top of page

Shiatsu blog: Physical therapy for emotional and stress relief

I go to shiatsu therapy for everything! It's my starting point, any ache, pain or emotional grumble I book in for shiatsu before anything else. For years prior to finding shiatsu and on and off since I'll also see a cranial osteopath when I know I've done a number on my neck or spine (i.e. going bottoms up on the ice last December!), and the two treatments work harmoniously together. Shiatsu is a soft tissue physical therapy based on the chinese meridian system and acupuncture points; we use empathetic finger touch instead of needles. A client earlier this week who hasn't been for a while said: It's a hug on a mat! Which leads me to the emotional element, and how a touch based therapy can rebalance out of kilter emotions and turn your stress back into vital energy.. This leads me nicely to this months shiatsu blog: physical therapy for emotional and stress relief.

Shiatsu with Andrea to relieve emotional pain and stress | Cheltenham

Physical therapy for emotional and stress relief

Most people if they have heard of shiatsu will link it to the same treatment options as acupuncture; blocked energy pathways in the body leading to pain and ailments. Therefore you may attend your first shiatsu for a shoulder problem, back pain, migraines or hot flushes. The beauty of shiatsu though, and also the marketing nightmare of it is that the more you get to know it, the more it can do. You can't bottle shiatsu into something simple; though the treatment itself can be very simple. It's like anything that appears too simple, when we live in a world where everything is becoming more comple;, but your body doesn't ask an awful lot though it does ask to be listened to, and this is what shiatsu does.

Western style massages are heavy going, you feel them physically, they have really ouchy/painful parts, you can feel extremely achy afterwards and you maybe a fan of the saying: no pain no gain! This type of thinking, the way I used to think back in the 80s and 90s was the way it was as I didn't know any better; but it doesn't have to be so. It's a fact: your body is delicate because it holds onto your emotions and stress, a lot of mystery pains are your emotions playing out physically, and though you think you may handle stress, it's going to be held in your body; this is known as symptoms.

How does your body hold emotions and stress?

This is where the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) blew my mind, and explained just about all my aches and pains of my 30 odd years up until I started training in it. I went in very naively as to what chinese medicine really was, but came out the other side in awe of what they had mapped and understood about the body and mind, and I've spent the last 20 years putting it into practice daily; seeing clients walk through the door who are text book chinese medicine patterns.

In TCM there is no such thing as psychology, not as you may think of it in western terms. This is because they don't separate the body and mind; they are one. I have to be reminded of this quite regularly by my shiatsu practitioner as I tend to reside in my head a lot; this cuts off your relationship with your body and that is the cause of a lot of issues This was even though I had been going to cranial osteopathy regliously for 12 years, knowing that it was good for my back and neck. As time went on I also realised that it was doing something for me emotionally and probably relieving stress. My then practitioner John wasn't advanced enough to understand it all at the time, but we went with it and he evolved too into more energetic therapies and started muscle testing (early Kineseology) on whether I needed to be treated physically or emotionally, and the answer always came back the same: on the emotional level.

When I found shiatsu I was thrilled because I don't like needles and didn't like acupuncture. I didn't know you could learn TCM separate from acupuncture. I had always found the way eastern medicine to work to be intuitive and preventative, which makes much more sense to me. It's fabulous to have a free health service to patch you and me up when there's been an unforeseeable accident, but with the day to day, your health should be in your hands. If you have a pain in your back, get it seen to, you only have one spine, if you can't see the wood for the trees and your life feels hopeless that is just as important to resolve as a bad shoulder; if not more so.

In TCM health there are 2 causes of ill health - internal and external triggers.

There are very few on the list of external factors, such as poisonings and toxins. Insect bites, allergens, mold, bacteria, parasites, viruses, these are all nasty examples of external factors. Plus poisoning from environmental factors like waste to radiation to processed foods!

The list for internal reasons for ailments is never-ending because your body can cause you more issues than the environment that you live in, a large category of ailments that would fall under this banner are called auto-immune conditions; your body turning on itself. Another area of favourites for me is stones; just how does your body produce stones? And why is it more in the gallbladder for women, and kidney/bladder for men, and very few get the opposite type? Answer: it's linked to undealt with emotion.

Here's the ultimate point in Chinese Medicine:

Your health issues are predominantly caused by emotions embedded in your body and undealt with.

your wrist pain maybe emotional pain | Shiatsu Bodyworks Cheltenham

How are emotions held in your body physically?

It's a scary to think that the emotions you have can lead to your health issues, but it's also empowering, and that's the way I look at it. Maybe I'm weird, but I think: if you've created it you can turn this around. If it's not physical but sat in you energetically you've got time to make change. In TCM we consider all ailments energetic until there is a physical break down of tissue. Even then a lot of ailments can be turned around when the root cause is found and resolved; not just with shiatsu but with a whole holistic mind, body, soul approach to healing your mindbody and health.

Everyone has a weak point in their body, somewhere. I used to say: It's my stress shoulder. My right should always felt like it had this hole in the muscle and it always messed up my tennis serve; and I blamed it. It was caused by years of repetitive stress injury in my job where I had to use a mouse constantly all day, or so I thought. I disassociated from it, It was a problem on it's own, causing me pain and annoyance! It wasn't until I took my shoulder back into my body, stopped blaming it and loved it that that feeling of weakness went away, Looking back on what caused the issue, yes there was a physical element of mouse work causing RSI, but there was also the unhappiness I felt in the completely sh*t job I was doing for 2 years. I'd joined the company full of hope and it all went down the pan and I didn't know what direction to take (this was pre-shiatsu) and I was incredibly unhappy and so the weakness I already had in the shoulder (I'd had knots all along the scapula and had regular, punishing deep tissue massage to remove them) , just left my poor shoulder feeling utterly beaten up and trying to do a job that it was too weak to do. All the while miserable me begrudgingly hammering my right arm to do an insurmountable workload. I was emotionally miserable, I was in pain linked to that emotional state; thankfully I got out of the rotten place and into a better career, and then found shiatsu soon after!

The point being that my right shoulder problem then lingered for another 10 years or more until I learnt to accept it and release it, and now it's never an issue. I've learnt these lessons along the way whilst being a practitioner and becoming a better one as I relieve any emotional attachments /pain as they appear in me and how they are manifesting physically in you.

How emotions and organs are connected according to TCM

What emotions are held in your body?

There are 5 main emotional groups in TCM, and each then has a group of emotions within it. Let's start with my favourite one that I see the most - Anger. Most clients don't see that they are angry, or that past anger can be stuck in the body as symptoms; that's ok, A client maybe very surprised if I ask them if they crave crisps. Seeing them light up when they say: Yes, how did you know?! The asking is it because they like crunching through a packet rapidly? That this is angry crunching! It starts to build a gentle bridge to emotions that aren't being recognised and how they are then linked to the physical ailments that are manifesting within your body. Hey. I'm the same, a weird neck/shoulder pain came up and apparently it was anger, I didn't know why or how, though in life a few people who weren't doing their jobs were p*ing me off so maybe it was all linked; the main point is that you don't need to worry about the association, only to breath and let go of it. Holding onto it is what is unhealthy.

Anger also includes, resentment, irritation, bitterness, frustration (especially if you can't voice) and these may all be sat somewhere causing you some shooting pains, but they can be dealt with!

Holding on to anger, let go for healing

The next most frequent emotional link is grief, and this affects physically anything to do with your chest, breathing and pain through your arms. Worry can affect your gut and fear can cause back ache or knee and below knee injuries.

As emotions aren't this black and white they then start to combine causing more complex ailments. This may seem scary but it's also the root to resolving your symptoms and you can do this physically with shiatsu. It doesn't matter if you can't voice what the emotional imbalances are (I can't!) what's powerful is that where there is pain in the body, it can be released by holding and pressing certain points in shiatsu. This is a gentle touch, it's one that listens to the tension that is held. How well the arm rotates, or how far it raises. When done gently pain can be released and this pain if related to emotions is released as well. You may get emotional or you may just feel a wave of calmness wash over you, like something that has been clenched for way too long that you didn't evenrealise was clenched, but you now feel the relief of release.

The beauty of shiatsu is that it doesn't need to be talked out, going round and round with no solution or positive outcome. Sometimes you just don't need to explore your emotions especially if it triggers more,.It can be frustrating if you can't do this or you don't process this way.; which I don't, so shiatsu is an emotional relief without having to talk it out! I just know I have a pain and I don't want to have the pain anymore.

That's what makes shiatsu magical; resolving a pain that actually has an emotional cause but without having to know what the emotional cause is!

As long as you're ready to let go of the pain, and holistically look after your wellbeing then you can resolve lots of pains, niggles and life long chronic issues in this way.

Letting go of pain and stress revitalises you

One of the first messages we were taught on the first term of year one was Letting Go. I thought: yeah whatever, let's move onto the real stuff. Then the start of year 2, and year 3, we kept returning to the same messages at the same times of year, with a deeper understanding. Now 20 years on I believe I have an even deeper understanding of these messages and it's still growing; just ask me again when I'm in my 70s, I may be able to explain it all by then!

A few months back I went for my shiatsu, and everything on my left side was out of kilter, there was a cold wind trapped, that's what it felt like and I just didn't feel right. My practitioner Jen talked me through some zen buddhism philosophy. She's very knowledgable and well read in these things. The jist was she asked: are you ready to let go of it? Hell yes! I just don't like being in pain, I really can't see the point of it, it annoys me and prods me to taking action to resolve it. I really wish everyone was like this; we'd resolve countless health concerns more easily.

Letting go is the only way to heal

The ability to let go is a powerful one, we all feel every emotion under the sun, it's what you do with it that counts. Of course you can feel angry, you should do, and never apolgise for it! It's what happens next that is extremely important for your health. Do you apologise as it was misplaced? If so, do it quick before guilt sets in; as this is anger pointed at yourself, as is shame. If your anger is righteous, take action, don't fester on it. Anger being a volatile emotion is one of the easier symptoms to let go off, it's an upward thrusting fiery emotion, it can cause the most damage, but if it's near the surface (i.e. you register it) then better out than in I say!

Anger that isn't registered is causing chronic conditions in the body like auto-immune issues. A repressed emotion is a more complex issue and takes more time and TLC to resolve; but know that you can. This also goes for born-worriers; this was me. I just thought, it's my lot in life. But guess what? You're not born as a worrying child, that happens with social conditioning and then leads onto physical ailments like IBS and anxiety. Shiatsu steps in to relieve the immediate symptoms, whilst gently nuturing the body and strengthening energies to do with worry; so you feel the relief. Other practical interventions include nutritional supplements to combat stress and strengthen the gut and emotional calmness support wit Bach Flower Remedies; it really does work together holstically and this then has a wondrous effect on your body and health too!

When you feel stressed you'll have physical stress symptoms in your body. When you think you can handle stress but you have symptoms then you have physical stress in your body. As you get into your 40s and 50s your body can't handle the stress as well as it could, something known as Inflammaging is now going on; low level chronic inflammation that is making you unwell and aging you and is the bedrock that serious bad health conflict is built on. Stress needs to be dealt with as it won't go away on it's own, it's only going to go away if you win the lottery, give up working and all of lifes stressors completely dissappear. However if you take a holistic approach to managing stress in your body, with shiatsu, lifestyle support, nutrition and how you think about stress then you can start lowering the stress in your body and improving your health.

Turn stress into vitality, and if you can do this whilst having an incredibly relaxing experience, you're on a win win!

When you hear these incredible stories that people have turned around a terminal or very bad health diagnosis, they have put in the work and sorted out the emotional undertones so that the disease doesn't come back again. Work on resolving your health issues as they present in now, and let go of the emotional attachment, this is the key to ultimately resolving deeply embedded health imbalances and stops them from returning again.

Take a repeating bad shoulder/ neck issue, most people say it's muscle tension. Yes it is, but it'll keep coming back until the underlying issues are resolved. It can be posture, but what if it's the frustrations that you go to bed with, that gives you dreams where you want to scream. That leaves you waking up feeling fatigued and peeved that you've been grinding your jaw again? It's all linked, a tense jaw can lead to a lot of head, neck and shoulder issues., but why are you clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth in your sleep? This is the underlying emotional attachment that needs to be released.

Unlock your Qi and feel your energy flow | Shiatsu Bodyworks Cheltenham

Relieve emotional based pain with shiatsu

The beauty of shiatsu is that you just don't have to talk, but you can if you want to, and a lot of people can release tension and pain when they put 2 and 2 together in their head; we can't ever get away from our logic so let's use it!

This is what works best for me, a little bit of logic, a lot of lovely shiatsu work where my body feels like it's being listened to and feels safe enough to let go of the physical pain I've gotten myself into again; there is a reason why I go every month! The more you receive shiatsu , the more your body learns and trusts. this is why having shiatsu regularly gets to the stage of prevention of illness, you start to get ahead or your health curve. The connection of mind and body is a powerful one, and the one that really counts. If mind and body are disassociated then how can you listen to what your body wants and truly start to heal yourself?

Shiatsu and the powerful TCM that it is based on, plus the zen philosophy of treating in the moment: you have the pain now, so let's release it now, is a painless way of relieving pain. Relieving pain shouldn't be traumatic, even with PTSD there are very sympathetic ways of releasing it and they all involve physical body work now thanks to the work of Dr Peter Levine. If trauma is held in the body, it needs to be released via the body and not just with talking. More and more research is coming out each year that trauma is a very physical issue, and not just one of the mind that psychology has had us believe for about 150 years.

Whether it's physical pain from last weeks fall, something in your childhood or even a pain that is linked to past life trauma, you can choose to let it go in the moment. And if that moment is whilst you're receiving your shiatsu, it's just one deep breath and release away....

Have you got a chronic issue that you would like to resolve?

This is where shiatsu is very beneficial as it works to support and release the layers of imbalanced energies whether emotional or physical to help your chronic condition ease. I also add in my other supportive modalities like nutritional advice, and Bach flower remedies for emotional support. I help you resolve your health issues holistically and create balanced wellness.

or give Andrea a call to see how shiatsu can help you - 07899 987227

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.

Shiatsu Bodyworks - Using gentle bodywork to make your body work better!


  • Instagram
  • Facebook Basic Square
Follow Me
bottom of page