When giving hands-on help to those in need, there are a few key points that can make everything you do more effective and safe. Each of these things could be a whole course in and of themselves. In fact, in Shiatsu Shin Tai classes we cover them quite extensively. For now, we will touch on them briefly in order to help improve the quality of your work.
1. Never Force
Always use pressure and movement that is within the receiver's comfort zone. The goal is to gently encourage the body into new ranges of mobility and freedom. A receiver may feel slight discomfort at certain points of the treatment, but it should be a 'good pain,' not an 'I can't wait until this is over' pain.
A good way to go about this is to go into each technique as far as is easy, and then take it just a little farther. If you notice your receiver clenching their body, tightening the whole area you are working on, or holding their breath, you are using too much force. As you do a technique, the area you are working with may soften or increase in flexibility. At that point you can take the technique a bit further, always staying within the receiver's comfort zone.
2. Use Proper Body Positioning
When doing treatments, using your body properly is of utmost importance. In shiatsu, practitioners are trained to move and apply technique always coming from their hara.
Hara is a Japanese word that has many layers of meaning. Anatomically it refers to the abdominal region of the body, or our center of gravity. But hara can also extend to mean life quality. Hara is a central theme in the thought process and way of life in China and Japan. Whether it is shiatsu, martial arts, flower arranging, noh dancing, or any activity, the origin of action is in the hara.
When practicing the techniques in this course with your family, friends and clients, it is important to have an awareness of your hara as you are working. You can begin on your own to practice moving from your hara, by keeping some focus on your center of gravity and your hip joints. Allow your belly to relax and settle down into your pelvic structure as you work. This will help you be comfortable and treat with power, without exerting much physical effort.
Watching the demonstrations in our videos and courses will give you enough information to begin to cultivate an awareness of moving from your hara.
3. Go Slower with Children, the Elderly & the Sick
We can do bodywork with children and the elderly, and with people who are in a weakened condition. But there is an important difference to be made: always treat with LESS pressure and LESS movement. If someone's system is not fully developed (a baby through the late teen years) or in a weakened state (an elderly person who is not in vibrant health or someone who is ill), we want to introduce change more slowly. The idea is to stimulate an amount of movement and energy flow that the receiver's system can handle with ease.
When motion and energy are stimulated in the body, toxins that have been compressed are released. These toxins can be chemical, emotional and psychological. The physical toxins need to be flushed out of the system through the bloodstream, skin, intestines, and/or kidneys. The emotional and psychological 'toxins' or stresses need to release through the web of a person's emotional landscape and belief structure. If too much toxicity and stress is released at one time, it can become bogged down and cause sickness, discomfort and excessive emotional turmoil. We want to make sure not to give a very young, very old, or a weakened system too much to handle at one time.
So pay attention to who you are treating. If they are very young or old, or in a weakened state, go slower. Work with less pressure. Treat for a shorter period of time. If the technique says 'do three times', do it one or two times. The basic rule of thumb is that if you don't force, the body will release what it can handle. If you force, you may stimulate too much change at one time. Sometimes there will be some discomfort after a treatment. But we are looking to not overwhelm the system with too much change at one time.
4. Tools of the Trade: Be Creative
You will see that Saul usually works on a futon when demonstrating techniques in the online courses. He also uses something called the BodyCushion, a set of cushions designed to give the receiver maximum support. These things are useful, but you do not need these things to give a great treatment.
If you are already a professional bodyworker, you most likely have a massage table or futon, plus a variety of bolsters and cushions handy for positioning. If you don’t have these things, don’t be afraid to be creative. Your receiver can lie on some blankets on the floor or on a bed. When I was starting out, I even practiced on people on my dining room table! A couple of sleeping bags made it a great surface to use. You can also use rolled up blankets or pillows to help provide support when needed. Work with what you have to make your receiver as comfortable as possible.
Note: When working with a receiver in prone position (face down/lying on the stomach), it is important to make sure their neck does not get stiff from being turned to the side. If a receiver is uncomfortable lying with their head turned to one side, put a small pillow or rolled up towel underneath the shoulder on the side to which their head is turned. This relieves some pressure in the neck and makes them more comfortable.