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Shiatsu Blog: Elevate your energy and longevity with these Japanese lifestyle tips


man touching his toes

My life changed dramatically when I stepped into the world of shiatsu! I didn't know what was going to happen but my life has improved in every aspect and it's thanks to this millenia old style of living life to maximise your health, wellness, wisdom and happiness. Last month I looked at tips to elevate your energy through the winter months and that led me to thinking about what the best overall lifestyle advice we can take from the traditional Japanese way of being that shiatsu has developed from and which encompasses all aspects of daily life. This month's blog is a peak inside my new short ebook: The top 10 Japanese lifestyle tips to elevate your energy and longevity.



The top 10 Japanese lifestyle tips to elevate your energy and longevity


The Japanese over centuries have mastered the art of simplicity to elevate your living whether it be exercise, eating, resting or cleaning! It's quite refreshing to strip back the complexities that a western stressed way of life, that has led us to believe that everything has to be difficult and complex. I explain to many of my clients that it's about stripping back and letting go of the mentality that we've been brainwashed into over the last 4/5 decades; life doesn't need to be as difficult as we've ended up making it.


Getting back to basics in areas like food and relaxation helps your body reset your stress levels. At the basis of good health, good energy and hopeful longevity is combatting the physical stress that now resides within you.


In coming for a shiatsu you are at the start of an exciting journey of discovery in how to live your life AND very importantly a renewed relationship with your own body. In time it will start to tell you what you need and you'll now have the knowledge on how to listen to it and what you can do for your own health and wellness.


Here are my essential top 10 Japanese lifestyle tips to elevate your energy and longevity!

 


man qi gong by sea

1. Qi Gong –Meditation through Movement


Qi Gong (pronounced Chee Gung) is the movement arm of Shiatsu and an older form than Tai Chi. It is the art of breathing, and with energy balancing movement it calms your mind, increases your energy and flexibility and is the key to increasing your core vitality. It’s a fantastic way to create a meditative state of mindfulness using movement if meditation on its own is not achievable for you.

 

If you’re in a bad mood - Qi Gong lifts it

If you get angry  - Qi Gong calms your mind

If you can’t think – Qi Gong gives you clarity

If you’re tired – It’s a pick-me-up

If you’re cold and stiff  - it gets you working again

If you’re wired – Qi Gong relaxes you

 

I often recommend Qi Gong to support my clients in between shiatsu sessions. You can have a handy 3 minute session for when things get too much, it’s great for emergency situations;  through to doing regular hour long sessions with a teacher for a deeper understanding.


Holden Qi Gong is a great place to start with a handy archive of  video short routines to follow. You can do Qi Gong in the clothes you’re wearing and in the place you’re sitting; no mats or fancy equipment required!





pretty bowl of nutritious food

 

 

2. Hara Hachi Bun Me– the way to eat


This is a popular saying in Japan: It means eat only until you are 80 percent full. It usually takes at least 20 minutes for the brain to get the signal from the body that it needs to stop eating as it has had its fill of nutrients. By then you tend to eat more than you need increasing the load on your gut. Japanese people go by the hara hachi bun me clock as a reminder to stop eating.

 

Smaller portions and slower eating are also secrets of the long lifespan of the Japanese. Along with using chopsticks, this makes the whole eating process a lot slower, which also aids digestion. Try eating from a bowl or smaller plate and if you can have your evening meal more as a soup or very well cooked as this aids digestion.


Your stomach doesn’t have teeth so chewing your food well means there is less stress on your digestive system to break it down. If you have a weakened gut, unwell or fatigued your food should be well cooked. Raw is not necessarily good for many people and especially if you’ve ever been told you’re Spleen Qi Deficient or have a kidney energy issue.


Food that is cooked, is better for the gut, this means the breakdown is started. The obvious cooking method is heating your food, but fermented foods are also cooked.


I also find that if you have buffet or family style eating (helping yourself from bowls on the table) you eat way more, so fill your plate once and then beware going back for more.

 


woman tidying

 

3. Kurashi – Decluttering the Japanese way


The power of tidying up the Japanese way explains how putting your space in order causes corresponding dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. You may have heard of Marie Kondo and choosing whether something sparks your Joy?


I know I look around my house differently when I’m reminded of this and just writing this has triggered a forensic clean up!


You may know of a corner or room in your house that whenever you’re in a mental muddle or can’t move forwards it’s the place you need to tidy up. When this is done you’re able to move on and have achieved mental clarity. In my old place it was the spare room, in this house it’s the kitchen; where is it in your house?


The Japanese art of decluttering breaks down the physical act of tidying into two aspects: deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it. Tidying is a tool, not an end. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.

When a room becomes cluttered, the cause is more than just physical. Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder. The act of cluttering is really an instinctive reflex that draws our attention away from the heart of an issue.


Storage is not always the answer!


Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved.


This is the one I struggle with the most! Did you know that holding onto stuff is an emotional issue? I think that everything maybe useful in the future; whereas for others it maybe an attachment to the past. Being in the now with tidying up and letting go of those items that don’t bring you joy or are useful now is the key.  Check out Marie Kondo to learn more.

Book link at the end.

 


4. Embrace the emotions of the seasons


Did you know that there is a primary emotion linked with each season?


You can use this knowledge to your advantage. Spring is about growth, a thrusting  creative energy, that can be used for good rather; than giving into being frustrated and irritated. Spring is associated with anger but is better converted into creativity. Utilise that get-up-and-go energy even if something has annoyed you; put it to good use!


Autumn is an opposing energy, more contraction and introspection, which can trigger melancholy/nostalgia but better put to use with letting go that which doesn’t serve you. You can embrace your loved ones or the things that you love with Autumn energy. It’s associated emotion is grief and so this is a time you may reflect on what you have lost. It is also a powerful time for letting go and this can be very transformative. A lot can happen during the Autumnal energy and you may find that if you reach out for help it will be very beneficial.


Where as Spring and Autumn are dynamic energies Summer and Winter are mostly still. Winter the season of hibernation is linked with fear and on the flip side courage. To help you feel strong through these cold months you need to support your Kidney Qi in all the different ways possible. Keep your lower back warm and you will feel stronger and more courageous!


There are two energies / emotions linked with Summer, firstly Fire and then Earth; Joy and Worry . During summer you may find you’re passionate about things and outgoing with the warmer months. You feel more resilient and courageous; anything goes. Just don’t go overboard as Joy can turn to mania and obsession so keeping check on your emotions is always a Fire balancing act.


As summer matures and we reap the harvest  known as late summer this is the season of worry. It coincides with the back-to-school rush, that sudden kick start of energy after the summer holiday season so maybe appear as stress/anxiety. The way out of worrying is to stop thinking what if, stay in the moment, stay grounded.  This was one of the biggest lesson’s I learned was from a book called Stop Thinking, Start Living by Richard Carlson; small book, huge impact!


Here are another couple of books that may interest you if you’d like to know more on Chinese Five Element theory:


Wood becomes Water – for a beautiful introduction to the 5 Element theory.


I Yin, You Yang – using the 5 elements to help you master the important relationships in your life.

 

>>>>>Book links are in the shop at the end.

 


 


your body heat with a haramaki

5. Haramaki – Body temperature control


Temperature control is at the heart of your health, and especially if you’re menopausal.


If you’re continually cold, or have cold hands and feet, or if you over heat, and definitely if you have hot flushes in menopause your kidneys are most likely cold! Do this quick test:


Rub your hands together until they feel a normal warmth and then place them over your lower rib cage in your back. 


If it feels comforting to have the warmth of your hands their then your kidneys are cold. 


In Chinese medicine if your kidneys are cold they start to struggle and so drop their less critical functions like temperature regulation; hence when you’re healing from a critical situation you tend to go hot and cold easily. If your kidneys are warm, your circulation and general health and energy will be better. Stronger kidney function also means better cognitive function and immunity.

  

Warm up from the inside


The trend to drink ice cold drinks and eat your lunch straight from the fridge puts stress on your kidneys from the inside. Anything that cools the body quickly requires your kidneys to then try and warm you up again, and this can exhaust your body, expending vital energy, it also means you’ll most likely wee more! One of the tricks your body uses to regulate your temperature is to dump excess water. If you’re drinking cold water then weeing it out almost immediately, there is a connection.

Cold damp food from the fridge is the same, and damp in the body causes more issues, it can stop fluids reaching vital organs and tissues, this in turn can leave you feeling sluggish with the infamous 3pm slump. Eat all your food and drink at room temperature or warmer for better gut health and energy levels.

Another way to warm yourself is with gentle spices. A pinch of cinnamon in a drink, or garam marsala (spice blend) in your stew/soup helps your adrenal system, it’s a pick-me-up.

 

  

Hot Flushes and Day time sweats


This is also a sign that your body isn’t controlling your temperature so even my menopausal clients find wearing a Haramaki beneficial even though it seems counter-intuitive to having flushes/sweats. You need to check in with yourself how you feel between heat episodes and do the hand /kidney test I mentioned above. If you’re genuinely cold in your lower back then you do need a Haramaki.

 


 


ikigai diagram

6. Ikigai - Your why!


Ikigai (pronounced ee-kee-guy) is a philosophical way at examining what is missing in your life to truly fulfil you. It’s thought that ikigai is a combination of ikiru (‘to live’) and kai (‘the realisation of what one hopes for’).

 

If you look at this version of the ikigai diagram (above), you’ll see that when you don’t have balance across these 4 areas, this can affect how you feel. 

 

Finding your own ikigai can be seen as having balance across these 4 areas. Whether that purpose is a single thing or the balance of a number of things, you can think of it as 4 buckets that you can fill up; it’s not just about work or any one thing but making sure that you have something in all 4 of these buckets. If you can fill them up then you’re totally Ikigai!


These are the 4 buckets to fill and cover all aspects of your life:


What do I love?

What am I good at?

What can I be paid for?

What does the world need from me?


Over to you!




sitting in seiza

 

7. Spinal health is vital health!


Kneeling in Seiza aligns your spine perfectly! Practise sitting this way whilst watching a bit of tele, you can use cushions to support under your bum until your thigh muscles have stretched to make this position comfortable. If you have knee problems sitting this way can help as it opens the joints and stretch the muscles. Make sure you’re cushioned so you don’t create pressure or pain. Wriggle to feel your spine align and sitting up straight as though your head is hooked to a line suspended from above, the sky hook! This it turns out is just what the doctor ordered for ensuring that the strength and flexibility of the body is maintained.


Sitting on the floor comes easy to the average Japanese. Toilets too are designed for squatting, not sitting, ensuring that the core stays engaged - also healthier for the bowels and your muscles. Think of it as keeping all the pathways of the body straight up and down, the moment you introduce curves and kinks you have problems.




spleen makka ho with instructions

When you’re comfortable in the Seiza position you can start to lean back, this is incredibly beneficial as it starts to open the sitting muscles (Psoas). This is fantastic for combating too many hours sat at the desk or in the car.

 

Start by sitting in Seiza with your back to a sofa or comfortable chair, lean back on this and grow your confidence at leaning back, the stretch will be powerful at first. Little by little you can lean back further, removing the support when you’re at a stage when you feel comfortable to do so. This is known as the Spleen Makka Ho, good for digestion too. The Makka Ho stretches are designed to energise the 6 pairs of meridians and used a lot in Shiatsu.


 Try switching the seat you work on for an ergonomic one that supports your back; like a kneeling stool. This style allows your spine to straighten and aids concentration.

 


walking barefoot on beach

 

8. Walk, walk, walk!


The Japanese people hate sedentary lifestyles and walking commutes are more prevalent there. The Japanese also created Forest bathing (immersing yourself in nature to revitalise your energy); so why not combine the two?


Whether it’s the forest, a beach, your local countryside, get out at weekends and change the air. Just the different scents in the air can re-invigorate you plus the sounds of birds in the trees or the waves. Anything to do with animals is so therapeutic; why not walk a friend’s dog or even Llamas!


Tapping into nature is the number one free and natural way to reduce the stress hormone cortisol in your body. You may not think you’re stressed, in fact the people that think they handle stress well are the ones that have the worst build up of stress in the body.


According to the Forestry Research Institute in Japan, just being outside can lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol by as much as 15%. Add the endorphin-increasing act of moving into the mix, and the benefits of being in nature are amplified.


Walking barefoot is very grounding as you connect with nature’s energy. On the base of your feet is a strong acu-point Kidney 1 – Bubbling Spring for restoring energy reserves, invigorating the spirit and renewing your vitality. It makes you want to kick your shoes off right now!

 


square sushi and chopsticks

 

9. Eating for nutrition

 

The diet in Japan is vastly different from ours with a lot of vegetables, seaweed, rice, soy and fish; they have longevity with health so it’s worth noting what they eat. Even if this doesn’t appeal to you, it’s handy to take the nutrients from these foods and know what you should be eating.


Vegetables give you vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (i.e. reduce inflammation in the body).

 

Fish is the source of omega oils, for your joint health, brain health as well as skin, eyes and hair.

 

Fermented foods like miso, soy sauce, and pickled vegetables are common in Japanese cuisine. These foods are rich in probiotics, which support gut health and enhance the body's immune system.

 

Soy in all its different formats is nature’s strongest source of phytoestrogens so great for women in menopause and beyond.


Rice is an interesting one as it can spike your blood sugars and leave you feeling more hungry, but if eaten in proportion with vegetables and proteins becomes more balanced and gives you endless energy. Chicken and rice at lunchtime is brain food to me!

 

Got belly fat?


Spinach and other leafy green vegetables like kale, lettuce, etc. are great for burning belly fat and are very nutritious as well. There have been some studies done on the subject of the fat burning capabilities of spinach and the very healthy veggie has come out a winner in this category.


Japanese food is fresh and local so ensuring the highest nutrients possible, something we lack a lot of the time. If you can get leftovers from a friend’s allotment then that is very handy.


If you still have health symptoms even though you eat a lot of fresh food prepared from scratch it could mean that you have an impaired gut microbiome in which case a probiotic is good. I use Microbz as they have a range with added herbs to support different health requirements. Also plant-based supplements give you the best chance at absorbing high levels of nutrient dense vitamins and minerals which can significantly reduce a lot of everyday symptoms.

 

Supplementation for stress symptoms


A lot of symptoms that I see in my clients can be resolved with topping up on the right vitamins and minerals. Symptoms are your body telling you that something is wrong and I decipher this!


Plant-based supplements give you the best chance of absorbing those nutrients and easing your symptoms, for example Magnesium to ease muscle pain, neck tension and headaches.


Not all supplements are absorbed. Cheaper ones as made from synthetic compounds which are alien to the body and therefore not consumed. Many supplements come with fillers and additives; there is no need for this!


Most plant-based supplements come from vegetables like broccoli and green leafy veg, or from fruits. They are nutrient dense and you can feel the effects of them in a matter of days. If your body needs these it will utilise them quickly and you’ll feel the benefit.


People worry about overdosing on vitamins, it is difficult to do this! The current regulation guidelines are way too low. They were set in the 1930-50s and are out of kilter with today’s way of living (low food nutrients, high toxicity and stress). The supplements I use are stronger than shop shelf ones, are safe to take in these doses; which do help you feel different.


If you’re under the weather, or have a lingering bug, take more vitamins as your body is asking for them! You can take vitamin C every couple of hours to get over a virus.


Get ahead of falling ill though, take some vitamins all year round and then up your dosage as we head into Autumn. You can take different supplements throughout the year based on your needs. Vitamin D is one that we are grossly deficient in; no, you do not get enough from the sun! You can take a vitamin D test every quarter as your levels can change dramatically.


I have a very handy supplements starter guide with shopping links and discounts Get your copy here!




woman stretching arms

 

 

10. Get flexible -Get Shiatsu!

 

Can you touch your toes? Can you twist around in comfort?

Can you turn your neck to look over your shoulder?

Can you raise your arms straight above your head so they touch your ears?

 

If you’re answering no to any of these then your body isn’t flexible and you’re not in optimal muscle, organ or emotional health.


Many people do Yoga but can’t open their hips or sit cross-legged. If there are any movements or exercises that you are side stepping because they seem too hard or you just can’t do them it’s time to address your flexibility.


Being able to twist is great for your vital organs too. In twisting you are massaging and stimulating them to detox and function better. Try popping on some Rock n’ Roll and doing the twist in your kitchen!

 

Shiatsu for optimal health and energy

 

Shiatsu is a gentle finger pressure physical therapy. It listens to your body, your clicks , clonks and ouches and releases the muscle tension and associated organ or emotional imbalances that are causing them. Here’s an example: you get angry at work whilst doing a lot of mouse work then you end up with a clicky wrist and shoulder tension. Over time the shoulder muscles become stiffer and your wrist increasingly achy. Understanding why this is happening and how to release it is incredibly useful as well as giving you better mobility!

Every client comes through the door with something wrong, that’s why they’re here. Shiatsu is great for dealing with long term chronic issues that you’ve had no joy in resolving any other way.

 

Richard a self-employed carpet cleaner was reducing his working hours dramatically, turning up daily with a migraine and taking days off at a time for IBS when he first spoke to me:


“I have various problems with neck, headaches and IBS for years and I’ve tried everything possible over the counter and through doctors with not much joy. After visiting Andrea for shiatsu she just knew what my body needed to start a change. In addition to my treatment she made me a plan including simple yoga poses, missing vitamins my body needed and some explanations about the root of my issues. I have been on the plan for 3 weeks now and I feel like I have a life back as I’m at least 95% better now! It’s settled my IBS and most of my neck problems using these natural methods.”

 

Once you’re on top of the initial issue that you came along with plus any others that have arisen during your treatments you start to turn a corner and feel the true power of shiatsu for your health and wellness maintenance.

 

Shiatsu is preventative, I’ve been receiving it every month for the last 20 years, and before that I received cranial osteopathy very regularly. I can’t even imagine what a physical stressed wreck I’d be if I hadn’t had found these therapies earlier in my life. All the pain that I put up with everyday in my life until my early 20s was resolved with getting initially intense treatment. In time I was on top of my health issues and ever since I’ve respected that my mind and body need regular maintenance treatments to keep me in my best health.


Shiatsu is as restorative as a massage with incredible health benefits built in. For all your holistic health needs in one place, have a regular Shiatsu with health and wellness guidance from me.


Your mind and body deserve more, you deserve Shiatsu.




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About  Andrea at  Shiastu  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 for helping you resolve health issues and regain your vitality. She is a menopause specialist too, find out more at cotswoldmenopause.co.uk




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