Now there's a question! For me, the answer is yes! I can say this because I tried a lot of other therapies in the 14 years or so that it took me to come across shiatsu. The day I found this therapy I was utterly amazed that I had never even heard the word before. I had heard about acupressure, I'd even done a short course in it; but it still wasn't right for me. I'd received cranial osteopathy for more than 10 years and that was life-changing, sorting out my back and pelvis; but it still didn't resolve everything. I'd done Alexander Technique, I learnt some powerful messages from that, and my headaches lessened as my neck lengthened. I tried deep tissue massage, nope made my shoulder worse, I'd received reflexology, nah, too foot fiddly, I loved a hot stone massage, but it wiped me out completely and didn't resolve anything. Acupuncture I loved the theory of but the needles were like electric shocks! It wasn't as though I wasn't trying I just hadn't found the one. So can shiatsu reach the parts other therapies can't? That's what I'll explore in my blog this month.
Can shiatsu reach the parts other therapies can't?
Last week in a dream I wrote the ultimate shiatsu blog, and thought: this is perfect, why haven't I written this sooner? Then I woke up and I've spent over a week trying to remember what that perfect blog was! I've given up trying to remember and this one has popped into my head instead :) The answer to my own question is yes - shiatsu can reach the parts other therapies can't so I'll explain why. My shiatsu practitioner calls shiatsu the intelligent persons go-to therapy; so I'd best not mention the other therapies she does!
I found shiatsu when I really needed it, at a point of crisis really. A year after my dad died I was working 80 hour weeks, I can't remember whether I was ill a lot but I was tired and stressed and I woke up one Saturday morning thinking I needed a therapeutic massage. I'm not even sure we had google back then so I put my request into Scooch and shiatsu popped up. The name immediately intrigued me as it sounded mystical and I found a practitioner less than 10 minutes away; in London that is fortuitous!
In my head when I was looking for therapeutic massage, I wanted something that was going to sort out my head and my body together; I knew this was possible from the after effects of previous therapies. I wasn't into talky therapies, I didn't feel those got me anywhere as I had tried a few styles over the years but I need the physical aspect too. Interestingly now in the 2020's coaching teaches us that there has to be a physiological change as well as a cerebral one, so 20 years on from my initial thoughts about talking sessions they are realising that a person has to feel physical change to help resolve mental and emotional issues. This is very much explored in Peter Levine's Waking the Tiger: Healing trauma; who's a leading light in resolving PTSD, in the body. I digress but the point is I had realised that to resolve whatever was going on in my head I needed bodywork too.
Shiatsu sorts out the emotional in the physical
I scared the hell out of my cranial osteopath back in the 90's when I burst into tears and cried solidlly for 3 hours, he didn't know what to do! It was a Saturday morning, I used to drive across country from working in Bedfordshire to see him at his clinic in Ross on Wye; he was that good. He was evolving too, all energetic practitioners do so he knew he wasn't entirely doing cranial work and that something else was going on; and I felt it too. I remember telling him through big sobs that this felt like a good thing! He had only lightly touched the bridge of my nose and that was it; now, we know this was a big emotional release, I had let go of something even though I couldn't tell you what that was.
Fast forward 30 years to these past 2 weeks. I had my shiatsu on Thursday and I went in with: please sort out my left hand side, I don't know what's gone wrong but it's my leg (I still have physical issues with my now 3 year old injury) plus my neck was playing up since going down on the ice last December. I went in with physical stuff, but what had exacerbated it all was emotional stuff I found out during the session; and I hadn't put 2 and 2 together. My practitioner picked up on an old stubborn energy, I'd dug my heels in over something, I didn't know what that could be and the beauty of shiatsu is that it doesn't matter.
What I did know was that something 2 weeks earlier had riled me. I was at an online networking event about being a writer and a feeling came up during the session, a really old feeling that I hadn't felt since I was a kid. I couldn't put my finger on what that feeling was but I know afterwards I actually felt a bit angry about it. However the way I deal with things is to sleep on it it'll be better in the morning; and it was... or was it?
Had I not dealt with it and just pushed it back down whilst I went to bed and slept well? I did have vivid dreams that week and it was unlike me to bash someones head in with a hammer (he was a really annoying actor!) but I did. The following day I noted I'd had quite a violent dream and I had a few more that week, so I did change the TV programmes I was watching too. Was something bristling in my sub conscious that I wasn't dealing with?
By the time I got to my shiatsu session it was noticeable that some issues were happening on my left hand side; in energetic terms the left side is linked more with emotions and the right side physical issues. It was my left side that was showing up some weird pains and symptoms. Just to add that left sided symptoms can be with yourself and right sided with the world/other people, so it's not necessarily easy to unpick what's causing what. With shiatsu though and the zen-like quality of it it's not about obsessing what caused the issue, only that the issue is here and it's wanting to be resolved now.
A lot of my clients who are experiencing anxiety are questioning why they are anxious, what feelings have led them to this? Why is it happening when they have good lives and should be happy? Ironically this is our scientific left sided brains questioning why feelings are triggering physical symptoms; what a confusing world we now live in! My answer is to accept that anxiety is happening in your body, it's a physical reaction wanting to be resolved and that you don't have to obsess over anything in your head / emotions/ feelings triggering it. Accept that it is a physical issue that wants to be resolved now.
In Zen shiatu accept that it is ready to be resolved in the now
20 years on I'm still getting my head around this, and this blog has turned out to be more philosophical than I thought it would be. I've also had a few conversations in the last couple of months about whether I should try past life regression, there are a lot of practitioners now in this realm and chatting to them is interesting. Then I talk to some of my regular practitioner friends who are very much in the present with healing and resolving symptons and say:
If your symptom is now, treat it in the now; there is no need to regress.
I have to say I like this thought more, it seems easier to me, it ties in the with the philosphy behind zen shiatsu AND it makes it a lot easier for any of my clients walking through the door. You don't need to know what's causing your issue only that it is happening and you would like to release it.
My priviso to this though is that if you can't let go of a physical issue and you want to know/talk about what the cause is then you are most likely more aligned with a talking therapy to help you release/resolve your issue; in this case I recommend a clean language practitioner; it can be very releasing but not for the faint-hearted. The reason there are many many therapies out there and ways of releasing old wounds/traumas/ physical and emotional issues is that human beings resonate with so many different ways of resolving their issues. Ultimately everyone will find just one or two types that really work for them, but for some you try a whole lot before you find the right one; and for me it really is shiatsu.
How does shiatsu practically resolve symptoms and issues?
Shiatsu just means finger pressure in Japanese, and it was a zen master called Masunaga who took simple shiatsu to another level with tying it into the nervous system. When you take this modality and the theory of chinese medicine (that acupressure/acupuncture are based on) you have an incredibly powerful way of tapping into the mysteries of a body and releasing aches and ailments. This goes for animals too, infact they are more likely to benefit from touch therapy quicker because they don't have any preconceived ideas that it won't work.
The mind is a powerful thing, if you come along for a therapy and you're determined it's not going to help you, it most likely won't. Self sabotage is THE BIGGEST obstacle in self healing. Many people want to identify with an ailment or condition, it suits their story, and they can't be helped until they become open-minded; curious and brave to change.
Shiatsu is mainly a gentle touch, and this connects with your body emotionally, this is why it's so powerful. Some new clients leave a session thinking I've not done very much, but when they come back it's because they felt the powerful effects and are brave enough to return.
I used to think people were brave trying a new therapy when they didn't know a lot about, but age and experience has taught me that you're brave if you come back for the second and third sessions. Feeling the change and doing it anyway! A lot of people don't like the feelings of change that they experience in mind and body and don't pursue; self sabotage at play again!
There are 2 main causes of ill health, and when you view a person in this way then you can help resolve their issues:
External pernicious influences - I love this term! I've never forgotten it - it applies to poisons and toxins. We don't get poisoned too often, maybe the odd insect bite, or some dodgy chicken. We have more toxins though in our lives now than ever before; from the chemicals you apply to your skin, the additives in foods, processed foods, foods that cause inflammation, the air we breathe, it's not just limited to smoking. Inhaling/ingesting external toxins, and we can add viruses (bacteria, fungal, mold etc) to this as well, cause a lot of ill health deep within the body and can remain as chronic conditions too.
Internal pernicious influences - this is the really long list! It's how you feel, the emotions that rise up in you and what you do with them. It's childhood, it's social conditioning, it's school, it's guilt, it's should's, it's this is how things are done, it's when you clench your jaw to not say something, or squeeze your bum to not show emotion! It's all those things you do everyday that you don't think about that are having small, chronic effects within you; and they all build up until they show as a symptom. It may seem like something has just appeared, but it's likely there has been a recent trigger either emotionally or from toxins/virus; this is where the phrase the straw that broke the camels back is very apt.
Now put the two together and you get illness big time! Toxins plus unvocalised/released emotions cause nasty illness, but repressed emotions cause everything from tight muscles to autoimmune conditions.
Now I know that all sounds really heavy so let's lighten it up and explain how you can stay on top of all this toxic smelting pot and that feel happier, healthy, lighter and energised is easier to achieve than you think!
A lot of us can't express all the emotions we feel, we may not even register them, and if we did all express everything everyday there would be a lot of emotional vomit (I love that phrase!) all over the place. There is a time and place to resolve how you're feeling mentally and physically and this is in your regular therapy session of choice. Some of my clients come in having had a very tough week or month, this is okay, the main thing is that they go out feeling a thousand times better, and in that session we've had a good therapeutic session together.
What's a good shiatsu therapy session?
A good therapy session is one where the energy may start heavy, but it lightens as the session goes on. There's always a good bit of chat if that's what the client wants, but the magic is in the shiatsu touch. Shiatsu practitioners work from picking up energies, this happens from the moment you say hello, from the tone of your voice to the pace you walk in at. Don't worry, you're not being assessed (we aren't MI5!) it's just a feeling that we work with before you've even said how your week has been.
I've talked a lot in previous blogs about how shiatsu physically fixes you, working to release muscles and unblock energies, it does all of that well and this can relieve back ache, shoulder problems, gut issues and more. But what is really going on is that it's releasing something that's got emotionally stuck in your place of vulnerability. We all know the spots in our body that are weak, where a bug goes too or when you get stressed this and that goes. In a way you already know that your emotions are having a strong effect on your physiology.
The word psychosomatic has received a negative slant in recent years, people thinking that it's not a physical issue that it's all in the mind; that's pretty much what 19th century psychology was based on, I hope it's changed some now! What happens is that when you can't deal with an emotion which most of us can't, we push it into our bodies as we're not trained in how to let go of emotions in a healthy way; most of us require coaching in this as very few people have the natural ability.
What psychosomatic actually means is where an emotion has caused a physical, very real issue. If we didn't have this we'd all be perfectly health and ache free, but we're not. This is because we all have emotions that on a daily basis we have to either repress or park as we don't have time to deal with it, or you're under so much stress that your body is fire-fighting the basics to keep you alive so it doesn't have time to register emotionally-based symptoms. This is why it's when you relax that ailments appear, your body has switched back into the healing state from fight n flight and now seems to be groaning under the symptoms. This is particularly noticeable around 18 months after you've lost a close loved one; and I think I spent a whole year destressing from relieving my computer software job.
How does shiatsu reach the parts other therapies can't?
Shiatsu combines the emotional in the physical, it accesses your physical body on an emotional level. It can resolve an emotional issue by making a physical change and it can support a physical change through an emotional release. It's so intertwined you can't separate the two, you will have an emotional, energetic and physical change all as one. Of course there are other therapies that can do this, I experienced it decades ago with my cranial osteopathy; so why is shiatsu still superior in this respect? It is because it knows what it is doing and this is thanks to the acu points that are pressed or held empathetically based on the knowledge of chinese medicine. How the acu points relate to emotions, organs, systems, muscles, nerves and energies in your body.
Acupuncture in theory should do the same as shiatsu as it's the exact same model but the difference is in the human touch; something the needles bypass. A shiatsu practitioner is present with you throughout the whole session where as most acupuncturists leave the room. Acupuncture is great for relieving acute symptoms in the moment, but it doesn't address the underlying emotional connection unless you have an acupuncturist that is well versed in this, (someone who is chinese medicine trained and emotionally empathetic). Shiatsu practitioners do tend to be more emotionally understanding as that is the essence of why their shiatsu is so good. You can't hide anywhere when touch is involved, if you're in a bad mood, egotistical or not present it comes through in the touch and you would leave feeling dissatified. A client who is happy on leaving has had a good shiatsu; it's that simple!
About Andrea at Shiatsu Bodyworks Cheltenham
Andrea is a qualified zen shiatsu and chinese medicine practitioner with over 20 years immersed in holistic therapies and the energetics of mind and body. Based in Cheltenham, UK she offers in house clinic and online shiatsu sessions to help people with midlife health issues and also offers online consultations as she is a menopause specialist too.