Why You Want to “Manage Stress”

Shiatsu is a special luxury for managing stress.  We afford ourselves the luxury of time and we afford ourselves the luxury of attention. We give ourselves time to apply our attention so that we can create some space. The method is very simple.  You do nothing…for once, and you observe.  You aren’t fully in control, but of course you can react in any moment…and you do.

But why do you want to manage your stress any way? Is it just that everyone’s saying you’re stressed out and need to chill? Are you just following the latest trend, “burn-out as self actualization?” Or maybe you just don’t know any place else to go after having tried everything else? Luckily, there are myriad ways to do this- reduce your stress – from two martini lunches to binging on old episodes of “I Dream of Jeannie” but these carry dangerous side effects.

Like the bodhisattva seeking to destroy his defilements, you must go into the battle against stress bristling with every kind of weapon imaginable.  But the best option is to avoid the war entirely. So we should ask ourselves not just what method(s) we should schoose but why should we choose anything at all?  Can we steer clear of trouble? Is there real, effective preventitive medicine, and should I practice it?

Does reducing stress cure disease?   This study from 1990 addressed only general “lifestyle changes” excluding massage,  and if you can reduce your stress in a statistically significant way through television and half hour walks, than why open yourself to the endless tactile spaces of the amazing living body? Why waste hours in “downward dog” if there is not a bone to be had? How much do iIhave to invest and is preventive health care a good investment or just another scam in a world full of scams?

We’ve already mentioned that bodyworkers can’t be selected (doubly blinded) out of the bodywork process so that the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of our different methods and techniques can be judged at the highest standards of science.  But there is still room to design meaningful studies for bodywork beyond meta analysis of poorly written reviews and case studies. Unfortunately bodyworkers themselves are spending precious little money to research their methods. Perhaps we don’t really  want to know if what we value and love can pass through the brutal crucible of science? Shiatsu makes us feel good, isn’t that enough? Perhaps it’s just too difficult for us, or perhaps we want to just give massages rather than do research?

But there is some evidence beyond the anecdotal that bodywork helps reduce stress and that reducing stress has positive effects on our physiology. A google search of scholorly articles for “bodywork and stress reduction” will give you 13,000 results. But we can explore this area more and we have to give up on the excuses that there is some great power that is ignoring what we do “because it’s not a pill that they can patent.” Science is advanced when people really are willing to fund their own research to understand what they do not understand.  I have a feeling that shiatsu is something is special and worth a lifetime of study and also that meridians, qi and tsubos is an explanation crying to be tested. But how? Maybe you can tell me?

Physical therapy has standardized approaches that make it easier to study but differeing protocols sometimes give identical results. Shiatsu also has standards. If giver and receiver work to express those standards in a way that suits the wonderful limits of science, we could eventually determine if any of this makes sense. Perhaps the main thing is that we need to touch and be touched.  When we don’t touch each other our susceptibility to increasing stress and eventually illness gets the better of us. Is that all there is to it?

There is evidence that massage reduces stress and that stress reduction effects disease states for the better but no direct links between massage and the regression of disease states. The American Psychological Association found that a series of massages seemed to be just as effective as psychotherapy. Does psychotherapy cause the regression of disease states? What is disease? Who’s defining?

Excessive (dis)stress seems to compromise the immune system and managing stress is your ticket to an alert and healthy immune system but there is not a lot of evidence as to the best way to do this. Shiatsu may not be what Dogen describes as, “… the dharma gate of ease and joy, the practice and realisation of awakening and the manifestation of intimate reality….” but it is a luxury worth having.

Shiatsu as bodywork is an intimate wonder, a game and a dance.  But is it really effective in the areas it proports to be and how effective is it? The use of shiatsu is so practical and down to earth that we are tempted to not ask why? But we must. Constantly experience the taste of this question like the red hot iron ball of “Mu!” so difficult to spit out.

Naturally you are left on your own in the matter of discovering whether shiatsu can help you manage your stress or not. I leave you alone to ponder your fate. You have to just try it and see. There aren’t any studies out there that say, “if you do ten sessions of shiatsu you can reduce your stress by x% and that will have a y-fold increase on the effectiveness of your immune system.” Yet if we are determined, we could and should seek the answer such questions ourselves.  Its up to us, giver and receiver to discover exactly the nature of our body and mind.  I think shiatsu can help and that we can develop ways of giving and receiving shiatsu that are extemely effective maintaining dynamic equilibrium (whether you can throw away every sense of discipline and personal responsibility i.e. “eat whatever you want, the medicine will control your blood sugar,” is another question).

Don’t wait for your burn-out to manage your stress.  Journey to the center of the nature of your well being and live a long and fruitful life, always striving to benefit others.







Barbell Complexes?

There is a condition effecting the fitness world called bigorexia but this post isn’t about that. There are a dizzying array of tools, techniques, and products associated with maximizing your potential for athletic success or simply getting fit for short. Barbell complexes are one of those ways. So there are nearly infinite paths and nearly infinite means to using physical culture, considered a lifestyle intervention by modern medicine, to augment and support anything you might want to achieve with bodywork. Its unavoidable, you have to make your own choices.  Your doctor or therapist can’t do it for you.  Making that choice will take some time because its a matter of lifestyle its not a 2-, 6- or 12 week program. You have to continually examine not only your motivation but your capacity and life situation as well.

I’ve found it helpful to consider the different aspects of fitness that training can be tailored for. You can train to increase flexibilty, speed, power, strength and endurance for example but these qualities are synergistic.  As you train one you necessarily effect the others because these are expressions of a human body and not an ideal theoretical human body but your human body. So these are categories or templates for your mind like yin and yang or fire and water in TCM or relative and absolute in buddhist philosophy.  Though its not PC to say it, some bodies develop some qualities “better” than others.  For our purposes knowing this helps us to keep focused on our own personal experiment.  We can of course compare ourselves to others but simply acknowledging that there are genetic parameters as well as questions of time, commitment, experience and goals help us to focus on useful comparisons rather than overly broad generalisations about what we can expect from our efforts.

I bring this up because I spent a great deal of time looking at plans from the standpoint of “I want to develop this kind of body” so I need to train in the way that someone who has this body trains. Besides being absolutly superficial and vain, this approach has nothing to do with me other than my opinion about what looks good. This has potential dangers not only because of perceptual and psychological issues like bigorexia, anorexia and orthorexia nervosa, but we are doomed to fail because we don’t consider any other aspect of our life other than our will to submit (albeit temporarily) to Bruce Lee’s workout plan because we want to be ripped like Bruce Lee.

It doesn’t seem to matter if unlike Bruce Lee, we’re a 6’5″ male of German and Scandinavian ancestory who only has 3 hours a week available to train; has seven children and never trained a day in his life before coming to the conclusion that he has to get down to 5% body fat. The above example is crude and obvious but comparing our self and workout plan with others has subtler faults and the main one is, as I’ve already mentioned, lack of razor fine focus on what we are doing and the process  of making these changes a lifestyle so that we can make the benefits longstanding.

There are a lot of experts in this field it seems. Have a look at them all if you have the predilection.  Some are truly experts and that means you won’t understand a damn thing they say and some are profoundly real and authentic; maybe you can use their advice and maybe you can’t; and others are absolutely useless fakes, in which case you won’t understand a damn thing they say.

Traditionally shiatsu therapist prescribe hippie exercises from Do-in (dao yin), taiji, qi gong or yoga emphasizing qi flow and the feeling of a transclucent body full of light.  These exercises do work for emphasizing relaxation and for balancing posture, mobility and strength. These approaches evolved in a somewhat different context as western life today (strange and unique as that might sound) both philosophically and economically. Because we are so divorced from our bodies (sitting 12 hours a day and drinking 20 cups of coffee) we need work that will get our body to a place where subtle energetic work can actually do us some good.  I’m not saying we have the endurance of peasant farmers and the strength of a Qin soldier but I think its a lot to ask of the taiji form if all we do is sit on Facebook during the week and dance and party on the weekend. As far as qi flow is concerned I can’t really speak to that, the “mundane” benefits being enough for me right now.

Why do you want bodywork? Is that all that you need?  Would integrating certain other lifestyle changes into you daily grind have the synergistic effect of making you pop in all the right places? Are you willing to make a greater effort to focus on your own need for calm, and satisfy it so that the well is deep for others to drink from? Just don’t lose your patience.