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Shiatsu, Yoga and Breath

by Rosamunde Jordan(more info)

listed in shiatsu, originally published in issue 24 - January 1998

Ten years ago I would have been in a similar position. But an invitation, from a friend in a new town, to join an evening class changed that. It sparked an interest that led to a three year practitioner training and a growing Shiatsu practice. Shiatsu is a very simple healing discipline which is relaxing and beneficial to both giver and receiver. Its roots are in ancient Oriental traditions developed over many centuries. Zen Shiatsu diagnosis is done mainly through ‘feeling’ or palpation. This is one of the four methods (Setsu-Shin) used in oriental diagnosis. The other three observing, asking and listening may be used to confirm a diagnosis.

The five basic principles that underlie any treatment are

1.    The practitioner must be relaxed; so that they can be aware of the client’s energy.
2.    Apply the touch with penetration not pressure contacting the energy through gentle touch not by pressing.
3.    The working thumb, finger or hand is stationary; it does not massage the spot it touches.
4.    Two handed connectedness; a practitioner uses one hand as the mother hand, so that there is always contact with the client. The other hand or it could be a knee is used to work along a line of energy.
5.    Maintain continuity with the meridian; a practitioner works with lines of energy known as meridians. Whilst the mother hand stays in contact, the second hand works down a meridian. This hand does not hop along the meridian but moves from point to point keeping contact as it moves.
A treatment usually involves working around the body. Where exactly and how they work will vary according to the individual client. Although a holistic approach is usual in certain circumstances a practitioner might treat a particular area rather than the whole body. This could still be a treatment for the whole person.

A Shiatsu practitioner may use a cloth when working on the face or head.
A Shiatsu practitioner may use a cloth when working on the face or head.

Shoulder rotation.
Shoulder rotation.

Thumbing down the bladder meridian or two-handed connectedness.
Thumbing down the bladder meridian or two-handed connectedness.

The treatment position will depend on the needs of the receiver. People may be worked on in sitting/lying, side, (supine) front or back (prone). Which part of the leg, foot, body or head would depend on the diagnosis. The treatments involve a combination of: rotation of the joints, working on the body through the ‘pressure’ of hands, thumbs, fingers, palms, knees and holding.

A shiatsu practitioner may talk about the movement of Ki (energy) or the receiver’s energy pattern. It is, however, perfectly possible to translate these into western terms. For example, someone who has a problem with their right shoulder. They may be holding it higher than their left. It may affect the way the arm hangs or restrict movement – a possible frozen shoulder? A Shiatsu practitioner assessing the whole body might see that the Ki is blocked or obstructed in the right shoulder area and that the left side of the body looks weak and lacking in energy. The aim of treatment would be to work to move the energy and restore balance.

What attracted me to Shiatsu? It is a gentle and unintrusive treatment. Clients remain clothed and covered with a cloth. There are no special tools. Although a practitioner may use elbows, knees, forearms or feet to work with it is mainly thumbs, fingers, palms and hands that are used. Everyone possesses the skills required to give a simple Shiatsu treatment; complete beginners can quickly discover their own Shiatsu abilities.

Shiatsu does not pretend to be a cure but it can be very effective either to improve general health or for a particular condition or as health maintenance. You will often find a client who attends regularly saying that they really notice when they have missed one or two treatments. Or a student attending an adult education ‘Introduction to Shiatsu’ will comment how much better they feel since starting the course. Most clients talk about the sense of well being that shiatsu gives them. Many find that a treatment is followed by at least one good night’s sleep. These are some of the rewards of Shiatsu.

Shiatsu works on many levels; physical, psychological, emotional. Its effects can be quite subtle. These are few examples. One client with a stressful job felt that since they started coming for treatment they were coping better with the pressures at work. A young mother, who had had a bereavement, had problems at home and was always ready to respond to any cry for help when at work, found she was unable to let go to stop or to sleep. She came for one treatment and afterwards went home and slept for most of the week and during it began putting her needs first.

It can be a useful aid for women going through the menopause. Another client was a single mother approaching 50. Originally she attended to see if treatments could help with general tiredness and debility. She travelled a great deal and at some periods of the year her work could be very demanding. The diagnosis indicated that there was an imbalance in her water element (kidneys, this is an oriental diagnosis that has a broader interpretation than the kidney in western terms) that resulted in her feeling tired. This was exacerbated by the fact that she ate irregularly, had an up and down diet and was usually only able to get coffee to drink whilst working. As it was part of the social side of work it tended to be rather a lot of cups of coffee. Through the treatments I worked to redress the imbalance of energy.

Recommendations at the end of the sessions included encouraging her to think about what she was eating and to remember to feed herself. Over several treatments her energy level improved. She cut down on her coffee intake and began to think about when and what she was eating. Clients experiencing hot flushes have found Shiatsu treatments helpful in reducing or totally relieving the hot flushes. Sometimes this can be linked to a change in diet.

Shiatsu is particularly good for stress and helping people to relax. I recently saw a woman whose original reason for making the appointment had been a problem with stress. In the meantime she had had a minor car accident. Checked by her Doctor and the hospital she was told that she had not sustained a whiplash injury. However, her head rest had not been properly aligned and she had been left with a constant thumping headache at the back of her head. The diagnosis was the meridian associated with shock. I worked to balance the effects of shock and the accident. By the end of the treatment her headache had completely gone.

In order to work as a practitioner you need to be aware of your own body and the blocks and tensions acquired over the short and the long term. Recognise how you are feeling and how that is affecting you. Most practitioners try to have regular shiatsu and follow some sort of activity that improves flexibility and suppleness, such as Tai Chi, Qi Chong or Yoga that will help improve the flow of Ki. Breathing and the use of breath is an important part of practise.

My personal practise involves ‘Yoga’ and meditation. The form of yoga that I use is one developed by Vanda Scaverelli. She places great emphasis on the fact that it is not the postures that matter so much as the way we approach them. Integral to this is our awareness and use of what she calls our ‘three friends’ gravity, breath and the wave of breath. Sonia Moriceau created an approach to Shiatsu called Healing–Shiatsu in which the healing potential of breath is recognised. I have incorporated the idea of breath and use of the wave of the breath into my treatments and my recommendations to clients. A gentle breathing routine has been quite effective as a recommendation for a number of clients including some with back problems.

Chloe, a client in her 40s, has a long medical history. She came for treatment to see if it could help her insomnia and chronic pain, the result of nerve damage. The result of an operation to remove a benign growth in one of the main nerves meant cutting the nerve which failed to heal. Long term treatment is a partnership between giver and receiver. Chloe rates her pain on a scale of 1 – 10 although it can go over 10. The aim of the treatments was to help relieve the pain, to help Chloe to have at least one good night’s sleep. During the treatments Chloe gradually unwinds and becomes quieter and more relaxed. After most sessions she reports on a good night’s sleep, occasionally this has continued for a week. She started to use the gentle breathing routine for 20 minutes each day or as regularly as she was able. This is a very quiet breath that is not forced or directed in any way. It sounds simple but it is not an easy thing to do but will happen in its own time. She has been practising this for some months. She finds that during the 20 minutes her perception of the pain can fade completely. If she cannot sleep she makes use of the routine – it does not always work and at particularly stressful times she has lost sight completely of the breathing but always comes back to her practise. There has been a change in way she breathes. Her use and practise of the breathing has made the treatments more effective. We both see this as a long term on-going project. The nerve damage is deteriorating and treatments may help to alleviate the problem but will not cure it.


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About Rosamunde Jordan

After leaving school Rosamunde Jordan spent two years at Physiotherapy School. In the 1980s she taught ante-natal classes for 8 years, having trained with and become an accredited teacher for the National Childbirth Trust. In 1988 she began her Shiatsu training with Nicola Pooley and completed it on a practitioner course at the Shiatsu College in London. She recently finished a post graduate course at the Healing-Shiatsu Education Centre and is a registered Shiatsu and Healing-Shiatsu Practitioner also a member of the 1066 Shiatsu Practice based in Hastings. Rosamunde has practised yoga for nearly twenty years. She teaches 'Yoga' in Hastings, Bexhill and Rye. She was a student of Mary Stewart and on the first 'Yoga' Teachers' Course run in London. At the moment she works with Margaret Stokes (also a student of Vanda Scavarelli). Rosamunde can be contacted on Tel: 01424 460355 or Fax 01424 465425.


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