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Zen-Shiatsu

History (Abridged version)

If we were to go back, far back into history (that is much longer than you born...long time!), we will come to a time when many of the now, known cultures, and perhaps some no-longer-in-existence cultures were all one and there were not so many distinctions. We will find that the  basic philosophy was the same. We will find Ayurveda (in Sanskrit ), which means the "Science of Life". Different words are used in different cultures depending on the language of course, still amounting to the same meaning. However, as the rigors of life continued, the people who lived in the valley, whenever they would get sick  ended up using herbs and food that were grown in the valleys to heal themselves. So too, the people who lived in the mountains, when they got sick used the herbs and foods that were local to the mountain to get well. The alternative which would be to travel very long distances for medicine, was existent I am sure, but that was not viable. 
The result was as we can see immediately in this example that we ended up with the "valley medicine" and with "mountain medicine" out of the same basic understanding of the human being... hmmm!! It is then, not so difficult to understand why there are so many different nuances in the medical system, as time progressed. But it really does not matter what we call it really..."A rose is rose by any other name it is still a rose".

Medicine was deeply rooted in the philosophy and practices of  the region, which included the diseases of the mind and how it affected the human beings...there seems to be no account of psychology as we know it today. As cultures developed their own identities, each group kept with them their practices. Each one of course would claim that they were the first, and there is really nothing wrong with that! Which parent does not call each of their children aside and tell them personally, that you are my favorite and my chosen one. This makes the child very happy and is very healthy for the child's self-esteem. So too, each group thinks that they are the first and perhaps that controversy will continue... But not important here.

Centuries ago, Buddhist monks practiced Tai-Ji (Tai Chi) and Qi Gong- meditative movement revealing and cultivating the vital life force. They believed this force, Qi (pronounced “Ch’I”, in China, “Ki” in Japan and known as “Prana” in India), was inseparable from life itself. They revealed that this life force animated the causal body, the subtle body and the physical body. Not only body , but also the energetic force of the entire universe. Oriental and Eastern Medicine is a philosophy of preserving health (as in Ayurvedic medicine), and is based first and foremost on an understanding of the ultimate power of this life force. In contrast to much of Western medicine, Oriental Medicine is preventative, strengthening the immune system to ward of disease.

Philosophically speaking this universal energy Ki is manifested in a dual form both as Yin: cold, dark and “interior,” and Yang-warm, light, and “exterior”, (in the Yogic system "Ha" and "Tha" respectively "cold" and "hot" hence Hatha Yoga).  In fact, Ki is present in all the opposites, they are actually interwoven and inseparable. The Awareness of one is only possible because of the other. The balance between them is dynamic like the motion of night and day or like exhalation in inhalation; as one subsides the other gains strength. Then the cycle repeats itself. All the internal organs of the body are subject to this oscillation of the universe.

The world view holds further that Ki, manifesting as yin/yang, makes up the universe in the form of the elements. Although the ancient masters and seers categorized then into five elements based on ordinary human interaction, they being: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water (in the Ayurvedic system the “sister” perhaps of Chinese medicine, the five elements are: fire, water, earth, air, ether).

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Ayurvedic Medicine

Fire Fire
Earth Earth
Water Water
Metal Air
Wood Ether

These five elements also represents our bodily constitution as human beings, making us one with the universe. Ki flows into our bodies, up from the earth in its yin form and down from the heaven in its yang form. This Ki flow through channels or energy currents in our bodies.  According to ancient text there are 72,000 channels of which 14 major ones known as "meridians" which can be manipulated externally to induce a healing effect. These meridians do not directly correspond to any anatomical component recognized by Anglo/American medicine.

To understand the flow of Ki, compare the meridians as veins and arteries and the blood flow through them. "Where energy goes Blood flows". If our blood does not flow freely, we have high or low blood pressure. If it does not reach our toes, there is some blockages along the way and they feel dead. If our blood clots, we can have serious problem. Similarly, unbalanced or stagnant Ki can cause many diseases and ailments. In fact, Oriental Medicine is based on the principle that every illness, ailments, and discomforts in the body can be explained in terms of an imbalance of Ki. 

Each meridian is related to one of the “five elements”. For example, the heart meridian is related to the element fire, the kidney and bladder to water. Along the meridians are  “gateways” or pressure points, special places where restrictions can occur. The therapist helps to free these restrictions and allow a free flow and restore balance.

Out of the belief system of Eastern and Oriental medicine arose many healing methods, all directed to the balancing of Ki: Acupuncture, Tuina, Anma, Moxibustion, and special practices such as, Qi Gong, Tai Chi Chuan,  are among the primary methods used along with herbal remedies for centuries in Oriental Healing Massage.

As time progressed, Japanese monks began studying Buddhism in China. They observed the healing methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine and took them back to Japan. There, the practice of medicine consisted primarily of diagnosis and treatment with massage-type methods. There are four main types of diagnostics that lead the practitioner to an understanding of the Ki flow, they are:

·          Looking i.e. examination especially of the eyes, tongue, lips, nose and ears (the Five Senses) . Examination with special reference to color (the Five Colors) and careful observation of the patient's hearing and disposition (the Five Emotion).

·          Listening e.g. to the heart, the breathing and particularly the voice (the Five Vocal Expressions). listening also include being to able to pick up information using the sense of smell (five different odors).

·          Asking. i.e.  finding out by interrogation the history of the disorder and other factors such as sleep, dreams, bowel habits, work habits, life contentment, etc.

·          Palpating, especially of points on the abdomen, thorax and on the Channels (Bo and Yu alarm points). Included here is  the quality of the energy in the meridians.

The Japanese adopted the Traditional Chinese Medicine, and enhanced it with new combinations eventually achieving the form now called “Shiatsu”. With time Shiatsu became uniquely Japanese

In contrast to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shiatsu combines the principles with practices similar to those of acupuncture but performed without needles. In later years, political pressures diminished the spiritual dimension of the art. Then, in the 1950’s and 1960’s Shizuto Masunaga, a Japanese psychologist and student of Zen, re-incorporated psychological and and intended to include the spiritual dimensions to shiatsu, once again transcending purely physical applications. However his work was left incomplete, on account of his untimely death at the age of 51.

During his work and research, Masunaga sensitivity of touch increased and he found that the energy of all the twelve meridians were experienced in both the arms and the legs as well and this puzzled him and motivated him to travel to China where he came up short of answers. Then he travelled further to India where he found old charts showing the 12 meridians in the arms and legs. It is my understanding that he learnt  methods of working with the "Nara" in Sanskrit, which seem to have the same essence as the word "Hara" in Japanese.

He came to understand as one account has it, that Traditional Chinese Medicine had simplified/reduced the emphasis to six meridians in the arms and six in the legs for reasons that at that time in the country more emphasis was paid to helping people with physical problems. However, he as he continued to use the meridian system as he had found, it became known as the Masunaga extension meridians. This account seems to be rationally accurate, because or since each cell has all the information about the human system/s coupled with the fact that the method of pulse diagnosis is used to assess the entire meridian system. On top of this, if one were to overlay the holographic view that microcosm represents macrocosm, then one can access the information from anywhere in the body.

Zen Shiatsu

The word “Dhyana” which is a Sanskrit word loosely used for meditation became “Dhyan” in the Hindi language and as the practice and philosophy moved to Tibet via the Buddhist and Buddhism, the word became “Jhana” or “Jhan”. The last ‘a’ is a half sound and is sometimes not pronounced. The word “Jhan” became “Chan” in China and eventually “Zen” in Japan. So that Zen is meditation is translated loosely. Combining this meditative aspect with Shiatsu the term  “Zen-Shiatsu” was coined. 
Masunaga’s untimely death left the zen part of  zen-shiatsu without standardization and the mercy of many who does not practice meditation or who does not know meditation but still use the term zen-shiatsu, this includes some of my own shiatsu instructors. What I have done is to bring in the esteemed tradition of Yoga meditation which I have been practicing since a child into and completing Zen-Shiatsu, perhaps!. Since I don’t know what Masunaga’s intentions were.

In the early 1970s, a few Japanese practitioners, including Masunaga’s chief “disciple” Wataru Ohashi (the founder of "Ohashiatsu"), traveled to the United States, where he began to teach Shiatsu to Westerners. Psychological and spiritual awareness have been extended and deepened by these early teachers, and shiatsu became an increasingly popular practice, both in the United States and Europe. 
Shiatsu is a Japanese word: “Shi” meaning “finger”, and “atsu” meaning “pressure”. But Zen-shiatsu is more that acupressure. It is a combination of many different techniques, including pressing, hooking, sweeping, shaking, rotating, grasping, vibrating, patting, plucking, lifting, pinching, rolling, brushing, holding, stretching and tractioning which extends into the fascial system. In one school developed by  Suzuki Yamamoto, barefoot shiatsu, it includes walking on the person’s back, legs, and feet.

These techniques that have been popularized are for the most part physical techniques. With an awareness of psychological and spiritual implications Zen-Shiatsu has become, indeed, a kind of dance between the giver and receiver. A unique rapport develops between the practitioner and client (giver and receiver), because Zen-shiatsu relies on the simple but powerful experience of touch to awaken the individual’s own healing powers. This “touch communication” between the giver and receiver is fundamental to all healing methods and demands the utmost reverence.

No needles, oils, creams, machines, or other mechanical devices,   are needed for the experience of a complete Zen-shiatsu session. The practitioner uses gentleness, fluidity, and rhythmical motion to work with the imbalances in the receiver’s Ki. Progressively over a number of sessions, the client can learn how to assist in the balance of his or her own Ki. I educate people on what to do when they go home as far as exercises and stretches, dietary awareness, rest and meditation techniques that would be beneficial to them, since healing is an individual thing ultimately. This entire approach is about Self-transformation, Self-awareness, and Self-education.

Some Zen-shiatsu practitioners use a massage table; others use the floor in order to apply a wider variety of techniques, if the floor is used, the person lies on a futon, an exercise mat, or a mattress especially made for shiatsu. The practitioner then works by kneeling, sitting, crawling, and standing near the receiver. The receiver remains fully clothed for a shiatsu session the clothes must be loose, comfortable clothing. The body and/or feet may be covered with a sheet of blanket. The room is maintained at a comfortable temperature, and soft background music can help to bring the person to a relaxed state of mind and body. However I prefer to use the purer tones of chimes which is less distracting to the mind and is more energizing than electronic sounds. 

Ki flows through the meridian pathways in all parts of the body. There are more than three hundred points along the way. Acupuncture requires the insertion of a single needle for each acu-point selected. In shiatsu the application of these meridian pathways by he practitioner’s fingers, knees, or elbows covers several of these critical points simultaneously. In Zen-shiatsu even though the tsubos (acu-points) are important more emphasis is paid on the quality of the energy flowing in the meridians and how to enhance that quality.

Continual evaluation based of the paradigms of Eastern and Oriental medicine is part of the treatment. It is a supportive; reciprocal, interdependent, and cooperative between giver and receiver. The healing energy and awareness build in this synergy for both practitioner and client. As Wataru Ohashi describes “The giver is a receiver and the receiver is a giver.” Throughout this , the use of the practitioner’s two hands—mother hand and son hand—allows continuous motion.. the client experiences no pain, but rather a comfortable feeling of partnership in the awakening of powerful self-healing forces. A deeper sense of self-awareness evolves and healing occurs.

 The intention throughout the session is to be present and to be in sync with the person’s life process, their whole being, their rhythm in life, and to be respectful of this. It becomes an honor to touch and dialogue silently with the body. My whole body becomes a proprioceptive too, feeling the energy in the body, where places are tight, having excessive energy or, in contrast, empty, hollow areas where the body is lacking energy.  I can  feel the changes in the energy patterns as the body is healing and it never ceases to be fascinating as each person is so different and heals differently. And through the meditative aspect I am able to tune into the person’s spiritual strengths, and holding till the release comes or the balance is established. When an opening comes it touches the physical, emotional, and spiritual sensitivity of the person. The natural healing flow is restored. When this happens, it is a celebration in giving and sharing.

Zen-Shiatsu truly becomes preventive health care. However, each person is primarily responsible for his or her own health and well-being and through Zen-Shiatsu one comes to know the body and oneself in such a way that they are able to fully take charge of their own health. This contrasts with the Western belief that the medical practitioner is principally responsible for our health and well-being. 
In Western medicine the approach is linear; a problem is the result of something specific and there is a specific cure for it. In Eastern medicine the philosophy is that we are the accumulation of many “multi-woven stories” and no one thing causes a problem and the approach to fixing it is non-linear. 
What these stories are and how to change them overall, in order to achieve health is better harnessed through Somato Emotional Release (SER) and Meditation.In Western medicine an awareness of the unique significance of touch—the essential form of communication between two human beings in the fight to subdue pain and disharmony—has almost disappeared; certainly it has become minimal. Ironically, in all times and all cultures, the importance of touch—just touch itself—has been acknowledge as a primary means to mitigate pain. In the hurried rounds of the Western clinics and hospital where, physician running around checking charts dictated perhaps by the insurance companies, touch has disappeared.

Most of my recent training in Shiatsu came through the Ohashi Institute in New York City where I studied and received my Advance Ohashiatsu and Post Graduate work.