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Zen Shiatsu Theory

Zen Shiatsu Theory

Zen Shiatsu is based on principles dating back many thousands of years and shares the same roots and philosophies as acupuncture. The main difference is that instead of using needles, Zen shiatsu practitioners use pressure applied principally with the hands. In my personal opinion, it is likely that this approach predates acupuncture, simply because people would probably have used pressure before sticking in a needle!
These principles and theories make up what is known in the West as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There has been a great deal said about TCM in recent years, particularly in relation to its effect on endangered species, and the often rather odd sounding uses made of their body parts. It would be totally wrong to dismiss the whole of TCM because of this. The stories refer to Chinese Herbalism, itself a vast, and rapidly expanding, discipline that uses a huge number of ingredients to produce traditional remedies, only a tiny number of which are contentious. Herbalism, however, is itself only a small part of TCM, in the same way that say Cardiology is to Western medicine. It is only one of a number of healing arts which also include acupuncture and what is now known as Zen Shiatsu.
In Zen Shiatsu terms, the most fundamental concept in TCM is that of Chi. At least 8000 years ago the Chinese came up with the concept that there is a basic energy underlying everything in the universe. They understood that everything, be it a solid, a gas, a liquid or an energetic were simply expressions of this energy in various densities. They called this basic building block ‘chi’.
Initially, this may sound pretty wacky to the modern, Western, view, but recent scientific advances have discovered that when breaking down particles into smaller and smaller pieces there comes a point where matter no longer exists as a solid, but becomes tiny sparks of energy. This may or may not be ‘chi’ as defined by the ancient Chinese, however it is impressive that they had such an understanding without the use of modern day technologies such as a particle accelerator.
Over the centuries, a system and philosophy developed, from this basic theory, which incorporated chi in every aspect of life from politics to art and medicine. TCM thus developed in a culture which saw the human body not as merely corporeal, but also energetic.
TCM is a huge subject, as big as Western medicine, but there are some basic concepts and common threads in TCM theory that need to be embraced, or at least understood before Shiatsu will make any real sense. The most essential of these are outlined below:

1. Zang Fu

Before reading this section, please bear this in mind: The ancient Chinese had no access to modern scientific or surgical techniques. They could make some assumptions as to how the physical body worked, but were dependent on experimentation to confirm or deny their theories. Thus they came up with a system quite different from modern Western medical thought. For instance, we know that the liver is primarily a filtration organ which removes toxins from the body. Years ago, when we in the West were still in caves, the Chinese, through experimentation and experience ascribed many other qualities to the Liver which we today would find scientifically unsupportable. For instance, it became the place where blood is stored overnight, and it is the organ in charge of tendons and ligaments. Although this does not fit squarely with what you may have learned, if you regard what follows as a metaphor or an allegory of how the body might work, and leave behind that which you ‘know’, it starts to make sense.
The whole of Zang Fu theory is far too vast a subject to adequately discuss here but briefly: in TCM each of the organs of the body are designated as either Zang or Fu organs. Zang organs are deeper, denser, and produce, store, transport, and regulate fundamental substances such as blood and chi. They are considered to be essential for immediate survival, are needed all the time and are considered to be yin organs (see yin / yang theory below).
Fu organs are more superficial, bag like structures that enable the Zang organs to function. They are considered to be needed for long term survival, and are considered to be yang.
The zang organs are as follows:


The functions of Liver include:
Promoting the smooth flow of chi.
Storing blood during rest and releasing it during activity.
Harmonizing emotions.
Moving blood to nourish the body.
An example of a liver dysfunction would be general stiffness, as the lack of function would result in chi flow being impeded, leading to lack of mobility.


The functions of Heart include:
Governing the blood, ensuring it moves around the body.
Controlling blood vessels, promoting healthy arteries and veins.
Controlling sweat.
Insomnia is often associated with Heart dysfunction.

Heart Protector (Pericardium)

The functions of Heart Protector are:
Protecting the Heart.
Heart Protector is often put under stress in cases of severe emotional trauma as it tries to protect the heart from receiving the bad news.


The functions of Spleen include:
Governing transportation of food essence and transformation of food into chi.
Keeping blood in blood vessels – thus propensity to bruise would be a sign of poor Spleen function.


The functions of Lung include:
Governing chi and respiration.
Helping Heart to control blood vessels.
Controlling skin and body hair
Controlling dispersion and descending chi to the Kidneys.
Regulating the passage of water.
Dispersing chi and Body Fluids to the skin – thus eczema and dry skin is often related to Lung function.


The functions of Lung include:
Storing chi.
Kidneys are instrumental in manufacture of Blood.
Governing water
Controlling reception of chi through Lungs.
Controlling bones, producing marrow for brain, spinal cord and nerves – nervous disorders are often related to Kidney.
The fu organs are as follows:

Gall Bladder

The functions of Gall Bladder are:
Storage of bile for use in the digestive process.
Dominating decision making – someone who cannot make a decision is probably suffering from a Gall Bladder disharmony.

Small Intestine

The functions of Small Intestine include:
Helping Spleen to transform food into chi.
Sending ‘clean’ emotional information to Heart.
Working with Gall Bladder to choose path ahead.
Separation of pure from impure – not only in a digestive sense, but in terms of emotional as well as intellectual input. Small Intestine often comes up in cases of shock as it tries to separate good input from bad in a stressful situation.

Triple Heater

There is no actual organ called the triple heater. It is a conceptual organ which regulates the heating process throughout the body, and the smooth flow of energy between the different areas of the body.
The functions of Triple Heater are:
Controlling the metabolic balance of fluids through the heating system, and the smooth flow of energy.
Warming and protecting the physical organs.
Regulating the free passage of bodily fluids.
Contributing to the immune system by helping in the production of a special form of chi associated with warding off attacks from the environment. Increased susceptibility to colds and flu may well indicate a disharmony in the Triple Heater function.


The functions of Stomach are:
Controlling ‘rotting and ripening’ of food within the body prior to transformation into chi by the spleen.
Controlling the transportation of food essences.
Is the origin of Fluids – all fluids enter the body via the stomach.
Controlling the descending of chi within the body. Reflux or acidity could therefore be seen as a symptom of poor Stomach function.

Large Intestine

The function of Large Intestine is:
Absorbing the pure and excreting the impure. As with the Small Intestine, this refers to all aspects of life, not only the digestion. Thus the inability to grieve would be seen as being related to Large Intestine function.


The functions of Bladder include:
Removing water.
Separating pure from impure.
Transforming fluids into useful bodily fluids.
The organs’ ability to carry out their functions is dependent on adequate supplies of good quality chi which is the basis for the production of the other fundamental substances. Without chi within the body system, therefore, the body could not function, and we could not exist.

2. Chi in the body

According to TCM, chi energy is not only the basic building block of which our bodies are made, but it is also a vital force which flows through us, directing and controlling all aspects of our existence. This energy, which is primarily stored in the kidneys, originates in two ways; firstly pre-natal chi with which we are born, and post-natal chi which we create within our own bodies from food and air.
The quality of our internal chi is defined therefore partly by who our parents were, and their condition at the time we were conceived, and partly by the quality of the food we eat and the air we breathe.
Obviously we cannot influence our pre-natal chi; it is what we are given at birth and is finite. Once it is used up, we reach the end of our lives. It is vital; therefore, that we absorb the best quality chi we can from good, wholesome food and clean air so as to preserve our inherited chi as much as possible. It is also vital to ensure good flow of chi in order to encourage efficient functioning of the zang fu. Shiatsu is one way of keeping flow free and clear within the body.

3. Points and Meridians

From experimentation, ancient Chinese physicians determined that chi flows through our bodies in certain channels. These channels or meridians are punctuated with specific points, which we call tsubos that have a direct effect on the functions of their related zang fu organs. Interestingly, these points can be detected as areas of significantly decreased electrical resistivity on the body.
There are twelve zang fu organs, each of which has a pair of meridians related to it, one on either side of the body, forming a mirror image. There are 361 points on each mirrored set of meridians, making 722 classical points on meridians in addition to several extraordinary points. Each point has specific uses.
Shiatsu practitioners manipulate these meridians and points in order to encourage and balance the functioning of the related organs and the free flow of chi generally.

4. Yin / Yang Theory

Most people are familiar with the symbol for Yin and Yang:
It is, however often misinterpreted as a peace symbol, as being ‘good and evil’, or just as an iconic ‘new age’ emblem. In fact it symbolizes something much deeper and dynamic than any of these; the process of constancy in constant change.
The concepts of yin and yang are complex, neither are absolutes, but rather relative states. Thus something can only really be described as being more yin or more yang than something else. They can each always only exist as part of a process or cycle in which they are phases in a transition.
In basic terms, ‘yin’ is used to describe that which is deep, cold, inactive, quiet, etc while ‘yang’ is the opposite, i.e. superficial, hot, active, loud etc. Thus a rock band is more yang than a harpist, and night is more yin than day.
In a perfect balance, yin and yang are equal. This, however, is an unrealistic scenario as such balance would indicate no movement, and in a universe that requires constant movement, this would mean non-existence. There is therefore a constant cycle from yin to yang and back again, rather like going around the outside of the yin / yang symbol with the depth of each measured to the centre constantly changing. For example, night (yin) gradually becomes day (yang) and so on. In this example, greatest yin would occur at midnight, and greatest yang at noon. The process of change from one to the other occurs constantly throughout the cycle. The two dots at the ends of the cycle represent the concept that in each full or ultimate state, there is always the seed of the other aspect ready to redress the balance.
Yin / yang can be applied to almost anything. For example the ebb and flow of politics, the change of the seasons, the process of birth, life and death and to the various functions of the human body. Anywhere there is a process or cycle, the principle of yin / yang can be applied.

So how does this relate to Shiatsu?

When making a diagnosing a treatment plan, practitioners will look at the relative states of the energetic systems within the body in terms of yin and yang. In simple terms, a yang condition will manifest as hot, sharp pain, inflammation, etc., while yin conditions are deeper, dull pain, cold swelling etc. The aim will be to redress the balance of yin and yang, thus alleviating the condition and thus the symptom. Similarly, when treating meridians and points, Shiatsu practitioners look for the ‘quality’ of the chi energy within the client’s body, as it manifests at that point. As part of a natural cycle and process, chi can be described using yin and yang theory, and the closer the practitioner can get to balance, the more efficient will be the flow or the function controlled by the points under treatment.
Using these principles, Shiatsu practitioners make an in depth diagnosis of the state of the energy within the client’s body, and treat those points and meridians necessary to restore balance..