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"Shiatsu is more or less a synthesis of traditional bodywork from oriental countries, especially China and Japan."


Joel Metzger is the founder of the Online Noetic Network (ONN), which offers free email articles on living consciously.

The Online Noetic Network can be visited at wisdomtalk.org (site will open in new window).

Joel Metzger, "Bodywork and Shiatsu: Interviewing Saul Goodman"

Shiatsu is a form of bodywork related to acupuncture, and was first imported from the Orient and is now popular in Europe and the United States. Saul Goodman is the founder of the International School of Shiatsu. He is also the author of the books: Book of Shiatsu and Shiatsu/Shin Tai.

In this interview, we discuss shiatsu and the profession of healing and bodywork. Saul Goodman offered to respond to email from members of the Online Noetic Network.

ONN Joel: Why do people seek bodywork? What do they get out of it?

Saul Goodman: It's a wide spectrum. Relaxation is probably the way that bodywork was first acknowledged. People have positive emotional effects and recognize that they have more energy. As bodywork has developed with more technology, it came to be applied to specific conditions and symptoms. That's how it has evolved in modern times.

ONN Joel: Does bodywork affect the body on many different levels?

Saul Goodman: It is really something we have in our memory from the mother's womb. Because, as we grow in the mother's womb, we're in a sack of water which creates pressure on the skin surface. We associate pressure on the skin surface, a gentle or supporting pressure, with a period of safe growth. That's what we're doing in the womb, growing in a safe environment. That helps us and gives us relief. As practitioners, we have an intention of touching someone and stimulating the memory of that time.

On another level, when you touch a person in a certain way, which we could call an intelligent way, there is a positive effect on the nervous system. This is something that we can prove scientifically. When a person is in stress, the orthosympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system tends to become hyperactive. This has a number of negative effects. First of all, the orthosympathetic is the branch of the nervous system that expends energy. So, when it's hyperactive, it is often using energy when it is not necessary. If you have tension in your muscles but really don't need to have that tension, your body has to use energy to hold that tension. People become subconsciously trained to stay in the tension mode. This hyperactivates the sympathetic nervous system.

Also, when the orthosympathetic becomes overcharged, it cancels out the opposite branch in the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic, which allows us to relax. The parasympathetic is related to a number of very important things in the body, like regeneration of energy. So, if that system is being inhibited, you're using energy with the orthosympathetic stress response, but not regenerating it though the parasympathetic. The parasympathetic is related to all the positive aspects of digestion, absorption, elimination, and the breaking down of food from the secretion of digestive enzymes. If the orthosympathetic stress mode becomes hyperactive, it will inhibit those functions of the parasympathetic. If we touch someone with a conscious caring, it will help to tone down the orthosympathetic response which is causing stress and using energy. It will help to stimulate the parasympathetic and all of its positive effects. It has a very positive global effect.

You can go into specific symptoms from the viewpoint of acupressure. Certain points on the body will help with digestion. Certain points will specifically help breathing. Certain points we use for headaches. So now you've gone from a very global application of touch to a very specific one. If you have an awareness which is related more to the womb experience, you go to something that is deeply ingrained in our innate sense of growth and well-being. This has a very wide spectrum of possibilities.

ONN Joel: What is the effect of touch and bodywork on children?

Saul Goodman: It's extremely positive. It helps them feel that they're supported and that the parents care about them. It gives them a positive viewpoint of touch as well. The mainstream connotation of touch in our society is negative or violent or sexual, but when we touch in bodywork and in relationship to the touch from the womb or parent, it gives the person a positive experience of being touched.

ONN Joel: If a person finds themselves resisting touch or being defensive against it, and they want to learn to accept it, how can they loosen up?

Saul Goodman: Bodywork is excellent for that, if the practitioner is using touch with the intention that it serves more positive reactions, and to give positive input. Bodywork is not only physically therapeutic. It is so deep in our memory, that tactile stimulation is related to growth. In the womb, it is related to biological growth. When we are born as children, it is related to emotional growth. And later, it is related to creative and psychological growth as well.

ONN Joel: And spiritual growth?

Saul Goodman: Yes, of course. So the roots of that is from the womb and childhood and through puberty, and young adult and so forth. At the basis of our sensory stimulation is touch. It is connected to the whole spectrum of memories.

ONN Joel: So, Saul, tell me about shiatsu as a form of bodywork. What are the qualities of shiatsu? How has it developed?

Saul Goodman: Shiatsu is probably not what most people think it is. A lot of people say that shiatsu is 5000 years old. The word shiatsu is a word that was spoken for the first time in the 20th Century. It is more or less a synthesis of traditional bodywork from oriental countries, especially China and Japan. It just so happens that the one who used the word for the first time was Namakoshi. His son later carried on the work. He wrote a number of books about shiatsu. He had a very particular style of shiatsu. Since the inception of what we call shiatsu, there has been a synthesis of traditional oriental techniques with techniques and philosophies of the West.

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