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The Art of Shiatsu – by Jill Blake

The following is an extract from Jill’s workbook
— “Equine Shiatsu – the journey starts here” —
which is the basis for the 2-year Diploma Course:

The Art of Shiatsu

Shiatsu treatments for horses were made popular by the late Pamela Hannay, who began delving into horse work in the 1970’s. She has left us a legacy to build on and we are constantly developing new techniques. The Equine Shiatsu Association (tESA) has now been formed to ensure that standards of teaching, ethics, and practice are uniform and certain schools in this country form the basis of this organisation. If you require a treatment, we suggest that you consult the website: www.equineshiatsuassociation.com where you will find a list of qualified practitioners. There are also treatments available from students, always looking for case studies, who attend one of the member schools.

To many people, the word “Shiatsu” conjures up the image of a luxury treatment given in expensive health spas or massage parlours. Undoubtedly it does happen in these places but in reality it is a practical and sensible therapy using gentle rotations, stretches and pressure on powerful points on meridians – in our case, given in a stable to horses! It is a healing art that has been around for thousands of years and is a similar therapy to acupuncture but without the needles. A shiatsu practitioner uses pressure from their fingers, thumbs, palms, feet and elbows to gently interact with Chi (Qi, Ki) energy which harmonises and balances the body leaving a feeling of well being and vitality. The techniques involved improve the circulation of blood and lymph, relieve tension in the soft tissues and organs, releases toxins and boosts the immune system.

Working Techniques

As you know, we use finger, thumb, palm and elbow pressure. As you, the reader, are already a student, you need to be taught these techniques under the watchful eye of your tutor. Minute adjustments to your angle of penetration on points can make a world of difference. It can be the difference between you actually being on the point to your being way off and your energy bouncing off the top. Also you can apply pressure to an area or a point, but if you are not in your hara and your intent and focus are somewhere else you may as well be looking at your watch for all the good it will do. Learn from your Master.

Why do we appreciate touch? Touch therapies have been used for thousands of years to heal and comfort even down to the basic shaking hands when we meet someone for the first time. You know that you can tell a lot from a handshake. There are many great exponents of Shiatsu, too many to name here but in the1970’s, Shizuto Masunaga created a system which integrated the traditional use of Shiatsu with western psychology and the ancient approaches of Zen Buddhism and Taoist roots. One of Masunaga’s theories was that whilst we are in the womb, we are surrounded by amniotic fluid which exerts a gentle pressure all over the body. Once we are born this support disappears and we seek it from elsewhere. Master Masunaga developed his style and theories of Zen Shiatsu and the book of this name was published in 1977. These are still open to development and interpretation and they were welcomed as a method of treating the whole body using palpatory diagnosis with extensions to the classical meridians throughout the body. Zen Shiatsu expounds the theories of relaxation of the giver, stationary, perpendicular penetration (not pressure), two handed connectedness and the following of the meridian throughout the body.

Taking responsibility for our own bodies is as important as that of our animals. We can self-heal but we need a sound understanding of how our bodies work and how we feel. Also what we need to make it feel right or whole again. We may need a facilitator to help us, be it a Shiatsu Practitioner, a Chiropractor or physiotherapist etc. We need to remember not to be in a hurry because alternative therapies take longer to be effective than conventional medicine. This is because they address the cause rather than the symptom. My own feeling is that I would rather be uncomfortable for a few days than to take drugs which usually make me feel awful and then come back to haunt me months later!. There is enough danger around already – pollution in the atmosphere, chemicals, preservatives and additives in our food. Let’s keep it to a minimum. As we all know, many problems stem from a simple lack of communication between horse and owner. Many horses are labelled as “troublesome or dangerous” when in fact they are suffering from pain, confusion or fear. Practitioners aim to gently educate and help owners who may have had years of misconceived ideas regarding horse welfare. Also, often if we can treat the rider with Shiatsu, we help them understand their own problems and the horse’s backpack of troubles and difficult behaviour will disappear. Shiatsu’s practical approach is a privilege to give to horses, who very often give back to the practitioner a feeling of well-being during the treatment. Shiatsu uses the ancient principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Five Element Theory using the age old principles of Fire, Water, Wood, Metal and Earth for treatment, Zen Shiatsu and combines these with Western anatomy, physiology and pathology. It works with given symptoms but uses insight into the root of a problem thereby treating the cause first, rather than just the symptoms.

So how does a Shiatsu session start? What happens? We need to have the horse quiet and in his stable, not waiting for a feed or to go out into the field. A good practitioner will always ask a lot of questions and some might seem rather strange to the horse’s owner. How often do you get asked if your horse communicates well, is he emotional, does he like his own space and a routine, is he anxious or angry? These are all questions that allow us to delve into his mind and are part of Chinese 5 element theory. To the practitioner they paint a valuable picture. We need to find a way to get into his space – after all we are a predator and he is a prey animal. He needs to be able to trust and come to us, rather than us insinuate ourselves upon him. Once he can decided we are OK, then, we put our cupped palm quietly between his eyes and rest there for a moment. This is a point called Yin Tang – the centre of his consciousness, his third eye. Only then can we put our hands on him, feeling for excesses or depletions in his energy, all over his body. We may scan specific points on his back without putting our hands on his body or we might have a good feel of these points, making a deep contact.

By this time we will have a good picture of what is going on and together with information gleaned from the owner will be able to progress further and decide which energy channels (meridians) we will use. We will decide which limbs need stretching and rotating, if his neck needs specific stretches, would he like his face and mouth worked or his tail stretched. Once we have opened the channels by stretching, we will use the palms of our hands to facilitate further opening, one hand being a “working hand” and the other being a “mother hand” and we might palm the channel two or three times, only then can we begin the process of finding those elusive points (called Tsubos).

We will use these really effective points, sedating or tonifying them as is required and then finish off the session by wiping down the body with our hands, feeling the differences from the initial contact we made. The horse is then left to rest, either in his box or out in the field and it is always good to watch them for a while. They tend to make their own experimental movements now that they feel much better. They might snake their necks, feeling the freedom they now have or buck or rear, stretching their undercarriage. How long this good feeling lasts is different with different horses. Some are immediately better (they may have had huge energy blockages) and might feel better for a few days and then need another session to top them up. Others seem no better the following day but gradually progress over a week and those are the ones that hold onto the treatment for a long time.

I once treated a horse with a lot of behavioural problems whose owners had high expectations of what Shiatsu could do. I found the horse perfectly sweet and well mannered and as the horse and I chatted it was obvious that her owners did not understand such a highly strung horse. I did a lovely calming treatment and left her very chilled out. I heard nothing for 3 weeks and then got a call to go and treat her again. Apparently her owners had thought there was no difference until the horse suddenly started to behave “badly” again at which point they realised that she had in fact been very chilled out until the magic finger treatment wore off! Anecdotal stories like this are 10 a penny and I sometimes surprise myself by wondering why this thing we do really works. The answer is that it works because we act as facilitators for healing. We have the intention to help and therefore it happens.

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