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I'm writing this in the summer, a month where your back should be warm and supple not cramping as in winter but even in the warmer months your back can cause an issue and they do hold the key to your overall health and history of health too! This month in my shiatsu blog I look at healthy back, healthy body and what you can do to keep supple and flowing.
Healthy back, healthy body
Your spinal cord holds your central nervous system, all messages to and from your brain pass through this channel from the moment cells have divided in the womb to create this amazing system. In chinese medicine we call it the Bladder meridian, which I've always thought doesn't give it the name it deserves and so it can be overlooked as anything really special; though if you have urinary incontinence you'll very likely be interested in how the Bladder Channel can help you.
My first step into the world of energetic therapies was because of my Bladder Channel and actually because I felt like I wanted to wee all the time but didn't need to go. One evening it got so bad when I about 21 that I went to the loo 16 times with that feeling being there, if you've had it you'll know what I mean. One session of osteopathy and that nerve feeling was gone. The osteopath had tapped into my central nervous system and relieved me of the issue. From that moment on I was hooked on how energetic therapy could help the body (the mind side was to come a few years later) and shiatsu a decade or so on from this first treatment.
Needless to say I have respected the power of what's going on in my back (and neck), my spinal cord and my nervous system from that day on, and when I started studying shiatsu a whole new world of what you could diagnose and resolve from the spinal column opened up. It is also why I turn to these wonderful therapies before I would ever seek western medicial advice which is reduced to operations or powerful painkillers when our back deserves gentle attentive care and respect.
Your back maps your health history
One of the ways we can currently tell if you've had Covid or how well you're getting over it is by how your back feels - particularly done the bladder channel, just either side of your vertebrae. It feels puffy and damp to different extents on people and can spread out across the back. I'm pleased to say that once worked any lingering symptoms in your body tend to move on pretty quickly, especially any residual lung issues. Another major area in your back that pops up all the time and really shouldn't in the summer time but this year is, is the kidney areas.
Your kidneys are situated just under the lower rib cage on either side and the one thing they shouldn't be is too cold or too hot. I've not come across too hot but cold and damp is regularly being found which I wouldn't expect with the heat we've had, so what is going on?
Kidneys feeling cold is a sign of stress and fatigue, they're under duress, and a shiatsu practitioner picks this up. Kidney energy is the so important energy in chinese medicine - it is your constitution, your life force so when it's struggling all health being on top of this (and very specifically your lungs) will struggle too.
Stress and exhaustion then are easy to pick up in the back as is a chronic fatigue and post viral symptoms, so what else can we find?
Along the spine there are Yu points - these are specifically linked to the organs and systems of your body:
As you can see these very specific points link to your vital organs and if I linger on them during your treatment it is because they don't feel 'right'. By this I can mean they're too 'dipped' (aka deficient) or full , tight, sluggish, damp, hard.... any description goes. You'll be feeling this too, if the points feel bruised then fluid has become stagnant, if they want deep pressure you're probably very tired, if they're painful it can be a weakness, and more so. People are unique in how they feel and express things, we have colourful terminology in our sessions!!
Zen Shiatsu - The spine is the body
I practise and blend two types of shiatsu, traditional chinese medicine and Zen shiatsu. The former helps me very well especially with menopausal women and gut health issues, and the latter has a very simple methodology:
When an organ has a dis-ease you will pick it up in the Yu point of the spine
This helps when you don't know the source of the imbalance, or the client if new or there are many other factors. To listen to the spine can tell you many things going on in the body. I remember years ago I had a friend (pre me studying this) and she had dire acute back pain, so she kept going to the osteopathy and it wasn't resolved. It took time to diagnose it was actually a stomach ulcer. The pain that was radiating from Bl21 or the gap between thoracic 11 and 12 is the Stomach Yu point. With such a persisten and acute pain that didn't subside I would be questioning: What is going on with your stomach?
Back when I first went to see my cranial osteopath for my bladder issue (they're more like Shiatsu where as an Osteopath is more like a Chiropracteur) he gently listened to the cerebral spinal fluid and interupting the wonky pain messages that were being received by my brain too regularly relieved me of the messages telling me I needed the loo.
When you think of a back at first - did you think bones or muscles? I bet you didn't think about fluids such as cerebral, lymph, water and blood?
Shiatsu does :)
It's these fluids that are the life force of your back - bones are structural, muscles are mechanical, both incredibly important but they don't work well if the fluids aren't happy. Happy fluids, far happier back!
When I first mentioned above that covid affected your back causing a dampness, this stops the free flow of fluids - toxin removal, brain messages, blood flow and warmth. Interupt these systems and you affect every single system in the body as well as have a stiff or unwell back and feeling far more tired.
When you back 'goes' and has a muscle spasm or you can't stand straight or sit for too long then it was the fluids to these muscles that weren't great for a long time before this episode. As well as strength exercises for your torso and pelvis keeping the body flexible is good practise as a flexible body is a more fluid body.
Twisting is really beneficial for your body, it massages your organs and keeps your whole back way more supple, this is why the eastern exercise of Qi Gong is incredibly beneficial (and also Yoga).
This simple twisting exercise from the waist up is great for the whole length of your spine. Read more here.
Your back is more than muscles and bones
You know now that your back is more than muscles and bones. There are many areas that you can consider like, if you have a:
Bad lower back your kidneys could require support. It could be that you're fearful at present or incredibly stressed and so this is where it appears. Large intestine can play a role too, especially if you're recently grieved.
Painful sacrum or coccyx - anything from your small intestine to your bladder can be involved, deep-seated old pain and the emotional attachment that may need help to relieve
If you mid back is giving you problems then we look to your gut health from liver to stomach, easing health with these organ imbalances, energetically or there maybe a known health issue. You maybe quite inflexible and need some help to become more twisty in mind as well as body.
Upper back and shoulders, from the weight and responsibility of issues to someone being a pain in the neck can be causing you problems along side physical injuries to your shoulders. Plus small intestine and gut health can be playing a role too.
This is why when you're treated for such a physical ailment anywhere along your back you may also help the gut and the lungs as it could be these organs that are triggering the problem.
We have the term Kyo and Jitsu - Jitsu is the shouting that gets you in the treatment room, the pain that won't go away, but it's the Kyo we have to look for and resolve, as this is the underlying problem!
Your back is a complex pathway, all your organs feed into it, as do your limbs as do all the systems like cardio vascular, urinary and nerves, all sending and receiving messages from your brain 24/7. In my mind there is no point looking after any other part of your body individually if you're not looking after your back!
All energetic and holistic therapies tap into your back so if you're receiving these then this is good, but some of the more staid therapies like deep tissue and chiro (the 2 I have a particular beef with) are bombastic on the back, without listening to what the back wants. Some therapies are good at getting the blood to flow and causing temporary inflammation to trigger a healing response, but our backs can actually be quite delicate and can respond to a much lighter touch that is sympathetic to what it needs.
Are you disconnected from your back?
There's no judgement from me, I was the same prior to finding shiatsu, I tried deep tissue massage for a persistent shoulder issue, not realising that it made it worse, and that it was the cranial osteopathy that was really helping me.
I once had an american client who only came the once as went back to the US (to try and find a shiastu practitioner). She said at the end of the treatment that 'I really didn't do anything'.... I've got used to the insults now, as I recognise that a lot of people are disconnected from their back and their whole body.
The next day however the story was different. She did apologise as she said she left feeling 'what was the point of that?' then she admitted that whilst being treated she felt an enormous emotional release and her back the following day felt better than she had ever known, and she'd been for weekly chiro appointments!
What did I do?
I listened to her back, I felt that it was stressed and wanted support, so I gave, and I was gentle with it as she was more emotionally delicate than she let on. In listening we pick up the subtleness of changes and allow them to happen, we don't pummel the life out of it, triggering it to crawl back under it's shell for fear of being hurt more.
Your back is special, it's incredibly powerful, it is the connection of your whole body and it loves having TLC.
I bet you thought this blog was going to be all about muscles and bones? Well your back is way more than that, it is your complete being. Keep your back healthy and you will feel happier and more energised. Check how flexible you are, do regular movement to keep muscles supple, blood circulating and if your spine is stiff and/or clicky ....
Shiatsu uses finger tips, thumbs and gentle palming on the acupressure points of your body to work wonders on how you’re feeling! It is the oldest form of massage in the world; a forerunner of acupuncture.
Using 5000 year old Chinese medicine theory that your energy is blocked,bespoke pressure is applied;flowing down your body, your limbs, your neck and shoulders to release stuck energy known as Chi.
Chi is your life force, and more physically your blood, lymph fluid and the waterways of your body. When you feel you’re tense or stressed your muscles tighten and the pathways within become constricted; stopping your body working properly.
If you feel overwhelmed, anxious, have tension, pain, even IBS, nausea or just feeling ‘unwell’, this can all be due to your Chi being stuck and building up pressure; like a dam. On the other side the lack of flow is also causing its own issues; you may feel cold, stiff or have low energy and moods swings.
A fully clothed Shiatsu session relieves you of a lot of the feelings and problems you came in with. Releasing muscle tension allows your mind and body to calmly rebalance; it’s a wonderful sensation!
Check out treatments here.