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.