In recent years shiatsu, the Japanese art of ‘finger pressure’ has attracted as much patronage from UK publishing houses as it has from its adoring British public. Churchill Livingstone’s handsome offering, a fully illustrated 300-page hardback entitled Shiatsu Theory and Practice, is a reference and study text for the student and the professional.
Shiatsu Theory and Practice is a well-researched, excellently presented text which engages the reader in a methodical, detailed and often rigorous examination of what elements constitute the basis of shiatsu theory and practice and how these are combined in effective treatment. Readers will rejoice in the attention to clarity of presentation, aided in this case by excellent line drawings and a functional series of black and white photographs to accompany the ‘Practice’ section. Coupled with Ms Beresford-Cooke's easy style, and peppered with many engaging examples from her own experience, the reader will find the going relatively straightforward for what is, in essence, quite a complex book.
The first section on ‘Practice’ is predictable enough and holds no particular secrets for the reader familiar with the mechanics of shiatsu. However, the author demonstrates her considerable experience as a teacher in the chapter on treatment routines where she outlines both the advantages and disadvantages of each position as well as the respective meridians that can be accessed in each. It would have been useful perhaps to have been given cross-references to section three at this point so that an element of integration between general techniques and specific treatment protocols could have been established.
Section two deals individually with an overview of the respective theories of traditional Chinese medicine and Zen shiatsu, both of which are no strangers to anyone familiar with standard TCM literature or with the work of Shizuto Masunaga. Though trained in both acupuncture and shiatsu herself and therefore familiar with both theories, the author seems more at home in her detailed and often original interpretation of Zen shiatsu theory than with her standard rendition of the TCM theoretical model. Indeed, there are moments when she admits to a positive scepticism about the relevance of TCM theory to the student and practitioner of shiatsu. She asserts, for example, in chapter five that: ‘...Shiatsu students do not need to learn TCM theory in order to give effective shiatsu ...’ because, as she points out earlier in the same chapter, TCM: ‘...is not based, as a purely shiatsu-orientated model would be, on the movement of qi in the meridian system...’ So why then dedicate a major section of a shiatsu text to theories which apply more properly to the practice of acupuncture and herbal medicine?
This is my major problem with the book. The idea of ‘Harmonising TCM and Zen Shiatsu Theory’ (the title of the third section) seems to me an anathema. The author seems to support the idea based on the perception that TCM knowledge affords the shiatsu practitioner a wider pool of information on which to draw from for prognosis, referrals and recommendations. The only practical advantage suggested in acquiring such knowledge is the ability to select points based on TCM differentiation, despite the fact that Zen shiatsu technique employs little or no use of the points, concentrating instead on pressure applied along the entire length of the meridian. Section three, which forms the therapeutic core of the book, with its clear, practical descriptions of meridian work and detailed expose of Zen shiatsu theory, could easily stand alone without the somewhat redundant point functions. Shiatsu is a meridian-based therapy, working on the energetic body from the exterior, best able to effect changes at the shen and qi levels. How much relevance can there be for the use of points which affect blood, fluids and essence?
Diagnostically there are some major incompatibilities between TCM and shiatsu theory which make integrating their logic almost impossible. A diagnosis based on TCM eight-principle differentiation, for example, is unlikely to be of any substantial use to a practitioner of shiatsu for two main reasons. Firstly, because it may include reference to a pathogen, e.g. attack of wind-cold, information which is irrelevant to the focus of shiatsu treatment, which is to balance qi in the meridian system and strengthen body resistance (zheng qi). Secondly, because TCM diagnosis determines both root (ben) and branch (biao) aspects of a pattern of disease based on the patient's history, presenting and past symptoms and objective signs, whilst shiatsu diagnosis focuses primarily on the immediate sensory information obtained primarily through touch. A TCM diagnosis, for example, such as spleen yang deficiency could be treated as deficiency in the small intestine meridian in shiatsu. Hot and cold differentiation in TCM eight-principle theory is perhaps the most obvious example of the incompatibility with shiatsu's meridian-based diagnostic system; such information is at best useless and at worst confusing and potentially harmful to the practitioner.
These criticisms aside, Shiatsu Theory and Practice is a brave attempt at explaining the role of shiatsu within the wider framework of the Oriental medicine paradigm. In doing so, it deserves praise for the skill and clarity with which it pursues its integrative approach. The final comment should come from Pauline Sasaki, one of the foremost teachers and practitioners of shiatsu in the West, who wrote in the foreword to this book ‘Shiatsu is a very comprehensive system that can stand on its own’. She argues in favour of the simplicity of shiatsu over the ‘complicated system’ of TCM and claims that shiatsu ‘results in a high degree of effectiveness that can match, if not exceed, that of Acupuncture.’ Perhaps the abiding message of this book, at least to the committed student and practitioner of shiatsu, is that the power of shiatsu may reside in the purity and simplicity of its approach, in which complicated theoretical abstractions need have little or no place.
Nigel Dawes Nigel Dawes, a citizen of the UK, educated in France, England and the Far East, is now living in New York City. He graduated from acupuncture school in Tokyo and returned to England in 1987 to begin a practice incorporating acupuncture, shiatsu and Oriental herbology. In 1988 he founded the London College of Shiatsu. He is currently Academic Dean of the School for Oriental Medicine at the New Center for Wholistic Health Education and Research in Long Island, New York.