Bring in the new year - Learn Shiatsu's Introduction to shiatsu contains very important pointers that will help you learn the art of Shiatsu effectively; it also presents some important 'do's and don'ts' to consider when giving a Shiatsu treatment.

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Therefore it is strongly recommended that you read it carefully before proceeding to Part One.


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The Five Elements

This is yet another component of oriental cosmology that provides a distinctive way of looking, in more detail, at just how energy works. And yet again, it can be used to understand the whole of creation, but here we will be concerned with applications of particular relevance to Shiatsu.
The cycles of nature have already been cited as an illustration of the interaction of Yin and Yang energies, and the Five Element system uses them as a descriptive device too. In fact, a more accurate title would be The Five Phases of Energy Transformation; the so-called 'elements' are really only symbols of these phases.

The ongoing cycle of energy from Yin to Yang and back to Yin again in the cycle of the natural year, for instance, can be drawn as a circle, and then further sub-divided into five distinct phases that interact with each other and in relation to the whole. The phase known as Water represents the stillness - like winter - before the rising, expanding energy of the springtime, which is represented by Wood. The energy of the earth's atmosphere reaches the climax of this rising tendency in the summer phase, which is termed Fire, at which point the expanding tendency is replaced by the late summer quality of settling or descending. This is the Earth stage. The further condensing and contracting tendency of autumn is the Metal phase, which leads again into winter and Water.

Any number of other models can be drawn on to illustrate the possibilities of applying this analysis, but the natural cycle of plant growth will serve here to give a little more idea of the unique energy qualities of each stage. The dormancy of plants, with all the energy passively stored in the roots while snow covers the ground, is the classic image for Water. Outwardly, it looks as if nothing is happening, but subtle preparation is taking place for the next phase, Wood. The energy of Wood is the unstoppable, bursting, upward and outward growth force of plants coming up from the ground, or budding on branches. This in turn develops into the full growth and flowering peak, which is the Fire phase; at this point, the growth energy is more fitful and beginning to falter, like individual flames that lick upwards energetically, but each die down immediately. Earth energy, next, is when energy is gathering inwards to the swelling of fruit; this has, by nature, a more stable quality. The Metal phase is the setting of seed, the most contracted manifestation of plant energy, which then lies dormant in turn as Water time comes round once more. This sequence is shown in the diagram left.


This elegant schema can also be applied to the organization of energies in the body - for instance to the system of Ki and the energies of the organs - which thus provides another sophisticated tool for enhancing diagnosis and treatment. Each element or energy phase controls a particular pair or pairs of organs. Water energy governs the kidneys and bladder; Wood characterizes the liver and gall bladder; Fire energy is the dominant nature of the heart and small intestine, as well as of the heart governor and triple heater. The stomach and spleen are governed by Earth energy, and the lungs and large intestine by Metal. We can then use an understanding of each element to further our understanding of the organs, including how they relate to different seasons, for instance. Furthermore, we can identify different emotional states that are associated with each energy phase, and with each set of corresponding organs.

Finally, we can gain an understanding of how the organ systems dynamically interact with each other from the inter-relationships of the elements. This interaction is in two distinct patterns. Each element has a relationship first of all with those two others which are adjacent to it on the progressive cycle, and secondly with those two which are opposite, across the circle. The relationship with adjacent elements concerns their complementary nature, and is known as the Support Cycle; thus, in the symbolism of nature, wood burns to create fire, fire produces ashes that nourish the earth, earth contains the ores of metals, metal melts into the liquid state of water, and water nourishes the growth of wood. The relationship between opposite elements, by contrast, concerns their antagonistic or restraining potential, and is called the Control Cycle; so water dampens fire, fire melts metal, metal cuts wood, wood penetrates earth, and earth channels water. If the energy of an element is weak, it can be enhanced or increased by input from its supporting element, but if it is over-sufficient it can be limited by input of energy from the controlling element.

All of these interactions are shown in the second Five Elements illustration (left). The goal of Shiatsu treatment is to enable the recipient to harmonize with the energy of the environment and of life. The Five Element analysis is extremely useful in this; how to apply it will be discussed in more detail under Individual Treatments, below.

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