The Spiritual Origin of Shiatsu

A Time for Spiritual Growth

Having just passed the Chinese New Year on 28 January, we have entered into the year of 1 Water according to a system of astrology called Nine Star Ki. The 1 Water Year is a good time to reconnect to the spiritual quality of the practitioner/ healer. It is a good time to develop the spiritual side of our practice by clearing our vibrational fields and expanding the non-linear, non-conceptual layers of our approach to treatments.

* Please see the footnote at the end of this article for more information on Nine Star Ki and the 1 Water Year.


True practitioners, by nature, are always seeking to grow and deepen their understanding of life force. By aligning with the particular energy of each yearly cycle, we are empowered in the journey of self development, social understanding and spiritual insight. Accelerated learning is available when we are conscious of the lessons each year provides and can realize the unique ways in which nature delivers these lessons to us.

Accelerated learning is available when we are conscious of the lessons that each year provides.

The Spiritual Growth of a Practitioner

Most practitioners these days have learned in a classroom which provides a methodical and informational way of education. Due to a global emergence of accreditation requirements and education regulations, it is possible to obtain certification by passing tests and fulfilling time requirements, but without the true inner development that was the essence of real training in former times.

Masters and teachers, particularly those rooted in the Japanese culture, traditionally delivered a more vibrational, spiritual training; an organic training that required surrender and mindfulness to the process. It was often crafted by the teacher to specifically challenge the physical, emotional and mental areas where the student needed to develop the most. The teacher monitored the student’s growth in character, their insight to life force and their awareness of life cycles.

Ultimately, the teacher was looking for the student’s understanding of the spiraling see-saw of Yin and Yang. Often the teacher may have seemed overly demanding and insensitive, however, the reality was just the opposite. The traditional teacher was actually honoring the student’s (or apprentice's) request to become a qualified practitioner. Even though some students might resent the demands of the training, in the end only those with clarity, commitment, and endurance emerged as practitioners with the teacher’s blessing and the capacity to be a true healers.


In the last years, the kind of training talked about above has become quite rare. Many students now want to put in the required hours and get a certificate, without the sweat and tears or personal transformation required to become a genuine healer. Often times this person doesn’t really succeed in creating a successful practice and eventually quits. They never realize that the healer's path is not only about helping others, but is also a journey into the depths of their own awareness and truth.

Absent the environment and teachers in todays world that can deliver such a training based on transformational achievement, and not just time requirements, the student/ seekers must challenge themselves to the rigors of discipline and sacrifice. They must find a way to exercise the body, mind and faculties of perception. They need to be persistent and develop the will to pick themselves up from hardship and failure. In the end, it is this honing of skills and submerging in the fire of life that forges the person who is able to do the work of healing.

And in the end, the true healer or teacher would never call his or her self by such a title....


The Spiritual Roots of Shiatsu

Many times over the years I have heard explanations about “what is shiatsu." Some of the definitions have been eclectic, recognizing that the ideas and techniques that create shiatsu are a compilation coming from many different backgrounds. Other definitions insist that there is a very narrow parameter to what shiatsu is, and, what it isn’t, and that it includes only certain techniques and can only be done wearing specific clothing on a particular surface.

Japanese culture has developed from a perception of vibration or energy.

To really understand Shiatsu we need to consider and reflect on the spiritual and cultural influences from which it emerged. The Japanese culture is one that has developed from a perception of vibration or energy. Japanese arts and sciences are rooted in the knowledge that energy precedes matter. All physical manifestations are seen as appearances representing an ever changing flow of energetic forces. We see this expressed throughout all levels of Japanese life. There are examples in architecture, medicine/ healing, Do-In, dancing, music. calligraphy, martial arts, flower arranging, gardening, etc.






The Spirit of Words

The study of Kotodama - the spirit of sound, words, and language- teaches that all manifestation first exists as vibration. Vibration becomes sound, and then manifests within various energetic and physical dimensions. Let’s take the word shiatsu for an example. On the most dense level it means finger or thumb pressure.

Shi means thumb. Tsu means pressure.

We can also look at the other ways that the vibration (or spirit) of these syllables infuses into our human experience.



Shi also becomes fire, plasma, astral, heart, consciousness, and thumb: In human development, the thumb appeared and made the hand our most basic tool. Simultaneously, as the thumb developed man stood up. This activated consciousness due to higher frequency energy moving through an erect spine. Man is also a sentient or emotional being (astral). The heart organ is a condensation of fire in the body and plasma is the basic substance of the cell (protoplasm) and the quality of the energy body (bio-plasm). All of these appearances and connections are from the vibration of shi, stepping down from the infinite into different planes of reality.

Tsu means pressure and can also indicate “the cycling of electromagnetic energy:" The cycling of electromagnetic energy (tsu) is the primitive expression of life force. This also creates the channels of energy called meridians. Meridians are found running through the earth, all of nature and and through the human body. Different degrees of pressure contain life force or ki and give it the possibility to become a multitude of inorganic and organic forms.

Connecting the two sounds is “a” or “ah” which is a vibration of origin or genesis.

SHI - A - TSU: Shi and tsu connected by “ah” describes the conditions and uniqueness in which vibration unfolds and creates the human as a physical, emotional, and spiritual being.

Another good example of word spirit is the Japanese term for the weather - tenki - which includes the sound “ki." Nowadays, most people using this word only recognize the superficial meaning of the sound. Tenki actually means the ki (force) of heaven.

The word hara is another interesting vibration. When it stands alone, the word represents the abdomen on a physical level. On the energetic level hara is the center of life force; it is a microcosm of the physical, emotional,and mental. It is the sum total of a person's life system and the environment in which they dwell. When the sound hara is combined with other sounds in the Japanese language, it indicates a description of life quality.


Hara: the essence of training

In all the art forms of the Japanese culture, awareness of hara is the starting point. In martial arts, noh dancing, calligraphy, flower arranging, archery, the sword, wrestling, exercise etc., action and creation are seen as originating from the hara. Training this awareness has always been the most important part of developing any skill in Japanese culture.

Shiatsu is included in this list. Hara is the essential aspect of the practice. It is not the techniques that makes shiatsu, but rather the use of the practitioner's hara. From the hara, the practitioner can feel the life force or ki of the client and move in a way that brings the flow of energy to balance.

So there are many styles, some very different from the others, but all are called shiatsu. Some use meridians, some use a whole body concept without meridians. Some styles focus on the treatment of the hara and some are more energetic. In the end, however, what makes it shiatsu is simply the practitioner using his or her hara with the intention to balance the receiver's ki.


The spirit of Shiatsu is rooted in the vibration of the word Shiatsu, and the values of the culture from which it emerged.

While in modern terms shiatsu may mean finger pressure, this a very dense or linear way to see the word. It could be that, consciously, the person that first used the word only meant it this literal way. At the same time, because of the deep heritage of vibrational and spiritual practices in the culture that gave birth to shiatsu, I would say that subconsciously the expanded spirit of the word is implied.

This is understood within that culture, but often times lost in translation. The word and its full impact can not be separated. It is no coincidence that these were the sounds chosen to describe the practice, influence and effect of Shi-a-tsu.

In the 38 years that I have practiced shiatsu I have met various practitioners from Japan that said they were practicing shiatsu. And even though what they were doing was quite different from each other, they all agreed on several beliefs. First, the importance of Hara in the training and practice. Second, all held a reverence for life force and the spirit behind the practice. It was like respect for an elder, or the honoring of higher powers in nature and the universe.

* Nine Star Ki & the 1 Water Year

Nine Star Ki is a system of astrology that is part of the Tao tradition practiced throughout China, Tibet and Japan. It is based on a nine year cycle that reflects cycles of influence that effect our planet as it orbits through the galaxy. As Earth's orientation changes, the electromagnetic effects from all the stars and planets changes as well. These influences affect everyone individually, and it can bring more ease and strength into your life if you tap into the energy of the year. 

Starting on 28 Jan 2017 we entered the 1 Water Year. This year is characterized by:

  • Spiritual growth
  • Developing flexibility
  • Connection to primal energy (Jing)
  • Reflection and listening

The energy of this year supports spiritual growth, flexibility, listening, and connection to other dimensions of ourselves than are normally accessible. Think of the qualities of water and that will activate more insight into the qualities of the water year. The organs associated with the water year are the kidneys and bladder. In Chinese medicine the kidneys are related (among other things) to our ancestral chi. This makes it a powerful time to connect with the roots of not only our own family, but any tradition or practice. We would like to invite you to make time/space this year to focus on your spiritual growth as a practitioner, so that you can experience more depth and fulfillment in your work and your life. 

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