Like so many young, bright-eyed enthusiasts hungry for meaning and knowledge, I set out in my early 20s in search of something I couldn’t put my finger on.
I went from art school to studying philosophy (*pause for existential crisis*) to a spiritual community in the mountains, then back to my sweet hometown of Chicago, where I began meditating and searching my heart for guidance.
I found a tiny but mighty school just north of the city, where I started learning a bodywork practice called shiatsu. It was there that the question of how to be a healing presence for a world so desperately in need of kind, helping souls began to unfold.
That’s when I discovered bodywork as medicine and meditation for the spirit.
I hail from a culture that doesn’t respect, let alone understand, the sacred. Disconnection, depression, and overworking seem to be widespread epidemics. When it comes to pain and illness, we tend to find the easiest short-term solutions for our problems, reaching for quick fixes like pills, media, or substances to mask and suppress the core issues that caused the problems in the first place.
This does not work—not for long at least.
But good news! In this day and age, there are more options for finding lasting health solutions and making more conscious choices than ever. Bodywork happens to be one of those.
Whether it’s shiatsu, Thai bodywork, craniosacral therapy, massage, or any of the myriad touch modalities, bodywork offers something that no other form of medicine does—the direct human connection between giver and receiver that is innate and necessary to our growth, development, healing, and complete well-being on every level—body, mind, and spirit.
Touch is communication. It opens pathways for exchange between a giver and a receiver, tells a story, shares an idea, and listens to the messages of the body.
When someone is in distress, a simple hand on the shoulder can be a comforting reassurance that the person is loved and cared for—without having to say a word. A compassionate touch is sometimes all that is needed to lift a person out of their suffering. An embrace can bring forth waves of euphoria and a sense of deep connection.
Studies have shown that babies thrive on maternal touch and skin-to-skin contact, with increased IQ rates and healthier constitutions later in life by having been held and touched in loving ways. It goes without saying how much harm can be done when touch is aggressive.
Bodywork, the art of touch itself, can be refined and just as effective as medicine when practiced with skill and grace.
What do you do when your back has gone out for the third time? Or what about the chronic anxiety you’ve experienced for decades? How about that mystery condition that the doctors can’t figure out the cause of or cure for? Or the weird pain that comes and goes, but won’t entirely go for good? These are all things that I’ve successfully treated clients for with shiatsu.
Skilled therapists within any modality can achieve lasting positive results through their touch practice.
Anyone who has practiced meditation can cite the benefits that result from moments of stillness and silence. When compassionate touch is applied with meditative awareness, healing spontaneously occurs. It’s been proven that massage and touch therapies can improve recovery time in injuries, lower blood pressure, reduce and eliminate pain symptoms, promote better circulation, increase blood, lymph, and fluid flow in the body, relieve overall stress patterns, and create a heightened sense of well-being. In a good bodywork session, the body and mind release and reorient into a harmonious balance.
I believe all bodywork modalities can achieve this, though I’ve found shiatsu to be especially effective in using touch as medicine and meditation simultaneously.
A relatively modern approach, just officially named and recognized in the early 1900s, shiatsu is a form of Japanese bodywork that is inspired by and integrated with Chinese medicine, ancient Eastern spirituality, and traditional Japanese manual therapy. Its method is that of allowing the body to deeply relax and open into the natural healing response that is always accessible. Through therapeutic touch on specific point locations on the body, gentle stretching, dynamic movement, and guided meditation, clients feel stress and pain melt away. Miraculous things can happen. Healing becomes profoundly ordinary, simple, and possible within any circumstance or condition.
I started doing shiatsu the traditional way—on a cushy Japanese futon mat where a client is comfortably rocked and rolled around on the floor, fully clothed in something like pajamas, and released into a state of profound peace.
Sounds magical, huh? It is.
Sessions start with an intake evaluation, where it’s likely that more personal questions might be asked of you than your own doctor will inquire about. All of those details paint a picture for your therapist about what exactly is happening in your unique system, as the body carries the story of your life within each cell. The framework of Chinese medicine allows a practitioner to interpret that story and understand how it affects the systems of the body. What is needed for healthy functioning further reveals itself through the insights gained in the touch communication.
Through shiatsu, practitioners intentionally maintain a meditative state of awareness, noticing subtle cues and fluctuations in the client’s response to the touch medicine. They expand their sense field to be vast in all directions, encompassing a spacious presence in which the parasympathetic healing response organizes sensory information, can process and release imprinted patterning from disharmonies, injuries, or traumas, and come into a healthier, pain-free balance.
Both giver and receiver enter into a deep state of calm. Bodywork becomes a dance of expansion and harmonization.
The medicine of touch is essential to life, and is the very movement of life itself. When we touch, we can connect to the space of mutual wholeness. And when our touch is coming from a clear, meditative place within, it has the ability to foster deep connection with what is behind any pain or illness. This has the potential to facilitate profound healing and lasting positive results.
Bodywork is a natural medicine, movement, and touch meditation for both practitioner and client—and anyone can benefit from it.