Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shiatsu Basic Seminar

On April 28th and 29th, the North/South American director of Hakko Denshin-Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, Souke Michael Lamonica, came to the Grand Rapid’s Kyoseikan dojo to lead a Shiatsu basic qualification course. For practitioners of Hakko Denshin-Ryu, basic certification in Shiatsu is required at the shodan level. This course, however, was open to the general public and, indeed, attracted a variety of people who do not regularly practice a martial art. This reflects positively the growing interest in alternative forms of medicine and the healthy benefits of massage.



Shiatsu (指圧), literally “finger pressure” is a style of Japanese massage that focuses on using the fingers and thumbs to apply pressure along major lines of the body. These “lines” closely follow nerve bundles which run from head to toe. By applying pressure, the shiatsu practitioner seeks to improve circulation and relieve stress in his or her… for lack of a better word, patient. In a more traditional sense, we take in energy with each breath. The Shiatsu massage follows, in a sequential order, the natural flow of this energy throughout the pathways of the body. If a patient experiences pain or tenderness, this could indicate a blockage. Blockages can be caused by stress or, in some cases, a more serious injury. The Shiatsu practitioner attempts to remove such blockages by massaging both the affected area as well as the holistic system. As Souke Lamonica explained, extreme tenderness in the bladder line, for example, might indicate a more deeply-ceded problem, such as infection, or simply that a patient is drinking too much coffee and not enough water.



In the basic course, we studied twelve of the body’s major meridian lines. Like meridians on the globe, these lines run up and down along the length of the body. Below I have listed the twelve meridians with a brief description of their locations:



--Boko-Kei (Bladder-Line): The bladder line runs along the back approximately one to two inches on either side of the spine. This line continues down the backside-center of either leg.


--Tan-Kei (Gallbladder-Line): The gallbladder line runs down the extreme outsides of the body, starting underneath the ear and running down the neck, continuing under the armpit and down the side, finally following the outside center of either leg.


--Jin-Kei (Kidney-Line): The kidney line runs up the back of the leg toward the inside of the bladder line. AS a point of reference, you can think of the kidney line as beginning between the Achilles’ tendon and the ball of the ankle on the inside of either leg.


--I-Kei (Stomach-Line): For our basic shiatsu course, the stomach line runs down the top center of either thigh. Past the knee, the stomach line continues just to the outside of the shinbone.


--Kan-Kei (Liver-Line): The liver line runs up the inside of the leg, following close to the shin. Past the knee, the liver line runs up the inside middle of the leg.


--Hi-Kei (Spleen-Line): The spleen line runs up the inside middle of the lower leg (straight up from the ball of the ankle). Past the knee, however, it crosses the liver line and runs up the leg between the liver and stomach lines.


--Daicho-Kei (Large Intestinal-Line): The large intestine line runs up the top-inside of the arm. You can think of the daicho-kei as beginning between the thumb and first finger.


--Sancho-Kei (Groin-Line): The groin line runs up the top center of the arm. You can think of the groin line as beginning with the middle finger.


--Shochu-Kei (Small Intestinal-Line): The small intestine line runs up the top-outside of the arm. You can think of it beginning between the ring and little fingers.


--Shin-Kei (Heart-Line): The heart line runs down the bottom-outside of the arm. You can think of it terminating with the ring and little fingers.


--Shinpo-Kei (Heart Area-Line): The heart area line runs down the bottom center of the arm. You can think of it as terminating with the middle finger.


--Hai-Kei (Lung-Line): The lung line runs down the bottom-inside of the arm. You can think of it as terminating with the thumb and first finger.



There are two points of difficulty I would like to explain for greater clarity. On the inside of the thigh, somewhere above the knee, the liver and spleen lines cross. Where the liver line is closer to the shin on the lower leg, it now becomes lower down and closer to mid-thigh. The spleen line, however, begins in the middle of the inner calf on the lower leg and crosses the liver line to set higher-up on the inner-thigh. At this point of crossing sets a particularly sensitive nerve bundle. A strike to this spot can be excruciatingly painful. It is also somewhat difficult, when beginning, to follow the meridians of the arm above the elbow. When following lines up from the hand, it sometimes helps to turn the patients arm slightly toward their own center when passing the elbow. This helps to expose the meridian lines which might otherwise be hidden by the bicep. Due to the way we hold our arms, it might be thought that the bicep is on the top surface of the arm. Actually, when dealing with the meridian lines, those that cross the bicep actually run to the underside of the forearm.



When beginning a shiatsu massage, we first set the spine. Because our backs bend and vertebrae become out of alignment during our daily lives, the shiatsu practitioner’s first duty is to settle the backbone straight. The patient lies flat with the face turned to one direction. The shiatsu practitioner places him or herself on the opposite side of the body from where their patient has the head turned. Then, with thumbs or fists placed one inch to either side of the spine, direct pressure is applied downward as the patient exhales. This is repeated several times down the length of the backbone. The process is repeated once more with the patient’s head turned toward the opposite direction. Now, with the fingers of one hand spread across the spine, a fist is gently dropped several times on the back of the hand. This process is repeated three times, moving from the base of the spine upward. This final “tapping” is a smaller settling of the vertebrae after the somewhat larger process of setting the spine.
After setting the spine, the Shiatsu practitioner continues by applying pressure along the various meridians. I have noted above the direction which the practitioner should move. The bladder line, for example, runs downward along the spine. Likewise, the massage must move downward. The kidney line, however, moves upward from the foot. Similarly, the massage moves upward.



There is a great deal of debate as to the health benefits of Shiatsu. All I will say regarding this topic is that shiatsu helps to relieve stress. The negative effects of stress on the body have been well documented. It is also important to note the positive emotional benefits of massage. Apart from the physical release of stress, massage creates an intimate connection between two people. Humans naturally crave physical closeness from their earliest years. Even if shiatsu does no more than provide physical closeness and a release of stresses, this is a health benefit in itself.

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