It is my aim to discuss from time to time both the specifics of the shiatsu method, looking at its theories and practical (clinical) applications, and also the more general questions associated with its background, context and significance for society. These may appear as posts in my blog page, short articles on specific themes, or extracts from longer articles that I will occasionally place in this area.
Some years ago, I wrote a manifesto outlining my personal vision for Shiatsu, as treatment and as a professional activity. This went into many questions about different approaches to training with respect to the various contexts in which Shiatsu might be offered, and hence the uses and expectations for its therapeutic benefits.
In the end I concluded that, with so many alternative and natural therapies on offer, even if we only concentrate on those involving physical bodywork, it would be helpful to distinguish what is particularly interesting and beneficial about Shiatsu, and then decide what level of training is appropriate for specific needs. Here is the relevant extracted section:
A summary of the “essence” of Shiatsu.
1) From the Taoist and Naturalist schools in China and via Shinto and Zen in Japan, the Oriental tradition that gave rise to Shiatsu conveys a philosophical outlook that is holistic and never separated man from nature, body from mind, inside from outside or science from art to the extent that we have seen in the West, and which therefore offers a different spiritual vision.
2) Shiatsu, though its name only implies a simple range of techniques, is associated with a sophisticated system of traditional empirical medicine and natural health-care. We can therefore draw on the unique vitalistic theories, functional energy mapping, and the extensive regulating techniques of Eastern Traditional Medicine to inform and guide our work with our fellow humans (and animals as well) from the grossly physical to the most subtle and refined of considerations.
3) Shiatsu pertains to a tradition of physical, mental, aesthetic and life disciplines that extends broadly through Eastern culture. The notion of harmony in relation to the alignment of subtle centres within the body is a fundamental of Chinese medicine also found in Taoist meditation practices, Tai Chi, the “Inner School” martial arts and Qigong.
In Japan these philosophical and practical elements were typically refined through the culture of Hara. Mental concentration, integrated awareness of posture and movement, elegance, economy and simplicity, are elements of creative mastery that run deeply through all modes of Japanese cultural expression. They are also the attributes of a way of spiritual power for which Hara is the focus. Connecting medicine and health, expressive arts and crafts, life ceremony and celebration, the Japanese Hara tradition contributes uniquely to the development of human potential and brings to Shiatsu essential qualities without which it is a less authentic and weaker offering altogether.
In conclusion then, I think it is perfectly possible and valid to study and practice shiatsu in its most humble forms, as a simple way of healing, also to aspire to its more sophisticated uses and applications in medicine. But it is really defined by the third of our considerations above. With Hara, what we are talking about is essentially Shiatsu and without it, it’s not. If we want to develop it, let’s recognise and study the true nature of its extensive background. Then we can decide what we can authentically add from our own understanding, and take it on to wherever we feel is appropriate. PL