Shiatsu has evolved over the years in how it is taught and practiced. Some of the original power of this ancient healing art has been lost due to an emphasis on specialization and certification. Although more contemporary methods of treatment, technique and diagnosis are very valuable, it is important to also integrate the original principles of shiatsu into your practice so that receivers and practitioners can reap its full benefits. Please read below about the 7 core principles of shiatsu.
1. Whole Body “Ki”
Original shiatsu diagnosis was very simple. The practitioner started by viewing the whole body as energy or “ki” (also called 'chi') and assessing the receiver in simple terms. Here are some examples of how the ki might be described:
- stuck ki
- dispersed ki
- ki doesn’t move
- yin or yang ki
- heavy ki
- weak ki
A practitioner could use any “impression” of ki that characterized the overall energy of the person.
The treatment approach was often times simple and based around balancing the overall condition of the client. A shiatsu practitioner might say “If ki doesn’t move make it move” or “If ki is too dispersed then bring together & ground the ki.” The treatment might also include one or two specific targets, such as addressing the condition of an organ or body system.
Over the last 25 years shiatsu has moved much more towards details and specific diagnosis; sometimes the original spirit of a ‘ki oriented” shiatsu treatment is lost to conceptual exercises. Learning to see whole body ki can bring more potency to the practice, and enliven it with the original spirit of shiatsu.*
* Please click here for more information about our online instruction course in traditional shiatsu.
2. A Person’s Ki Reflects the Sum Total of Their Environment & Way of Life.
The Ki of the whole body is like a fabric made of different threads. A person internalizes the forces and qualities of the world with which they interface and becomes a matrix of ki that reflects those influences. Some of the forces that compose the whole body ki are:
- Beliefs/ dialogue
Seeing and having empathy for the forces that have formed a person's ki matrix, including the imbalances, helps a shiatsu practitioner direct his or her technique in a way that allows the treatment to reach the basic core of the receiver's needs.
3. The Body Has the Power to Heal Itself
In Shiatsu, we use touch to enliven the body's natural ability to heal itself. Shiatsu stimulates the the body’s healing power in two main ways:
- The treatment stimulates ki, which then activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This activates the regenerative functions of the body, including the immune system.
- The stimulation of ki also encourages the body to purge itself of life suppressing toxins and stagnating debris that has been stored in the body over time. This process is called “discharge." It can cause the symptoms of a condition to temporarily get worse. After the the discharging process has subsided, a person feels much better and more alive, because the body is clearer and can perform the life functions with less interference.
Old school practitioners therefore felt that a treatment was very effective if the client became sick afterwards. This can be difficult for westerners to accept. But these traditional practitioners understood that before healing takes place, the symptoms can appear to increase and that this is a very positive sign.
We can also transpose the idea of discharge to transformation of emotional patterns and beliefs that undermine a person's health and happiness. When the physical body changes, these things change as well. As that occurs, the life system can temporarily recreate situations that imitate the ones the formed the patterns in the first place.
4. The Spiritual Development of the Practitioner
Originally, shiatsu trainings were centered around the the physical, emotional and spiritual development of the student. Technique was often secondary. Classes always included exercises and practices for the personal growth of the aspiring healer. The training emphasized obtaining the strength, flexibility, and the awareness needed to navigate life and its’ challenge of constant change.
Many of the practices also focused on developing the perception of vibration, and the effect it has on our individual and collective lives. Practices such as chanting, aura clearing, palm healing, and activating chakras were used to give the future practitioner the health, vitality and perception for an effective, successful practice.
Please click here to listen to a lecture about the vibrational meaning of the word 'shiatsu' and learn more about what it represents.
There were also techniques given for healing ancestors. This added greater depth to emotional and mental clarity. Shiatsu was ultimately presented as a way of life. A person needed to practice and develop themselves to acquire well rounded skills, experience and knowledge. Their practice was seen as a reflection of their own condition.
These may be difficult ideas for people to understand in our contemporary career-oriented society. Now many students want to go to school only to get a certificate. They pay their fees and feel entitled to have classes on their terms and to have the standards lowered to their expectations. Traditionally the right to practice was determined by the students dedication to the process and the fulfilling of the many unseen requirements that really create a qualified healing practitioner.* Originally, shiatsu was a path of service and self realization.
5. Beginner's Mind
Beginner's Mind is the foundation of a shiatsu practitioner's attitude. Approaching each situation (treatment) as a blank page waiting to be filled in gives the possibility to see a situation clearly and accurately. Beginner's mind takes off the filters that tend to distort and prejudge what we are actually seeing.
At the same time, there is great value to protocols, systems and conceptual knowledge. These serve as structure for learning and developing skills. However, although protocol has an organizing effect on treatments, it must ultimately give way if we want to see each client as they are and allow their uniqueness to create the treatment map.
What we learn by exercising beginners’ mind in our sessions transposes into one of the most important lessons for being in the moment and enjoying life.
6. Hara is the LIfe Center
Originally, hara was presented as much more than a diagnosis vehicle. It was taught as a very potent treatment element that initiates deep healing and change. Hara was presented as the life center and a microcosm of a person's universe.**
The development of a practitioner meant an evolving awareness of hara. It meant creating a strong physical hara through training as well as a metaphysical understanding that hara is the key to centeredness in life, relations and purpose. Hara is not really something to be talked about. It is an experience of connection to nature and the earth.
7. Energy Follows Intention and Attention
Shiatsu is a practice of balancing ki. We move ki, calm ki, activate ki, soften ki, etc. We use our perception of energy and vibration to harmonize unequal forces of the clients ki to improve their state of well being. In life, we can use consciously formed intention to direct energy in order to create the circumstances we desire. In treatment, we can form our intention to direct energy where and how we want it to flow within the receiver's body.
Intention creates an atmosphere that supports the practitioner in their work and the client in their healing. Attention is where we focus our ki. Whatever our attention goes to, is magnified and becomes bigger in proportion. Often we see clients who have many good things in their lives, but they are focusing on the 10-15% that may be difficult. Therefore the 10-15%, in real space and time, dominates their life and appears to be 50-90% of their reality.
At the soul level, clients are the ultimate mirror for the healing practitioner who is walking the spiritual path. The people and clients we attract in our lives have the problems and habits that reflect our own on some level. Shiatsu practitioners are not curing people. They are entering into a partnership during the treatment that encourages the innate healing power of all involved to awaken. This is where we can set our intention and focus our attention.