Out of the many health practices to originate from the east, Zen Shiatsu is perhaps one of the least known. In point of fact, it’s a really close relative of two well known therapies – reflexology and acupuncture. Another name for Shiatsu is ‘acupressure’, which gives us some insight into the relationship between these two therapies. Acupuncture has been around for many years in Western countries, but Zen Shiatsu isn’t perhaps so well known. Here in the West we have a tendency to think that this form of health therapy is somehow mystical or even supernatural, but it’s really based on fundamental medical methodology.
The two practices act on the energy channels, or ‘meridians’ in the human body. It’s long been known that energy, or ‘ki’ in Japanese, moves along distinct channels, linking our internal organs and additionally giving some indication of the state of our health. The balanced flow of this energy is crucial for a healthy body, and if it gets to be sluggish, or stops completely, then we become sick. Hundreds of years ago, Japanese therapists found that this flow of life force can also be stimulated or blocked by external stimulation, either by needles (acupressure) or by the finger and other parts of the body (called shiatsu).
Incidentally, reflexology (foot massage) is very similar to the practice of shiatsu for the body, and distinct areas of the foot correspond to distinct parts and organs of the body. In all three therapies, reflexology, shiatsu and acupuncture, needles or direct physical force is applied to either increase or decrease the movement of energy in various parts of the body, which gives the effect of balancing the body’s energy. When the life force energy is perfectly balanced (and it never is), we are in perfect health. The next question is vital to shiatsu therapy – how to know if the energy is not balanced, and how to press in the correct areas in order to accomplish this balance?
This is part of the art of Zen Shiatsu – diagnosis and treatment. The life force can’t be seen of course, so a special method has been developed to determine the extent of the imbalance and also specify the treatment called for. The recognized manner to diagnose is by examining the condition of the ‘hara’, which in Japanese parlance is the center of our being. Parts of the abdomen correspond to specific organs of the body, and also have energy meridians relating to them. The diagnosis entails deciding which organs (and therefore which meridians) have more energy and which have insufficient. The specific treatment is founded on the diagnosis and aims to produce a new balance between the different energy states.
Peter Bruce is a freelance journalist operating out of Toulouse in France. Subject covered range from shiatsu to chess. (Peter is regularly involved in ‘ stages shiatsu haute garonne ‘ in the Toulouse area.