The simplicity of shiatsu

August 24th, 2014




The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” 

– Voltaire





”I don’t remember what you did when I came to see you a few years ago but it helped. I do remember laughing a lot though so I think I need some of that again.”     These were the words of a client. She made her treatment sessions sound so simple and perhaps they were. It led me to reflect on just how long it took me to manifest that simplicity in my practice.



New term, new shiatsu


It is only around once or twice a year that I write directly about the practice of shiatsu in these blogs. Of course its principles, along with those of traditional Chinese medicine, energy work and healing, meditation and the experience of inner worlds, work in inter-disciplinary reseach and education all combine to inform most of the subjects covered in the Monday Conscious Health blog in one way or another. Well, that and the clinical experience of applying those principles in practical, accessible ways to help those who may have no previous experience of any of them.


The month of September brings the beginning of another shiatsu diploma course. Although I taught my first shiatsu class in 1988 it is a process that evolves and renews itself constantly. As a private person I can become easily bored or restless unless I can find or create something new in the changing moment. After 28 years in clinical practice I am not bored yet. That must say something about the multi-dimensional nature of shiatsu practice.



Courtesy of Graeme Docherty

Courtesy of Graeme Docherty



The practice of shiatsu is like polishing a stone. Outwardly, it appears like one is doing the same thing over and over again. Inwardly one becomes deeper and more reflective over time. Subtle shifts inspire new directions and variations. In shiatsu this has led me deeply inside the body – as if it were made of a vibrating plasma filled with shifting light and shadows.


It has also led me outside, beyond the physical surface of the body yet able to maintain a connection with it – whether still in the same room or not even in the same country as the client. These paradigms naturally shift away from the strictly physical view when we work with energy-consciousness. A new playground reveals new rules. Here is a very short list of some of the variations I have experienced in working this way over the decades:


Initially one engages with the physical form of shiatsu: deep pressure, lots of focus on meridians, points and their functions, strong stretching techniques and so on.



© Shizuto Masunaga

© Shizuto Masunaga



The goals at that stage were still focused upon ‘fixing’ a problem in the client. I was mastering a technical discipline. I did not yet include myself at all in the process. I was under the illusion that I was only there to help others. Ironically, shiatsu then seemed to have nothing to do with me.


A gradual sense that one does not have to do so much took over; that it was more a process of becoming a catalyst to what happens – like traffic police that do not need to drive the traffic to direct its flow. Once the doing eased away other worlds opened…



Inner and outer exploration


Later in his career Shizuto Masunaga (the father of Zen Shiatsu) began to emphasise the merging of energy between his hands on a client’s body rather than in a slavish adherance to the meridians themselves. In practice this transformed seemingly one-dimensional points or two-dimensional lines into a dynamic field of energy that went beyond them both.


Inspired by this idea of merging into onenes my own exploration using visualisation deeper into the body began to take greater priority. To my suprise and delight this transformed areas of dysfuntion or dysharmony and merged them into three-dimensional, unified fields. The meridian and point system began to fade or merge into the concept of energy-consciousness that connected everywhere at once.


This in turn was confirmed by deeper reactions in the client in the form of involuntary movements, contact with deeper emotions, vivid, dream-like imagery, moments of insight and an improvement in their symptom patterns.


The discovery of three-dimensional inner space later expanded outwards to became a tangible awareness of energy fields outside of and around the body that were nevertheless connected to it. Of course I was aware of the concepts of ‘energy bodies’, auras and so on espoused by others but this became something I could feel with my hands. It later developed into the first levels of an extended practice that myself and colleague Graeme Docherty would coin ‘Solid Air‘.



Different playgrounds, different rules



Alex Grey. All rights reserved.

Alex Grey. All rights reserved.

These energy explorations developed further where the client was not even required to be in the same physical space. They could be at home in bed, or even in another country. To use a modern software analogy:


It does not take any more effort for our mobile phone to ring someone across the street or across the world. Once we have entered the sofware playground the rules are different. The same can apply to energy work. There is no more waiting for physical connections to be made.


These days this expansive work has changed yet again and it does not appear to matter how I work anymore. Nothing is a higher or lower, beginner or advanced form of practice. I can just as easily do ‘normal’ shiatsu but travel in and around the client’s body in the mental space noting responses and reactions that I previously thought I could only access by working in a non-physical ‘healing’ way. The gap between shiatsu, bodywork, healing and spiritual work had been erased and made irrelevant.


I have even noted that a well placed vibration and thought intention in speech at the interview stage of a consultation or during a treatment can elicit a shift in consciousness with an accompanying emotional response in the client as confirmation of their own realization. That is:


There can be a vibrational or energy-consciousness import within words that exist beyond the meaning of the words themselves.



Shifts happen: the journey coninues


Each year’s students are the beneficiary of this continued evolution of shiatsu pratice. While they of course must become familiar with the basics of posture, position, pressure and ‘feel’, meridians and major point locations and so on, it will be the ability to ‘tune in’ to what is feeding back from the client in every moment that will be prioritized.



Shiatsu class 1
It is not enough that we sit there and have visions or whatever if their is no change, reaction or connection with the client. Without that two-way communication we will not have any mastery and effectiveness in what we do. We will remain at best, just technicians – or at worst, self-deluding.


Shiatsu is as much an art as it is a therapeutic technique. We need to have that receptive sensitivity engaged to connect with energy-consciousness both in the client and within ourselves. Otherwise we are like a sexual dullard who thinks they are making love but are really just engaging in a masturbatory exercise using another’s body to supply the friction. We need to always be on the lookout for possible connections and union where before there was disharmony and disconnection.


The attitude we need to adopt is not that of the ‘doer’ but more as one who holds the space as a confirming witness that enables shifts to happen.


It is actually a profoundly simple process.


It is often the case however that simplicity only finds us after we have exhausted all the more complex and winding paths that once seemed so impressive and important.



Till it is simply another Monday



PS: For those in Stockholm who are interested in learning shiatsu click on the link here for details.



© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

Related Posts

Leave a Reply