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.


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