Macrobiotic Shiatsu


Shizuko Yamamoto, founder of the International Macrobiotic Shiatsu Society, was stimulated by illness to discover alternative methods to adjust to the challenges of life. At a young age she developed leukemia and became blind in one eye. This led to depression and a discouraged attitude about her future. Her desire for meaningful change led her to several masters of the healing arts in Japan (notably George and Lima Ohsawa [Macrobiotics], Morihei Ueshiba [Aikido], and Masahiro Oki [Yoga]. Through study and experience she recovered her health and will to live. She also developed compassion and a wish to help others. This ignited a strong desire to share the natural, traditional healing techniques that had helped her so much. At the request of her teacher, Sensei Ohsawa, she moved to the United States to continue her work. Her unique combination of innovative shiatsu techniques with a whole foods diet (Macrobiotics) has created a comprehensive treatment style that aims to remedy the foundation causes of imbalance. For almost fifty years Shizuko Yamamoto has continued to share her creative style around the world.

For the complete Shizuko Yamamoto story click here.

Intuitive Touch

Since the beginning of time people have used various styles of touch to try to soothe and heal family and friends. While scholars feel that massage originated in China it is certain that each country throughout the world had developed and passed down their methods for treating the body with the hands. Ancient writings of Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, and Asian countries mention the positive effects from the use of massage.

We instinctively rub, press, pat, or in some way touch when we ache, feel pain, or just don't feel right. Intuitively we are applying self-treatment to try to create a more balanced state. Everyone is qualified to help themselves and with a little effort, are able to help others too. The simple understanding that humans are equipped to heal themselves, and that we can also help others, is the underlying foundation of shiatsu. If we live according to natural laws we really shouldn't have many troubles. Unfortunately we don't consistently live that way and humankind has had to devise ways to deal with the suffering that we experience. Ultimately to regain wholeness we must change our way of living. There are many tools that we can use in this process. Shiatsu is one of them.

Origin of Shiatsu

The origin of the Japanese word "shiatsu" is not certain. Over the centuries, information that makes up the shiatsu techniques was gathered through trial and error. The healing techniques that are fundamental to shiatsu probably originated in ancient China, and later came to Japan. Shiatsu is a synthesis of Judo principles, Do-In (self massage), and ancient massage. The first syllable in shiatsu, shi means fingers and the second, atsu indicates pressure. Therefore, shiatsu means "to apply pressure on the body with the fingers." Recently in the West, it has become known as acupressure.

In 1955, the Japanese parliament adopted a bill on revised Amma treatment (ancient Asian massage). Thus, for the first time in Japan, shiatsu was given official endorsement.

The first syllable in Amma. Am, denotes pressure and non-pressure, and the second, ma, means rubbing. Amma is a technique of pressing and rubbing the body. During the early part of the Nara Period (672-707 A.D.), Amma was recognized by the official medical authorities. Sometime later it lost popularity and in the Edo Period (1501-1857), it was revived once again. In 1793, a comprehensive handbook on Amma was completed. Its working principles are based on theories of meridians (channels of energy) and pressure points, similar to what you find with acupuncture.

Amma, deeply embedded in the Asian approach, and "massage," of Western origin, took different courses in their conceptual development. Each evolved by modifying its weaknesses and exploring its strengths. However, there is a strong tendency to consider the two methods as having the same type of applications. Since both Amma and massage have been fully assimilated into Japanese practice, they are administered together rather than independent of each other. In the hands of highly experienced and intuitive practitioners, distinguishing Amma from massage techniques becomes especially difficult.

In the Edo Period, the majority of Amma practitioners were blind, and they gave treatments in their patients' homes. By the time Western massage was introduced in the late 1880s, there existed many vocational schools of Amma for the blind all over Japan. Both Amma and massage were taught mostly to this group. Just as the performance of certain Japanese musical instruments was dominated by blind players and therefore, because of their visual limitation did not develop to a high degree, so the development of Amma technique stopped and it became a mere tool for comfort and relaxation.

Unlike Amma, shiatsu was further refined in its working principles and applications. In the beginning of the Taisho Period (1920s), shiatsu practitioners adopted some bodywork popular in America (such as chiropractic, occupational therapy, etc.). Mr. Namikoshi and the late Mr. Masunaga are but a few examples of excellent practitioners who continued their research. As a result, today, shiatsu represents Asian " body work." Amma and massage also fall into this category.

In analyzing this healing technique, it is clear that it is based on the laws of physics. This is a study of motion and reaction produced by external forces. There is a law that states that when there is a force exerted on one object there is an equal and opposite force or reaction on a first object by the second. Likewise, when stimulation is applied to the body either as pressing, rubbing, or kneading, the body accordingly produces some internal changes. Detecting these internal reactions, an experienced practitioner then applies other stimulation, which is based on one's intuitive reactions to the internal changes in one's patient. Thus, a practitioner of these techniques applies dynamic stimulation to the patient. The pressure is administered rhythmically in varying degrees, so that the recipient feels the compound results of varying applications of pressure. The direct administration of pressure in shiatsu is simple and linear.

Neither a thorough physical check-up by a doctor of Western medicine, nor a complete laboratory analysis, can adequately diagnose and cure symptoms caused by nervous and mental disorders and the imbalance of the autonomic nervous system. Shiatsu is a system that has developed from centuries of experience, and has proven effective in curing many symptoms. Among these symptoms are headaches, dizziness, ringing in the ears, eye-strain, general fatigue, stiff neck and shoulders, lower backache, constipation, numbness of limbs, chills, flushes, insomnia, and lack of appetite. Shiatsu and related techniques have also proven effective for curing chronic and painful conditions such as high blood pressure, rheumatism, and general neuralgia.

The Development of Macrobiotic Shiatsu

Shiatsu practitioners have long been considered authorities on treating minor diseases in Japan. In general, the Japanese public favors shiatsu treatment and, for many years, these practitioners have played a major role in health maintenance. The previously mentioned forms of massage and shiatsu are wonderful tools for the betterment of health. With the fact that life is forever changing, even these techniques must continue to evolve.

The practice of eating large amounts of animal food has created bodies that are very tight and rigid. To effectively deal with this hard, stiff situation an appropriate shiatsu technique naturally evolved. The Macrobiotic Shiatsu developed as a response to the western condition. It is a technique that deals with the common problems that many westerners have. When someone is tight, they need a vigorous style of treatment to loosen them up. Anything less than this will be ineffective and often a waste of time. Don't forget, however, that the aim of treatment is to create balance within the individual. We are always attentive to the needs of the receiver.

Every technical skill evolves over a long period of time. It is tempered by time and experience and honed by trial and error. The development of the Macrobiotic style of Shiatsu is no different. This style of shiatsu developed slowly over many years, evolving and changing as life's circumstances changed.

The most important underlying principle of macrobiotic shiatsu is that everyone has the power to heal themselves. This power comes as standard equipment with each human being. In a very practical way every shiatsu session is in reality a lifestyle education session.

This style of shiatsu developed to include both the skills that had been learned from formal training in Japan that primarily used the fingers and hands, and an intuitive foot technique. Additionally, beyond the formal training and martial arts exposure, intuition and common sense blend into the technique to make it what it is today. Its principal beauty is that it has a large sense of caring for others, of course, in a very practical way.

Principles of Macrobiotic Shiatsu

Preventive Medicine

Preventive Medicine should involve two basic approaches. The patient must cultivate proper personal habits of health and hygiene, and the practitioner must detect illnesses to which the patient is prone and treat his vulnerable condition before disease strikes. The first approach includes such measures as proper diet, plenty of exercise, proper breathing, regulated sex life, and other daily preventive routines. We call these the fundamentals of health. Changes in season and weather must be met by appropriate adjustments in diet and other routines so that the optimum relative balance of energies within and without the body is maintained. This personal daily approach to preventive care is especially effective in preventing chronic and degenerative diseases from developing. It also raises one's general level of health, vitality, and resistance to infectious diseases.

The second part of the preventive approach depends on the skills of the shiatsu practitioner. The various forms of diagnosis used in Macrobiotic Shiatsu can detect existing troubles and/or give valuable information about impending troubles that may develop if not attended to. Observation of a patient's skin color, tongue, texture of hair, tone of voice, abdominal condition, bowel and urinary habits, and many other tell-tale signs give an accurate picture of where the patient has been and perhaps more importantly, where he or she is going. These signs reflect a patient's vulnerability to certain forms of disease long before they strike. If the conditions that make the body vulnerable are corrected early enough, disease is prevented. It is the combined efforts of the skilled practitioner and the diligence of the patient that determines if prevention will be successful.

The other major addition that Macrobiotic Shiatsu includes is total treatment. The arsenal of tools used is not limited to acupressure, massage, or body work. It is from understanding the underlying reasons for ill health, such as the patient's breathing patterns, emotional changes, dietary preferences, and so on, that we get our direction concerning what must be adjusted in the patient's lifestyle. Besides treating the patient with shiatsu, we must look into the fundamentals of health and make appropriate adjustments in these areas also. Therefore a patient's short-sightedness in his or her life outlook is often-times pointed out. When inappropriate breathing patterns are noted, appropriate exercises are suggested. Physical movement such as yoga and walking, dietary recommendations, pointers on relationships, sex, and sleeping patterns are some of the counseling given to the receiver of Whole Health Shiatsu. Any area that is weak is fortified with suggestion and homework. All aspects of an individual's life are treated. This is what we mean by total treatment. This total approach affects the cause of disease by rectifying the energy imbalances and tonifying the weak organs that permit disease to develop. It also adjusts the living patterns that promote the disease in the first place.

The concepts of change, preventive care, and total treatment, traditional in Asian medicine, are recognized as integral and important elements in Macrobiotic Shiatsu.

This Macrobiotic style of shiatsu coordinates the breathing of the giver and the receiver as an important part of the treatment. Breathing together creates a lot of energy that is used in the correcting process. A vigorous style, which includes not only pressing with the hands and thumbs but the use of the giver's whole body, helps to loosen up the stiffness that so many people have. Stretching is also an important element of this style. In the diagnosis segment of a shiatsu session the senses of touch, vision and smell are used. By understanding the imbalances that are present, accurate way of life recommendations can be made. Recommendations that include diet, breathing and movement exercises, and way of thinking are combined with the shiatsu treatment. In this way the individual can be guided toward wholeness.

This holistic style of treatment has always taught the importance of diet, breathing, and corrective exercise with shiatsu. In short, it has always included lifestyle adjustments. These methods are used because they are effective.

In sharing shiatsu, you are participating in the healing arts at a high level. The act of treating someone provides a powerful means of personal growth for the practitioner in a similar way that the practice of the martial arts allows an adept's spiritual nature to develop. The essence of shiatsu is Love, which is infinitely available. It's no wonder that after a shiatsu session both giver and receiver are smiling.

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