HangUp

Inverting the body has been a part of most of our childhoods and though perhaps strenuous is very natural. Unfortunately like other very natural movements, it seems to gradually disappear from our repertoire as we age. Inverted postures are a standby of many yoga traditions and there has been a recent movement to add slings to this practice so that inversions can be more accessible to the less advanced students. Inversion therapy using “gravity boots” tables and chairs has also been around a long time and got its 15 minutes of fame back in the 1980’s when Richard Gere used one to the silver screen.

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Torio helps me open up my flank as I hang in mid-air (the yellow cord belongs to the pulley that hoisted me).

HangUp is bodywork that employs hanging freely inverted by the ankles. A delicate winch suspended from a hand crafted “Pyramid” helps the therapist do the job. I wanted to try it because I am use a small amount of inversion in the Sofa or couch shiatsu idea to encourage good venous return and I wondered what the more intense inversion experience would be like. For me it was a bit like tipping the scales or letting the sand cascade to the other side of the hour glass. It was so intense for me that I had very few thoughts beyond simply hanging there.

But this is where a guide is important. Marvin Torio Bauer provided a meditative atmosphere both within and without for the exploration and after an initial grounding in a supine position is an able pilot for the bottoms up position. He gave very precise, informative and reassuring instructions regarding the flight ahead and added a bit of humor. Though my personal focus was just on trying to relax and overcome my doubt that the “pyramid” would support my ample corpulence, Torio was able to take me through the process and add the element of therapeutic touch, an element missing from gravity boots, inversion tables and yoga classes.

Generally, it seems, people tend to gravitate (pun intended) to inversion therapy to combat low back pain. I personally did not feel any special relief by the spinal decompression but I was very intrigued by the effects of the hanging on my abdominals, my psoas and the muscles around my ribcage. The gentle twists that Torio gave my body while inverted were particularly good for me as they seemed to address the liver and gall bladder meridians in a special way. I would also have to note that since then I have become more greatly aware of the sloshing around of the fluid in the fascial sacks within my body in a way that I never was before. All-in-all HangUp with Torio Bauer was a memorable experience and one that I can definitely recommend.

Contact “Herz Uber Kopf,” Torio Bauer and Dora Moser at: hangab@gmx.ch or an SMS an +41 (0)76 238 02 29 to give it a try.

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Sofa Shiatsu 2

Last week I spoke in a generalized way about couch shiatsu and I also had a brief opportunity to demonstrate this to a small group at the Leap Up! Wellbeing Day at Centrepoint here in Basel.  I would like to speak in more detail about it, a lot can be said, but on the other hand augmenting your forays into the world of bodywork with sofa and self shiatsu is about developing your own kinesthetic sense.  It’s about your learning how to be well, whole, and good in your own body.  Perhaps my words are then superfluous? But if so that would make this a very short blog entry. so instead, here are a few things to look out for or incorporate into your sofa sojourn.

Let Go. Make sure you really have 30-40 minutes for yourself. Don’t forget to put your phone on airplane mode or use some other methods to ensure you’re not interrupted and give yourself time at the start of the session to just “be.”  When I was demonstrating last Saturday I felt pressure to “get things moving and describe something cool” and that was a very unacustomed and uncomfortable feeling.  Don’t let outside forces compromise your quality time with the fascia.

Vary the tempo and dynamics. Bring a sense of musicality and play to these sessions.  Once you’re settled in and gradually becoming aware, look to introduce rhythmic elements to your touch and then begin to introduce a play of tempo changes mixed with altering the amplitude of the movements.  For example alternate circling the feet slowly with making an action as though you were swimming free-style and paddling furiously. As you travel along the body’s surface in your explorationns see if you can introduce a variety of movement, tempo and amplitude at each of the joints you visit.  Ask yourself, “what are the limitations to this joints movement? Is there pain, popping sounds  or obstructions?”  Question as if you where a procecuting attorney.

Allow time for the fascia to move.  Without starting an awkward and misplaced technical explanation here abut fascia simply know this:  The sublime “bags” of skin encapsulating all the body’s structures and swimming in a gel-like media respond to 1) heat 2) pressure and 3) time under the influence of the first two factors. Google more if you like but for our simple purposes as John and Jane Doe bodyworker we just need to know that as we apply sustained pressure to an area of our skin, the heat of our hand (or foot), the angle, depth and type of pressure will, with time cause the underlying fascial structures to “melt” and “flow.” Here is your chance to deepen your meditative stability and move your mind into some of the body’s structures and get them to move and groove.

The main thing to remember is that if you want to influence the fascia e.g. increasing range of motion up and downstream from a joint, then you must apply pressure for a minimum of about 90 seconds before the tissue begins to respond.  You’ll really need some patience and you will have to exercise some cleverness about how you will apply steady pressure at an adequate depth for long enough to reach the minimum dose  WITHOUT allowing that pressure to create tension somewhere else or just plain exhausting you. Since you’re awesome I know you’ll have little trouble with this though.

Next time I’ll suggest a few tricks for leveraging this limb against that one so that you can enjoy the “melt” without getting all “tensed up,” I’ll also point out how you can extend simple techniques by launching into some creative movement improvisations so that you can experience “the switch” under your own power.

A Modest Plan to Fix Your Machine

I tend to see shiatsu as part of a clever but modest maintenance plan for your body.  I wouldn’t necessarily put bodywork on the front line of a battle with cancer or heart disease (though shiatsu has been shown to help relieve the sufferings of chemotherapy) I think its a good thing to already have in place if (God forbid) you have to face cancer or MS or something you thought only other people get.

As such bodywork tends to lack glamor. If you’re freeing people from terrible circumstances with heroic efforts in the operating room or on the battle field then, well, people sit up and take notice.  But if you’re just a mother reminding her son to sit up straight, well that’s not very interesting is it?  Yet think of all the pain that is avoided if the son does take his mother’s advice. Preventative care is like the negative space in a drawing or the silence between the notes; you have to train yourself a bit to understand how important they are and once trainied you have to continue to remind yourself not to lose sight of their magnificent emptiness. Things like taiji, yoga, calisthenics and standing meditation require rememberance, mindfulness, and consistent effort (unfortunately).  I’m like many of you, hard pressed to turn away from my latest distraction in order to remember to sit up straight and eat my vegetables.

A well thought out plan is also a boon to getting on track and enjoying the benefits of a consistent maintenance plan, but like me, creating and executing good plans may not be the gift God gave you.  Don’t fret, I think its enough to be willing to look deeply and address what’s there in front of you with out judging and then acting sensibly.  What do I mean by that? Well strive to move from the particular to the general  in how you address your own needs.  There’s just a lot of information out there, a lot of workout plans, a lot of systems of spiritual exercise, a lot of approaches to dieting.  Start by looking at what you actually eat, how you actually move, what motivates you. Then look at what the science, what philosophy, what morality might be saying about these behaviors. What sounds right to you?  What did your parents eat? What did your grandparents eat?  What kind of lives did they lead and what kind of body have they bequeathed to you. Think about your childhood and think about your strengths.  Understand that you will tend to get more mileage out of playing up your strengths rather than laboring to bring up your weaknesses. Take yourself seriously. When, after weeks of research, you can’t find any scientific evidence supporting your 20 cookie a day dietary supplement than take yourself seriously enough to try something else.

Maybe you’ve heard that diet and exercise are useless. They’re useless and even harmful because they’re temporary measures.  Training and nutrition are better terms because they are part of your personal evolution. See if you can make this mindset change from serial dieting to giving your body the nutrition it needs to function optimally.  Transition from exercising here and there, waving your arms when the fancy hits you, to training in a way that suits your lifestyle and inclinations on a consistent basis.  Focus on making improvements and increasing your capacity. Bodywork is meaningful in a regime of training and nutrition but less so as a get rich scheme.

Look at bodywork in the context of your personal evolution.  Certainly some forms of bodywork work well to correct injury to the musculoskeletal system (depending on their severity) and that may be the reason you first explore Rolfing or Tibetan point holding but don’t lose sight of what an attitude toward prevention can bring.  When I say personal evolution I don’t just mean woo woo evolution but I also mean things like: “can you get more shoulder mobility with less pain?  Can you correct imbalances brought on by carrying that heavy ass son of yours for two years?” One source of ideas for these corrections for me has been the work of Kelly Starrett.  Here’s one of the early videos (2011) from his Mobility Projects as an example. In past blogs I’ve hinted at self shiatsu and its potential as a self-maintenance strategy and next week I’ll begin an exploration of what I could call level one relaxation (but don’t):  Sofa Shiatsu. Some of the things I will be trying to describe and show are inspired by Starrett’s work but adapted for non-athletes and normal Janes and Joes. Check me out next week for the start of the Sofa Shiatsu protocol.

 

How can I Start to Meditate?

Meditation is a word loaded with so many connotations that you almost have to define it every time you discuss it (which I won’t do here to any great extent, that’s what Google is for.) Meditation can be considered contemplation, thought, musing, prayerful consideration and so on, but how does that help you to manage stress?

My first “serious” experience with meditation was at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. There I learned in Maezumi Roshi’s basic courses of how to sit still and be quiet. After about ten years I was exposed to some of the Gelugpa methods of contemplation and placement. Later I trained a bit of Insight Meditation and Dzogchen to round things off. Yet when I began qi gong I found that the idea of “meditation” that I had developed from the Buddhist schools was different still than of that held by my taji teacher. Whether you’re dropping off body and mind, becoming intimate with virtuous objects or trying to dwell in the space between perception and thought, meditation has the reputation for being difficult.

Meditation looks easy on the outside. Rewata Dhamma like to tell the story of a boy who wandered by his Vihara and said, “That meditation stuff is an easy way to live, much, easier than going to work in the fields everyday like I do.” Bhante said, “Do you really think so? I’ll pay you exactly what you usually earn for a day in the fields each day if you come and sit with me and you can see if what you say is really true.” The little boy lasted only a half a day before returning to the fields. People with some experience in Insight Meditation retreat might say, “if he had stayed just a bit longer it would have become easier.” That’s probably true, but the boy never found out because he lacked determination. You’ll need some determination as well if you want to overcome illness and manage stress. But it doesn’t have to be as strick and difficult as 10 days on a Goenka retreat.

With perhaps the exception of some forms of qi gong and MBSR, physical relaxation and the management of stress are, in the religious and philosophical systems of Taoist, Hindu- and Buddhism, generally afterthoughts or fringe benefits. If you’re coming to a meditation practice to manage stress you may get easily side tracked by protocol, ritual and unfortunately politics if you take the traditional route of learning meditation at a zen center as I did (there are of course other benefits). By staying focused on the body however, you might be able to skip the elaborate packaging and wander off with the jewel of freedom and ease. Paying enough attention to the body’s needs is a way to ease this process.

Shiatsu is a kind of assisted meditation. It utilizes the easiest of the four meditation postures (sitting, standing, walking and lying), while a helper (me) assists you in dispersing held energy, trigger points, limited joint range of movement and other body based concerns. You then free your mind to focus on the mental object of your choosing. In the other three common meditation postures you need to spend a great deal of time managing and opening up the body (on your own) so that you can use your mind in comfort. Shiatsu is a good what to assist you in this and many of my clients don’t know that they either already are meditating or could be during their sessions.

Once you have gotten some of these benefits from shiatsu (or yoga asanas, calisthenics or other forms of bodywork) you can use your understanding to separate out the external triggers for your stress from the continuum of your body and mind. You see the value of the awake sympathetic nervous system as well as understand how to turn on the calming parasympathetic. Once you understand the differences in your own body you are well on your way.

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.

 

 

 

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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.