by Kris Deva North
Master of the Zen School of Shiatsu
Hand and mind-power: loving touch, samurai focus and Chinese medicine combine in a simple manual therapy underpinned by a complex body of theory.
Theory behind the Therapy
The Zen approach to Shiatsu combines the wisdom of the Tao, the basis of Chinese medicine, with Mu-Shin the Beginner’s Mind of Zen, trusting in the perfection of now, however it should manifest.
Whilst drawing from the same underlying theory as acupressure and acupuncture the Zen approach differs in aspects of diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, and the personal self-development of practitioners. Treatment is based on the ebb and flow of the force known as Ki, bio-electromagnetic energy, or energy-intelligence, throughout the organ-meridian networks.
The approach to treatment is holistic, a hands-on therapy that aims to:
- harmonise the flow of energy throughout the entire being: mind, body and spirit through the Fourteen Meridians;
- seek the underlying cause of conditions as well as helping alleviate symptoms;
- open the Receiver’s awareness to the environment hosting the condition;
- facilitate the Receiver ‘s participation in their own healing process, while understanding Nature as the true healer, Shiatsu but an intermediary.
- harmonise the Five Elements of Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood and thus maintain spiritual, energetic and physical health.
Since the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951 (last used in 1944!) any complementary therapy can be practised in England without restriction or, indeed, qualification. Even nowadays, the organisation and regulation of the profession, with defined standards, code of ethics, and protection for both public and practitioner, is voluntary. Practice is based on intuitive loving-touch, supported by compassion, with knowledge and understanding defined in a National Occupational Standard.
“Shiatsu means finger-push.” Traditional Japanese.
“Shiatsu means giving handfuls of love with hands full of love” Zen School of Shiatsu 1993
“Zen Shiatsu is a mindful approach to contact-healing based on the organ-meridian networks of Oriental Medicine in their physical, energetic and spiritual aspects” Zen Shiatsu Society 2004
“Shiatsu is a touch based therapy that applies pressure to areas of the surface of the body for the purpose of correcting imbalances, and maintaining and promoting health. Shiatsu is a Japanese word that literally means finger pressure. Shiatsu derives its theoretical and practical roots from the ancient traditions of Oriental medicine. Today it is an autonomous treatment method influenced by Chinese, Japanese and Western knowledge. An aim of Shiatsu is to promote the flow of Ki.” UK Standard CNH13 July 2009
Zen is a Japanese word derived from the Chinese chan, from the Sanskrit dhyan, meaning mindful spontaneity
Hara, a Japanese word literally meaning belly, in Chinese and Japanese tradition houses the life-force (Ki). In Shiatsu “working from hara” is sinking the mind into the hara, thus awareness flows in an uninterrupted stream towards the receiver.
The centre of the hara, the tan-den, is the body’s centre of gravity
Ki, a Japanese word used in Zen Shiatsu to describe the life-force said to flow through the meridians, sometimes described as bio-electro-magnetic energy. (Chinese: Qi or Chi, Sanskrit: Prana.)
Kyo, a Japanese word meaning ‘the world of emptiness’ used in Zen Shiatsu to describe an imbalance of deficiency, often indicated by a localized sense of emptiness, coldness or lack of sensation or energy. It is always used in contrast with the word Jitsu.
Jitsu, a Japanese word meaning ‘full’ and used in Shiatsu to describe an imbalance of excess, often indicated by a localized sense of fullness, heat or excess (in contrast with kyo) sensation or energy.
Tonification, Shiatsu techniques for harmonising a kyo imbalance
Sedation/Dispersal, Shiatsu techniques for harmonising a jitsu imbalance
Meridian, a term used in Shiatsu to mean the channels said to exist in the being through which the ki flows
Tsubo, a Japanese word meaning ‘pressure point’ used to describe the points on meridians
Constitution, the predominant element in the genetic/hereditary nature of an individual. Sometimes taken to include long-term factors such as aspects of lifestyle, history and attitude that are less likely to change although they can be distorted by subsequent Conditions.
Condition, the predominant element in the life of an individual as affected by circumstances, which may lead to an environment allowing Imbalances to occur.
Imbalance, issues that might be influenced in the course of a treatment or series of treatments; specific symptoms that could manifest as kyo or jitsu aspects of elements, meridians or tsubos.
Element, understood in Shiatsu to refer to one of the ‘Five Elements’ of Oriental medicine that govern aspects of being: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood.
Intuition is the primary diagnosis, supported by Looking and Asking to understand how conditions developed, and Sensing and Touching to explore what is manifesting in the moment.
Intuitive Diagnosis is awareness of the Earth connection between participants, the Giver of Shiatsu and the Receiver, and allowing all possibilities of understanding and healing, even before they meet. This is attained by the practice of Mu-Shin, or Empty Mind, unclouded by expectation.
Sensing is scanning the energy-field to feel the different energy-levels which may manifest as heat or cold, or a strange feeling of magnetic connection, or, just a feeling.
Touching Diagnosis is trusting Intuition to take the hands where needed, to harmonise imbalances of:
Kyo – the World of Need, emptiness, lack: often the underlying cause, a more Yin state.
Jitsu – more excessive; more obvious, often the symptom, and more Yang.
Diagnosis is treatment, treatment is diagnosis. The practitioner adapts to the Receiver’s response to treatment, combining skill, compassion and intuition in a paradox of Mu-Shin and mindfulness.
Treatment works on three levels:
Physical: Shiatsu means finger-push. When the Giver’s hand, finger or thumb makes contact with the skin of the Receiver, even through the light clothing recommended for receiving a treatment, heat is generated, melting the gel around cells in the vicinity. As the gel becomes a solution, suspended toxins are released into the lymphatic system to be eliminated through the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Energy-experiment 1: To describe the effect of single contact: Hold hands with a stranger (after first introducing yourself and explaining the purpose of your experiment.) Observe how the touch habituates, how after a while the strange hand becomes familiar, then friendly, then hardly distinguishable from your own hand.
Energetic: the solution better allows conduction of the bioelectromagnetic Ki’s healing message through the connective tissues and organ-meridian networks regulating the body-mind systems.
Energy-experiment 2: To describe the effect of dual contact: Lightly touch the supinated arm of a stranger in two places, one hand on their wrist, the other on their elbow. Have the subject close their eyes, and you close yours as you maintain contact. After a few breaths, slowly increase the pressure of your touch, and then slowly decrease the pressure, still maintaining contact. Observe how, although you are intellectually aware of touching in two places, it feels like only one. Ask the subject how many places they feel being touched.
Spiritual: Mu-Shin, Connection with Spirit and mindful Intuition lead to Intention: where the Mind goes, the Ki follows, and where the Ki flows, the blood follows. The Giver’s Intention is to help, to harmonise, and to allow, with love and compassion, without judgement.
A Receiver’s symptoms are outward signs of inward dis-harmony. The Giver seeks the deficiency which allowed the condition to enter, take hold, grow and flourish! The treatment would seek to tonify the kyo and where appropriate disperse the jitsu.
Always the love and compassion of the Heart Connection infuse the practitioner’s Intention, always mindful of the healing power of Earth, supporting from the centre.
One pioneer of the Zen approach to Shiatsu, Shizuto Masunaga, propounded the idea that it is the Intention of the practitioner that determines the efficacy of the treatment. Intention is thought, the electronic impulses passing through the bundles of fibre that comprise the brain. These impulses cross the boundaries of credibility into the energy-field of the practitioner, entering and influencing that of the receiver.
Energy-experiment 3: (for which I am indebted to Zen Shiatsu-Master Takeo Suzuki of Tokyo). To describe the effect of Intention on sensitivity: Invite a colleague to be the subject and explain you are going to apply pressure to their leg twice. Place your extended thumb on the bifurcation of the gastronemius (belly of the calf-muscle – Tsubo 57 on the Urinary-Bladder meridian.)
Apply pressure with the silent thought “I love you.”
Remove your thumb. Pause for a moment then reconnect with exactly the same point.
Apply identical pressure with the silent thought “I hate you.”
Remove your thumb.
Ask the subject what difference they felt between the two pressures.
Ki connects mind and body: to help harmonise Ki flow in others, the practitioner looks after the flow in self, with attention to diet, way of living, and meditational exercises such as Qi Gong (Chi Kung) and Tai Chi.
Intuition, Skill and Knowledge are consciously developed, like the training of mind and muscle in conventional education.
Vulnerability to energy-depletion, contamination, and karmic debt is countered with self-cultivation and spiritual development. Whether a Receiver suffers from a terminal condition, emotional problem, or simply needs stress relief, the Giver guards against the risk of karmic interference by acknowledging, from a deep well of loving-kindness, that each being is responsible for itself.
“Let the right outcome happen”…without attachment to cure, or success.
The Zen Shiatsu practitioner draws on other forms when guided, with Mu-Shin, by Intuition, through Spirit, without limitation or restrictions of dogma.
Assessing the interplay of elements in the Receiver yields recommendations for self-healing and to prevent recurrence. Chi Self-massage and suggestions about exercise and meditation can help a Receiver transform stress into vitality.
Contra-indications and Controversy
Few conditions are absolutely forbidden treatment.
Cancer – There are two opposing views on Shiatsu treatment for cancer with medical evidence for neither. One is that enhancing energy-flow facilitates the spread of cancerous cells. The other claims by fortifying the immune system Shiatsu helps counter the side-effects of conventional medical treatment. In practical terms, when a cancer patient seeks out a Shiatsu practitioner they have usually sought elsewhere without satisfaction. It is for the individual practitioner to decide.
Children – Shiatsu being “Complementary” and not “Primary” health-care it is both contra-indicated and illegal to treat a sick child instead of referring it to a doctor for medical treatment. A signed disclaimer or authority from the parent does not legalise it!
Infectious/contagious diseases, drunk or drugged – treatment is contra-indicated.
Pregnancy – in the first trimester pressure is contra-indicated on certain Tsubos with elimination properties.
Inflammation – rotations, stretches and manipulations are contra-indicated.
Shiatsu teachers like to tell the story of the scientist visiting a colleague. Seeing a horse-shoe nailed to the laboratory wall he says, “Surely you don’t believe in that kind of superstition?”
“Indeed not,” replies the colleague, “But they tell me it works anyway.”
* * *
Learn more at the Free Talk and Demonstration ‘Hand of Mother, Mind of Samurai – Zen Shiatsu’ with Kris Deva North at the Zen School of Shiatsu on Wednesday 24th October, 6.45 to 9pm. No need to book, just come on by 68 Great Eastern Street London EC2A 3JT.
Zen School of Shiatsu qualification is accredited by Middlesex University and validated by the Zen Shiatsu Society for entry to the National Shiatsu Register of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. www.learn-Shiatsu.co.uk
“Finding Spirit in Zen Shiatsu” Kris Deva North Universal Tao Publications UK (2006) ISBN-13: 978-0955443008
“Shiatsu: Ancient Techniques for the 21st Century” Kris Deva North Positive Health magazine Issue 95 (Dec 2003)
“Nourishing Destiny – The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine” Lonny S Jarrett Spirit Path Press; 1st edition (1999) ISBN-13: 978-0966991604
“Hara Diagnosis – Reflections on the Sea” Matsumoto & Birch, Paradigm (1988)ISBN-13: 978-0912111131
“Zen Shiatsu: How to Harmonize Yin and Yang for Better Health” Shizuto Masunaga & Wataru Ohashi Japan Publications (1977) ISBN-13: 978-0870403941
Kris Deva North Cert.Ed., Master of the Zen School of Shiatsu.
After 25 years in business and management development Kris became involved in complementary healthcare. On attaining both educational and Shiatsu qualifications in 1991, he travelled through Southeast Asia, Japan and USA learning from masters of traditional oriental medicine. In 1993 he founded the Zen School of Shiatsu, which in 2009 became the first Shiatsu institution to be accredited by the British Accreditation Council and in 2010 the first to have its qualification university-accredited by Middlesex University. Kris sat on the Assessment Panel of the Shiatsu Society, before founding the Zen Shiatsu Society in 2004. He was a founder member of the Shiatsu Regulatory Group and closely involved with Skills for Health developing the Shiatsu National Occupational Standard CNH13. In 2009 he was elected to the Shiatsu Profession-specific Board of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.