Shiatsu for You
Shiatsu in Japanese mean finger (shi) atsu (pressure) also known in the West as Acupressure and its methodology is based on the 14 meridian lines in the body, much like Acupuncture is used, without the needles.
Shiatsu is not used to cure disease but can effectively be used for the relief of simple aches and pains caused by the stresses and tensions of modern day life and to maintain general health, muscle tone and flexibility and importantly, to increase blood circulation to those parts of the body being treated in this way.
There are many Shiatsu practitioners in the UK and they are easily found on the Web or by visiting the British Complementary Medicine Association at www.bcma.co.uk.
For the purposes outlined here these techniques are designed for you to administer Shiatsu to yourself that covers most of the body, apart from your upper back.
If you have about 20 minutes you can do whole body Shiatsu – but most people simply do not have the time, so you could choose to cover various parts of the body at various times.
For everyday aches and pains – the neck, the lower back and the large muscles of the upper leg and pelvis are the usual culprits, followed by a stomach massage and then the hands, arms, lower legs and feet and finally the face.
It is useful to remember that when you are applying these techniques to any part of your body, you are increasing blood flow to that part of the body, which enhances circulation.
Pain in the neck is very common and is mostly caused by poor posture, as the heavy head needs to be properly balanced, so the muscles of the neck are not compromised, which often can lead to stiffness and resulting pain.
Firstly, go through some gentle mobility neck exercises in an upright position, either standing or sitting down.
1 Raise your eyes to the ceiling as far as you can – push the lower jaw out and hold this position for 5 seconds and try to extend the movement a liitle at the top end of the range. Follow this by looking down, without bending forward and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat slowly 3-4 times
2 Turn your head as far as you can to the left and hold this position for 5 seconds – again extend the movement a little at the end of the range. Turn your head to the right and hold for 5 seconds – extend a little if you can. You can also further extend by placing your right hand vertically on the right side of your face, and applying a little pressure when turning left and vice versa for turning to the right.
3 From the vertical position, incline your head 45º to the left – extend – and to the right – extend. Again, for further extension, place both hands vertically on both sides of the face and gently assist the extension.
Having done the above, which shouldn’t take more than a few minutes – do the following:
1 Place the right hand at the base of the left hand side of the neck, where the middle finger in contact with the lower neck vertebrae. And firmly pull the hand across the lower neck and part of the shoulder, by pressing the fingers into the muscle and round to the level of the clavicle or collarbone. Repeat 4-5 times each side – you can literally feel the tension subsiding.
2 Next place your left thumb at the top of the back left hand ridge of the neck at the base of the skull and allow your 4 fingers to rotate to the right to be in contact with the right ridge of the neck at the same level at the base of the skull. Now incline your head a little forward and begin squeezing the thumb and fingers towards the middle of the neck by pinching and raising the muscle – the pressure from the thumb is greater than the finger - and proceed in this manner slowly down the neck to the base of the neck – you should get at least 5 squeezes in.
Repeat with the right hand and remember it is mostly the thumb in each case that is doing the work. Do the same exercise with the head slightly inclined to the rear.
3 Now try this using both hand as above at the same time – you have loosened the muscles of the neck a little by the exercises above and now, using both hands, the massage is much deeper.
4 Place both thumbs in the same position on the upper left and right hand ridges of the neck at the base of the skull, with your fingers resting on the top of the head – incline the head to the rear as far as you comfortably can and begin to massage that point using only the thumbs in a circular fashion. This can sometimes be quite painful – so begin softly and gradually build up the pressure.
1 -2 minutes should be fine.
Repeat the 3 mobility exercises above to finish off.
5-6 minutes max.
Don’t just use these techniques when you feel pain in the neck – do them regularly once or twice a week and the chances are you won’t get a pain in the neck. And do take the trouble to look at the most common cause – posture – and ensure that yours is good – see Back Care for further information on posture.
The Lower Back and Pelvis
Again, most of the aches and pains of this area of the body come down to poor posture and gait – a person’s manner of walking and moving.
Obviously, there is an occupational element to this as well and of course, after sporting or physical activity, this area could be painful.
Whilst these exercises will relieve the aches and pains immediately, see Back Care for further information on how to maintain a strong, flexible and healthy back.
If your lower back is feeling a bit ‘achy’ after any physical exercise – the first thing to do is to relax the back as follows:
Lie down on your back on a hard surface, such as a carpet, with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the carpet, with your hands, palms up at around 45º below the hips.
Relax the muscles and joints by breathing gently from the lower abdomen – do not use the muscles of the thorax, or chest, as this may add to the tension already being felt in the back – and literally visualise your spine – from your sacrum – to the lumbar – up to the thoracic and on up to the cervical vertebrae in the neck.
After a few minutes, the reflex Psoas muscles linking your lower spine to your femur (thigh) will extend and the lumbar vertebrae will flatten out.
Deep breathing induces relaxation – do just this for 3-4 minutes – with your eyes closed and really feel what is happening to your back and its general physiology.
In order to slightly extend the Psoas and whilst still lying down – bring your right knee up to your chest, grasp it with both hands and gently draw it in to your chest, whilst breathing out and keeping the head on the carpet.
Do the same with the left knee and repeat 2-3 times.
Lie back as above and further relax for a few more minutes.
Total time – 5-6 minutes max.
For a generally ‘achy’ back after a day in the garden or driving a long distance this may suffice and be just the ticket to relieve this type of pain.
You can then follow up with these:
1 Whilst in a standing position, bend over in a ‘touch your toes’ type posture and allow the arms to dangle just above the feet and rotate the arms circularly – for about 30 seconds.
Whilst in this bent over posture, place the backs of your knuckles at the highest point possible on each side of the spine – just below the bra line - and slowly stand up and bend backwards by looking backwards and thereby relaxing the back muscles, and firmly press the knuckles – especially the knuckles of the index and middle fingers - into the muscles on each side of the spine and whilst in this position, slide them slowly and firmly down to the level of the hips. Repeat this entire exercise 5-10 times.
2 This is basically a bottom massage and you will be surprised at how tender our bottoms can be, especially those muscles at the top of the pelvic cup and around to the hips – so be prepared for a little, or a big surprise.
Again, still in a standing position and leaning a little backwards, so as to soften the muscles of the bottom, using the back of the fore knuckle of the index finger, place both hands just below the line of the hips and about half an inch in on the top outside of the left and right buttocks and begin a kneading action, by pressing in firmly to hard, rotating the back fist in a small circular motion around the entire surface area of the bottom. The area where most people will feel a little pain, will be in the top third on each side – and one side is mostly more sensitive than the other and this will also be the result of a poor, unstable posture.
These two exercises will provide immediate relief from muscle aches in the area and the increased blood flow will make the area feel warmer.
We are stiffest when we get up in the morning, so try doing them when you get out of the bath or shower, whilst your body is quite warm.
Stomach Massage or Ampuku
Orientals believe that that the centre of the body’s strength is in the abdominal area, which they call the Hara.
The Hara in Western anatomical terms is the area between the rib cage and the pelvic bone, which contains most of our vital organs and where the digestive and reproductive functions take place.
Since food is digested in this area and we receive our bodily energy from food, if the Hara is not functioning well, food energy to produce life-maintaining or self-healing power can be reduced.
Regular massage of this area of the body, keeps the intestines soft and flexible, promotes effective movement of food through the body, boosts the immune system and increases energy.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, so that your pelvis is tilted backwards and your lower back is flat on the floor.
Breathe deeply for a minute using the muscles of the lower abdomen.
Place both hands on the upper left side of your ribs and press gently down with the pads of your fingers, (not the points) to the left as you breathe out.
Gently breathe in and as you breathe out again, move your hands down to the left and press gently down again.
Continue in this manner, clockwise, to your left hip, inside your left pelvic area, across to above the pubic bone, over to the right pelvic area, up to the right hip and around and up to the right lower ribs.
This is the first outer circle massage, covering the large intestine and the lower areas of the stomach, spleen, pancreas and the liver. In all there are 9 points of reference – 4 down the left – 1 above the pubic bone and 4 up to the right ribs.
A smaller circle now needs to be massaged, in a similar clockwise manner around the navel. Begin on the upper left side, press down with the pads of your fingers and massage each area, 3 times in small circles, as you move around the navel.
This second, smaller circle massage, covers the small intestine. There are 5 points of reference around the navel – do not press on the point on or above the navel.
Repeat this exercise three times.
At the end of the third small circle massage around the navel, rub the whole area with both hands, three or four times, pulling the belly in to the centre from the left and right.
Now place the fingers of both hands on a point two inches directly below the navel and press slowly and deeply as you breathe out. Do not do this during menstruation.
Repeat this exercise three times.
To complete the exercise, place both hands in an open position down on the belly, with the right hand thumb touching the left side of the solar plexus and the left hand little finger just above the pubic bone area and breathe slowly and gently and let the warmth from your hands have their calming effect on the entire area and you.
Total time – 5 minutes minimum.
In Japan merchants were encourage to rub their fingers and palms when customers irritated them as this relieved the tension. Whether it removed the irritating customer is not known, but these simple exercises for the hand, certainly do make the hands feel as if their joints have just been oiled.
1 With the pads of the thumb and the index finger of the left hand, press the large base knuckle of the thumb of the right hand – firm to hard – and slide back to the next knuckle and repeat – sliding to the tip of the thumb – and pull with a shaking movement - repeat 3 times and go on to the next finger and do the same. Change hands and repeat.
2 Splay the left hand open as wide as you can and with the thumb and index finger of the right hand, pinch the web like loose skin once between each finger.
Change hands and repeat.
3 Turn the left hand palm up and begin to massage the hand using the pads of the right thumb – hard and in small circles clockwise around the hand. Change hands and repeat.
The first signs of aging appear in the legs and knees, which has a direct effect on the walking gait, so it is important to keep them soft and supple.
1 In an upright position, standing with legs straight, bend over and wrap your fingertips of each hand around the patella or knee cap in each leg and turn the patella in a limited clockwise and anti-clockwise manner and in a general circular movement, to improve mobility. Repeat 5 times.
2 Still in this position and using both hands, grip the bottom of the patella with the four fingers of each hand and move it upwards and use the base of the palm to push it downwards. Repeat 5 times.
3 Using both thumbs massage the area immediately above and below the patella in the left leg, hard and in small circles. Repeat 10 times.
Do the same for the right leg.