Shiatsu – Not Just for the Traditional Chinese

As the Holidays approach, students at Healing Hands School are busy finishing up Fall classes.  For many students, it marks the end of a year-long program of study that included a 1000 hours of Massage Therapist training and related Holistic Health classes.    During their final week, anxiety levels rise as students prepare for written exams and “Public Day”.  For most it is “Public Day” that is most intimidating as it requires they perform massages on public volunteers tasked with evaluating their newly acquired hands-on skills. 

One of the classes hosting a “Public Day” this week was Shiatsu, taught by Staff Instructor, Raina Colvin.  Based on the ancient holistic system of Traditional Chinese and Japanese Medicine, Shiatsu massage has been an integral part of health care in Japan for hundreds of years.  Designed to improve the flow of qi (energy) in the body, Shiatsu helps to restore balance and facilitate optimum health.  Using fluid strokes, a Shiatsu massage therapist will apply finger and palm pressure along 12 energetic pathways in the body called “meridians”.    It is performed on a floor mat with the patient dressed in loose clothing so his/her body may be manipulated by the Therapist.  Its effects include:  a calming of the sympathetic nervous system; improved circulation and range of motion; a reduction in muscle stiffness, anxiety, and stress; plus an enhanced sense of well-being.   Below is one student’s account of her “Public Day”.

“There was an atmosphere of nervous excitement as me and thirty of my class-mates dragged our Shiatsu mats up the staircase to the classroom.  Our instructor, Raina, seemed calm and collected as she greeted us cheerfully and orchestrated the room’s  set-up.  Downstairs, a crowd of thirty-one public volunteers began gathering, awaiting their opportunity to receive a free hour and a half massage from a Healing Hands student.  Though most were unfamiliar with the massage modality, all seemed eager for the experience and we could hear their chatter grow louder by the minute.

A half hour later, soft,  instrumental music filled the room and thirty-one colorful Shiatsu mats blanketed the floor giving the classroom a surreal  look as thirty-one volunteers began streaming in.   Raina was to meet and briefly interview each before matching them to a student / therapists.  Hidden in the far right corner of the room, I was totally surprised when the first volunteer Raina assigned was directed to me.   As she approached, I was relieved to see that I’d be working with a petite, young woman who appeared to be in excellent health – piece of cake, I thought to myself.  Following my in-take interview however, I learned that due to severe Scoliosis, my piece of cake had two Titanium rods attached to both sides of her spine!  The implants had become necessary when she reached puberty and the surgery was performed to keep her up-right and mobile.  At first, this news terrified me, but after a brief consultation with Raina, I learned the only Shiatsu move I need avoid in this special case was the Spinal Twist.  With a renewed sense of confidence, and strong desire to give this young girl some relief from severely over-taxed back muscles, I began the massage. 

First I warmed her up with one hand on her sacrum (to create a rocking motion) while the other carefully applied pressure along the length of both sides of her spine.  I could feel the hardness of the rods in her back and the heat from inflammation of the surrounding muscles.   Almost immediately my patient began to breathe more deeply and relax into the rhythmic motion.  As she did, I glanced around the room to see that the ambiance of our playful classroom had transformed once again.  This time, with lights low, it seemed to morph into a sacred Temple filled with extremely compassionate and focused Healers.  Everyone was working so intently you could hear a pin drop, despite there being over 63 people present.   

Performing a Shiatsu Massage
Performing a Shiatsu Massage

After my warm-up, I began applying finger and palm pressure along the different meridians of my patient’s back, neck and shoulders, before moving on to those in her arms, legs and feet.  While I worked, I kept my mind focused on my intention, as Raina had taught us.  Rather than worry about whether I was executing all the moves correctly, I thought only of my client, tuning in to her every reaction to my touch, and staying focused on facilitating her comfort and creating a space for healing.  When Raina announced the end of the session, I felt as if only moments had passed and I’d been awakened from a deep, deep trance.  My client, who was face down at the time, rose from my mat with tears in her eyes and out-stretched arms gesturing for a hug.  As I complied, she expressed her deep appreciation for what she called “the best massage she’d ever experienced”.   Confused by her tears, I asked “if it was good, then why are you crying?” to which she replied “no-one has touched my back since the surgery nearly 12 years ago for fear of hurting me, and I really missed being touched”.   It was at that moment that I knew I had chosen perfect massage school for my education.  Unlike many other programs where the faculty focuses on the technical aspects of massage, the Instructors at Healing Hands taught us how to become compassionate Healers as well. ”

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