Inspired living

Can shiatsu therapy cure depression?


“The pain is coming from an increase of energy in your gall bladder meridian.”

I nodded, as though that sentence made any sense at all. Sitting in a tiny room with a futon mattress on the floor, candles burning and relaxing music playing, I have to admit it sounded kind of normal and rational. Still, I had a sense that after this hour, back in my real life, I’d laugh about it. Clearly I was in pain — I was pregnant and had a (rather big) baby putting pressure on various parts of my body. End of story. However …

My shiatsu practitioner had checked my pulses and discovered that my gall bladder channel required some work: slightly too much energy in one meridian, not enough in another. I had also proffered a vague request for help with pain and swelling. I couldn’t tell her where the pain really was — I just pointed in the general direction of my lower back, hips and legs — but her first touch was in the exact spot from which all my pain stemmed. And the relief I felt was indescribable. I didn’t know how she had done it but, boy, was I glad she had.

My first introduction to shiatsu therapy came several years ago when, armed with a gift voucher, I rang a local massage centre. They talked me through their list of options and I thought shiatsu sounded interesting — at the least, it was something I hadn’t tried before. I knew I might love it or I might hate it, but it would be interesting to find out what it was.

I loved it — and the shiatsu therapist I saw — so much that the therapy became a regular thing for me for quite some time. Back then, I was suffering post-natal depression and I used shiatsu as something healing for my body and my emotions. I became a bit addicted to it. I would sit down, my therapist would look me in the eye and ask “How are you?” and then listen — really listen — and help me do something proactive to turn things around.

Shiatsu therapy really does range that far into the depths of a person. A treatment involves looking at overall wellbeing. You start with a discussion of the client’s needs and then the session gets underway. You lie on a futon, fully clothed, and the shiatsu therapist places pressure on various points around the body (depending on the areas requiring attention) and moves limbs around to encourage a flow of energy.

Shiatsu, meaning “finger pressure” in Japanese, is based on similar theories to those of acupuncture. Developed in Japan and based on traditional Chinese medicine, the belief is that energy (or chi) moves through the body in channels, or meridians, that are related to key internal organs. For a person to be in good health, each of these meridians must be flowing. Shiatsu therapists, in a bid to look after a person’s holistic health, will also discuss diet, exercise and lifestyle. It’s seen as a treatment that assists the body; rather than try to force the body into how it “should” be, a shiatsu therapist will work with you to support the healing process.

Following my depression I took a break from shiatsu. The therapist I had been seeing left and moved to the country and it seemed timely that I take a break. I thought I didn’t need it any more. Then I fell pregnant again and struggling with pain and swelling was my breaking point. In a weird twist of the modern world meeting an ancient practice, I saw that a local wellbeing centre had engaged a new shiatsu therapist. I got an appointment for the following day. I didn’t regret coming back.

Within two weeks and two sessions, I saw the most amazing results for things I didn’t even realise I needed help with. Funny how things creep up on you — sometimes everything seems under control until you really take the time to think about yourself.

Eczema? Gone. Psoriasis? Better than it had been since it started affecting me years ago. I didn’t go there for my skin conditions but the results show how much these ailments stem from other issues. Swelling and fluid retention in my legs? Gone. And the therapy continued to keep my fluid retention — something I’d experienced during my first pregnancy as well — at bay during the rest of the pregnancy. Pain? It’s barely reared its head since that puzzling “gall bladder meridian session”.

Following the birth of my baby, I’ve been using shiatsu to help with my recovery. Shiatsu supports my body as it goes through a very demanding time and it helps me to take some time out to look after myself. Sometimes the sessions feel like just that — an hour out. An hour, not to heal physically, but to be about me in a life that is currently all about giving to others, which is certainly not a bad thing in itself. Sometimes, an hour to myself is all it takes to feel better, especially in my fight against another bout of post-natal depression.

The thing I love most about shiatsu is the very thing I don’t understand about it. It’s about all-over wellbeing — body, mind, diet — and a problem can stem from the most unlikely place. I like the idea that an issue I’m experiencing in one part of my body is looked at holistically, in contrast to modern medicine’s refrain of, “Here’s a cream to put on that spot.” (Not that I’m suggesting turning my back on modern medicine: the two can work well, hand in hand.) Shiatsu really looks at the causes and delivers a long-term solution. That small part of this complex healing treatment does make sense to me.

Despite my pessimism, and despite having very little understanding of how it really works, whatever it is and however strange it sounds, shiatsu has worked for me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I guess sometimes you don’t need understanding, just belief.

Megan Blandford is a freelance writer and blogger at writingloud.blogspot.com.


Megan Blandford

Megan Blandford is a freelance writer, specialising in lifestyle, travel and business topics for many online and print publications, and some of Australia’s best organisations. Megan lives in peaceful country Victoria with her family.