The Two Controls

So, thoughts and action are under our control. Our genes, environmental toxins and our social and political circumstances;  the trials and tribulations of everyday life, less so or rather. not at all. We just think we have influence but whether we do or not is questionable. Self shiatsu and our nutritional approach make up a set of thoughts and actions that we can adopt to help mitigate the power of the things largely out of our control. Self shiatsu helps us address our structure. Nutriton gives us influence over metabolic pathways and carefully done can help us to detoxify. With these two controls there is a lot we can accomplish before we have to call on allopathic medicine. This is our responsibility.

If regular bodywork is like a mirror, giving us a view we normally can’t have without a separate observer, than self shiatsu is like the mental image we have before gazing into the mirror. By using our thoughts and actions to gain a high level of understanding of our physical structure through self shiatsu; by managing our stress, increasing our range of motion, perfecting our balance and improving our blood circulation, controlling heart rate, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and so on, we can take up the great task of caring for this living body.

Thoughts are just concepts say many but they are the primary control leading to the actions that help us to shape and determine this one life. Our thoughts can be focused scattered,  pointed or perverse. But they can also be changed and guided.  Let evidence guide your thoughts and allow your experience to let them change.

Since thoughts are myriad and choices ever changing, what kind of evidence should we look to and where are we to find it? Just look to your left. Look in that bright mirror. Look at the time spent writing in the garden under light filtered by apple trees. Look at the swollen feet and darkened eyes, the constant headaches.  Look at the process and break through the habit energies that lead to such appearances. Low carb, high carb, long and slow, HIIT try it all and then some. Give it time to work and don’t be impatient.  What appears in the mirror of your own daily practice? Take hold of theTwo Controls and fashion your own healthy expression. Take heed, the Two Controls are not always easily applied.

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Nutrition for Shiatsu?

The nutrition and diet industry are big business. You must certainly have noticed. I think that there are two main reasons why. The first is that nutrition is the foundation of health. Eating is a primary physiological need. Sure there are a few people claiming that they only need a few hours of sunlight a day and otherwise they don’t need to eat but I don’t usually see those people in my praxis. You can have great genes and a great exercise program but if all you’re eating are honey buns and potato chips you probably won’t get far. The second reason probably is rooted in human adaptability. It seems that there might even be a percentage people who can thrive on honey buns and chips (at least for a while), others meat and potatoes, others rice and beans and therefore it is difficult to pin down what’s good for who. In addition what and how we eat, who we eat with and when are deeply cultural and social. The seemingly unceasing variables to diet and nutrition make the science difficult and the ground fertile for speculation. The radical change in social structure and roles as well as the evolution of the food industry has also complicated the mix. Everybody has to work and staying home and cooking real food doesn’t seem to count as viable “work.” So there are millions and billions of people who have a fundamental requirement that holds them back from death (temporarily) in which a huge percentage are unwilling to take even a passing interest beyond the most basic considerations of “how does it taste” and “do I feel full.” Perhaps that’s why the Chinese can stretch rice yields with edible(?) plastic rice pellets or Monsanto can breed the insect killer right into the corn and soy.

I grew in the 1960’s and 1970’s and came to age in the 1980’s so my body was fully formed before McGovern’s commission decided that Ancel Keys  was right and dietary fat was evil. However my consciousness about what one should eat was definitely influenced not only by the new USDA recommendations but by the influence of yoga, zen and the back to the land and vegetarian movements of the ‘70s and ‘80s. As a teenager I began to realize that if I wanted to live independently and free I’d better acquire the means to care for myself and one of these means was to learn how to cook.

My first cook book at, 16 years of age, was a macrobiotic cookbook (now out of print) but wasn’t attracted to it because of the macrobiotic philosophy per se but because it seemed like the simplest approach to cooking of all the cookbooks I saw that day. However, it presented cooking techniques in such a simple way that I found it impossible to make anything that was actually pleasing to eat when I used it. I can’t count all the looks of, “are you really gonna eat that” I got in those days. I did however come to accept many macrobiotic tenets and was (later) a vegetarian for over ten years from about 1996 to about 2006. I also eventually learned to cook food that actually tasted good too.

Macrobiotics, like most “traditional” dietary systems is not science but a philosophy and philosophy isn’t philosophy unless the principals are universally applicable. So, the best food for humans are grains because blah, blah, blah. No one should eat this food because of blah, blah, blah. Should we follow nutrition “philosophies?” How much of diet is universally applicable in your experience?

The shiatsu that I learned was, in fact, founded on macrobiotic principals or at least within the context of the macrobiotic community. The International Shiatsu School in Kiental was originally the Macrobiotic Institute and the influence of the macrobiotic style of eating and cooking remains present but has faded to just a fine scent over the nearly 30 years since the Institute was founded in 1987. There are schools of shiatsu founded on other five element cuisines and traditionally all eastern styles of medicine have both a manual therapy and a nutritional system that it is integrated within it. How important is nutrition to shiatsu? Does one have to follow a special diet for the promises of shiatsu to really unfold? What would represent an approach to nutrition in shiatsu that is more attuned to current nutrition science?

My involvement in Buddhism made it easier to be a vegetarian but when I learned that I would have child I started being concerned about my health (I didn’t want to look like my son’s great grandfather at his high school graduation) and when I looked objectively the prognosis didn’t seem all that good. I was meditating, eating good quality vegetarian food, exercising and doing shiatsu and tai chi but my weight had blown out of proportion. As I set about learning how to “fix” my weight problem I questioned whether my diet was as good as I thought/was told it was. One of the first stops for me when the internet became more available to me up in the Bernese Alps was beyond vegetarianism’s group of essays called, ”Frank Talk about Vegetarian, Vegan, and Raw Diets & Beyond” which gave me my first inkling of something called the paleo-diet. Continued study and personal experiments have lead me to my current low carb anti-sugar, (not always successful) grain-avoiding ketogenic intermittent fasting ways. More about that later, I guess…

I believe without a doubt that that the work that I do as a shiatsu therapist is helped when people are at least interested in the connection between diet and their overall health and when they are interested in trying the “get their diet right,” at least in terms of their own conditions, tastes and goals. I believe this is primarily because nutrition is one of the most powerful influences on how our genes actually express themselves. It has been shown that people genetically predisposed to diabetes can turn off the expressions of the diseases linked to insulin insensitivity and their own “carbohydrate intolerance” by avoiding the intake of “excessive” carbs and there are other examples of remission rather than cure through diet in the scientific literature that I hope to get more specific about or at least point you in the right direction to find in future blog entries. So, if you can arrive at diet that gives you good results but maintain a willingness to continue to improve, you won’t get left behind by the science or solidify into a “this is how I eat and f*ck everything else” fossil.

Should you eat a ketogenic diet or a vegan diet or a “traditional” diet based on the teachings of Weston Price? Only you can determine that, science, philosophy or popular culture can, in the end, only make (strong) suggestions. I, too, in my professional role, can only make suggestions based on my personal and practical experience and the research I’ve happened to stumble over, find, or have suggested to me; the same as you and probably the same as your primary care physician. There are few solid proofs about diet, little research on the effects of specific diets combined with bodywork of any kind let alone shiatsu, and extremely few universal applications, but that doesn’t mean we’re helpless. It just means we have to come to our own conclusions and accept responsibility for them.

Finally, being able to admit that there is no “one answer” for everyone while opening the door for possibilities and experimentation, doesn’t actually make things easier. Shizuto Masunaga, one of the founders of modern shiatsu says in Zen Shiatsu: How to Harmonize Yin and Yang for Better Health that,  “It is important for us to keep in mind that incorporation of shiatsu and a balanced diet into our daily life will keep us healthy. Diet is the root of good health, for it is food that nourishes life. Therefore, proper knowledge of a balanced diet is fundamental to proper health care.”  Our challenge and journey together are focused on defining for ourselves what “good health,” “balanced diet,” and “proper knowledge,” really are.

What Does a Shiatsu Therapist Do?

What does a shiatsu therapist do and how does she (most shiatsu therapists are shes) do it? That’s hard to know. There are studies out there, but not many. No double blind studies are possible because how can the therapist not know if he’s giving a real or a placebo treatment? So, we can never have “gold standard” double blind studies for any kind of human administered bodywork, but we can make observations never-the-less.

We can monitor blood glucose (BG) and blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) before and after treatments to gauge the effect of shiatsu on these parameters, comparing them, of course, to baseline markers over time. Modern medicine spends a lot of effort telling how these bio markers need to be under control and in the context of a shiatsu praxis (or almost anywhere) they have become extremely easy to test.

Testing for cortisol in saliva is another test that is relatively easily done within the bounds of the practice of bodywork. Testing for inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (il-6) and tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) would be worthwhile as well but would require research funding to implement.

Bodywork creates a “knowing” in the body of the receiver that is hard to quantify and is also hard to quantify the carry-over of this “body-self-knowing.” Since we can’t eliminate the placebo effect or the nocebo effect through double blind studies we have to take them into account. Bodywork is a very practical discipline so if we can take advantage of placebo effect while discouraging nocebo effects it leads to an alleviation of symptoms which is aligned with our purpose naturally.

Does all this testing help specifically our bodywork? It might. It might not. If we just want to prove that bodywork is effective well, we know that already. Since we can’t test at the highest standard of science then why bother? If we want to really complement allopathic medicine it would be worth trying to understand how following BG, BP, HR and inflammatory markers can help us to tailor our approach to each client even more? Would hormone panels and cholesterol levels also be relevant to shiatsu and other forms of bodywork in the future and body worker be better trained to interpret the results of the standard test arrays? I would say yes could even also make the effects of different types of bodywork apparent. Moreover this quantifiably would make it easier for physicians to refer be movement and manual therapies because the results would be more transparent.

So what does a shiatsu therapist do? Well, that’s hard to know. The reasons that bring people to want to investigate themselves in this way are also often deep and hard to fathom. In bodywork both giver and receiver both look into a mirror without reflections. Did those years of ball leave your shoulder out of whack or was it the moment you casually noticed the truck skidding on the newly rain swept highway then tensed…. Was that break-up only something you’ve ever before seen on TV? These things are difficult to know. But the body has something to say about these things as well and with shiatsu we have a good way to listen. You get to listen with all of you for a few short minutes rather than just with your ears. When you have such a strong intention to listen you are more likely to hear something, but, you also might not want to hear it. This is the same for both giver and receiver. It’s this choice that’s so difficult to quantify in studies but choices we have never-the-less.

Self Shiatsu

Self shiatsu builds the shiatsu therapist. It’s the main way I achieve and maintain everyday shiatsu. It’s like the ground tone or SA in Indian classical music. My hands are full however in not letting it degenerate into white noise. Few books are written about self anma or self shiatsu. Maybe you should write your own. That’s the thing; every self has its own shiatsu. You can codify it and try to sell it but its no use. You have to develop your own.

Suddenly you surprise yourself by this small act of “giving a shit”, about tending to the body electric and you wonder, “-Why don’t I do this more often?” The thought floats in the mind like clouds finally raining. Self-shiatsu unlike “shiatsu-as-therapy” is too easy to know, to easy to forget.

Simple tools, a child’s toys, expand your reach; a rolled cloth, the infamous pain balls, and the humble couch help you reveal the whole limpid pool of your body, stars reflected. Self shiatsu is like constantly training through etudes. You are able to apply more and more practice to your perceived patterns. But also practically, the flexibility and mobility gained by using self shiatsu consistently builds a foundation for developing strength, endurance, speed and power according to your capacities and goals.

Self-shiatsu also grows the so-called receiver. Know your body through becoming intimate with it and you will be able to wisely choose a therapist that really complements your understanding (that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will always take you to places you might expect). Really come to know your body, speech and mind and now you can work in an empowered way with your primary care physician or psychotherapist. Perhaps, in time, your visits to them could even become rare.

I often ask “What would you like to work on today?” I don’t ask that because, I myself, don’t have a useful plan, I ask because health care should tailored to and at the service of the client’s/patient’s needs. Some clients have pretty good ideas of what they want and expect from shiatsu, for others, the inquiry stresses them. That’s ok because they’re responsible for knowing who they are and what they need whether my asking stresses them or not. Self shiatsu is a wonderful tool for self understanding. It’s very practical and basic. It also makes for more effective treatment outcomes, so I ask relentlessly. I ask because as the themes you wish to address through bodywork clarify in waters of your mind stream, your wishes for specific kinds of touch will inform you interaction with your therapist and your self shiatsu will also naturally change in focus. This in turn gives longer lasting support to the therapy session.

In self shiatsu you are in complete control and decide on the input. A therapy session complements this by presenting a paradigm you are not capable of introducing alone. Your body and mind adapt. Your subsequent practice enables you to keep the pathways of the new paradigm open. Yoga, tai chi, dance and sport are structured ways of developing“body knowledge.” Self shiatsu can be structured as well, but doesn’t have to be. Maybe you are drowning in structure in your everyday life. I could be helpful for you to allow yourself “special” freedoms. Consider adopting the little movement suggestion I often give after sessions. Your treatment series will probably bring more fruit.

Everyday life is the Way

Seeing the plum tree in passing, I usually never see it.  Then one day it is very special, but everyday it is working toward this special way of being. The moon shines on our pillow, we may get up or we may dream further, and those dreams of fully blossoming, color our  life of everyday .

Our relationship to our body and mind can be like that. Viewed only in passing one day we are eventually suprised by a special way of being. Sometimes we are blooming in the sun but “shaken with pain” can be our special messenger.  Suddenly we are limited by the body that before could bring forth life or travel the deserts of this existence.  Doing shiatsu for the benefit of others grows out of the everyday life of self-shiatsu, eating and defecating, meditating or not, taking and giving. Stretching the imagination toward infinite vistas while remaining pleasantly mundane is the life of the shiatsu therapist.

Because human bodies are simlar, schools of bodywork share many commonalities. Shiatsu is like plum blossoms in spring. Rolfing, Tuina, Point Holding, Re-balancing all have their own season and characteristic taste. Yet, because we humans can be so, well, different the expression of each of these methods is like myriad droplets of rain, each embued with delectable clarity.

Just trying to get healthy, to stay healthy, to raise our kids, to dig in the earth and sow a cover crop, fill our belly and sleep, is our everyday life –  and getting a bodyworker to help you to find a new paradigm is supportive of that.  It keeps us willing to give these simple things their due; to refrain from endless hours staring at a blog posts, to pack a lunch, chose a better butter and get to bed on time.  No glamour, like no class is a trade mark you can wear with pride.  Non-glamour is the inspiration for our feast; sweeps away the dust of the day and arouses our mind to serve. Shiatsu isn’t really some kind of luxury but rather a way for our life to look at our life reflected in these bones, sinews and nerves.

Suzuki Roshi wrote “We should not attach to some fancy ideas or to some beautiful things. We should not seek for something good. The truth is always near at hand, within your reach” and this is something we should all remember when we decide to therapize ouselves. The truth is always near at hand. looking left we might see it, but we must look, we must reach, that is often our problem. Reaching we are not natural, holding back we are not natural.  Non-natural. Yet, the sun relentlessly rises to hit our face in the morning.  We may chose to continue dreaming, but eventually rising with it, the day that lies ahead will color our dreams.