rather methods of expressing changes. It is an incessant transformation and complementation. The image of the monad makes this process more understandable. The circle symbolises unity and unboundedness of the energy that is in everything and does not have a beginning or an end. The division line is a curve, illustrating constant movement, transition of the Yin principle into the Yang principle and vice versa. In each colour, there is a point of the opposite colour. This suggests that everything contains a seed of the opposite quality in itself. Yin and Yang are mutually opposite but one cannot exist without the other.
The Yin and Yang theory is about looking for ways into the centre. Each of us works with the Yin and Yang principles naturally, subconsciously. If we have eaten something salty (Yang), we have the need to complete it with a seriously sweet desert (Yin) or a larger amount of liquid (Yin). If a room is cold, we usually turn the heating on (Yang) or start dancing, jumping, moving ... we simply generate heat, which is Yang again. We do not have to think about it, it is natural. The human body, just like anything else on this planet, has its Yin and Yang aspects, features, processes and principles. In shiatsu, we work with them in a very conscious way. The shiatsu system works with 12 main organs: lung and large intestine/liver and gall bladder/stomach and spleen/kidney and urinary bladder/heart and small intestine. They are listed in pairs that belong together, help one another energetically as well as functionally, complement each other, their functions are similar. One of the organs is hollow, i.e. Yang, the other is solid i.e. Yin.
Examples of Yin and Yang:
Yin - earth, woman, thing (matter), dark, cold, passivity, sweetness
Yang - sky, man, energy, light, warmth, activity, saltiness
The constant mutuality needs to be pointed out again, however. Nothing can be only Yin or only Yang. Even darkness contains a bit of light and vice versa. Winter relates to warmth and vice versa, activity precedes passivity, and then takes over again, etc.
The Yin and Yang energies constantly change from one to the other. We recognise five stages in these transformations - five transformations of energy.
The Yin and Yang theory represents the foundation of Far Eastern philosophy, the basis of Taoist teachings on the working and transformation of things and phenomena. Yin originally means the dark, shady side of the mountain, while Yang means the lit side of the mountain. The mountain symbolises the existence as such and Yin and Yang exist around it in constant mutual influencing. Unlike European dualist philosophy, the contrast of Yin and Yang lies in their mutual complementation and reciprocal dependency.
Five Transformations of Energy
The theory of five energy transformations represents another classification of the Yin and Yang principles into different forms of the Ki energy. These forms are described by the qualities of five elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. You may sometimes see it under the name of “Five Elements”.
The connotations of the term “element”, however, are far less fixed in Chinese than in our languages. Therefore, it cannot be translated or explained with one word as its meaning lacks the dynamic aspect. The Chinese expression is Wu-Sing. Wu means “five” and Sing means to move, to do, to perform. It thus means five movement forces. Their mutual workings give rise to all other forms of being, and together, they form one dynamic whole. That is why the theory is often referred to by a more alternative term as “five phases” or “five energy transformations”. Like the Yin and Yang theory, this theory is also based on observing natural cycles and classifications based on mutual workings of individual phenomena.
To the element of wood, we assign - spring, morning, birth - childhood, green colour, sour taste, organs of liver and gall bladder and the emotion of anger.
To the element of fire, we assign - summer, noon, adultness, red colour, bitter taste, organs of heart and small intestine and the emotion of joy.
To the element of earth, we assign - Indian summer, afternoon, mature age, orange, ochre, yellow colour, sweet taste, organs of spleen and stomach and the emotion of melancholy, broodiness.
To the element of metal, we assign - autumn, evening, ageing, white colour, spicy taste, organs of lung and large intestine and the emotion of sadness.
To the element of water, we assign - winter, night, death, dark blue, black colour, salty taste, organs of kidney and urinary bladder and the emotion of fear.
LIFE IN BALANCE