Noa practices with the shiatsu community in the Jerusalem hills.
Credit: Nahum Aharon Noa practices with the shiatsu community in the Jerusalem hills.

What Is Zen Shiatsu?

Photos by Nahum Aharon

Above: Noa practices with the shiatsu community in the Jerusalem hills.

In one of my first blog posts, I discussed Jerusalem’s oases of peace — one of them was a school for Zen Shiatsu therapy training. So what is Zen Shiatsu and why did I become a Zen Shiatsu practitioner?

I could give all sorts of technical answers to the first question. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll describe this Saturday afternoon.

Saturday Afternoon

A friend comes over for lunch. We have mung bean stew with wild rice and tehina. I bake a honey cake — my first baking project in ages. I spray batter all over my shirt in attempt to use the electric mixer. Not intentionally.

We talk late into the afternoon over tea and honey cake. Our heads grow heavy from philosophical discussion. If only I could rest a moment from life’s existential questions.

I am reminded that my friend, who is also a fellow shiatsu practitioner, agreed to treat me several months earlier, in more stressful times.

“I’m up for a Shiatsu treatment — why don’t we complete the exchange?” I offer, taking my last sip of tea.  

close up on hands practicing zen shiatsu

Credit: Nahum Aharon

Preparatory Rituals

We lazily get up and enter the studio. I slide the glass balcony door shut and draw the canvas curtain. The studio grows dim. Then, I lay the shiatsu mattress on the parquet floor and cover it with a fresh sheet. I arrange several cushions on the mattress in case extra support is needed beneath my friend’s joints. I keep a folded blanket or two at hand. Very soon my friend will relax deeply and her body temperatures will drop — even in the heat of a Mediterranean late summer afternoon without air conditioning.

Beginning the Treatment

She lies down on her back and throws her arms loosely out to the sides. I sit beside my friend, resting on my ankles. The Japanese call it “seiza”. We take a breath together and my friend safely closes her eyes.  

I continue breathing. I sense the mattress beneath my legs. I sense my thighs beneath my palms. I sense the weight of my hips gravitating toward the ground and my spine growing out of them like a plant shooting out of the Earth in the sunshine. I sense the quality of my breath and allow it to deepen. Then I imagine I am bigger than my body. I imagine I fill the room and contain everything in it. I contain my friend as well, taking her in.

Just Being

My hand comes to rest on her abdomen — like a stone resting in a riverbed. Just sort of… being there. We become two objects in a shared landscape. I feel the river washing over me, and the river invites me to dance upon the surface of the riverbed. My friend falls deeper and deeper into a dream-state as my hands dance across the riverbed of her being, waiting to be touched and discovered.

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