Shiatsu, the Five Elements and their effects

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

About ten years ago I received my first Shiatsu treatment in a tiny room in a yoga studio in Berlin. I had no idea what to expect, but I was curious. I only knew that the treatment would take place fully clothed on a futon on the floor and that you would press your thumb along energetic lines on your body. The treatment helped me a lot on all levels and I later decided to complete a four-year training as a Shiatsu practitioner.


I was lucky enough to study with excellent teachers such as Edith Storch, Rita Wolters, Kathrin Werner, Ulrike Schmidt, Meike Kockrick, Pamela Ferguson, Carola Beresford-Cooke and Wataru Ohashi. I firmly believe that you never finish, that you keep learning and integrating new techniques into your own style. ​ Shiatsu describes a wide range of different types of treatment. As early as 8000 years ago, energetic points and meridians were drawn that were found at Neolithic excavation sites. "The method goes back to the early history of Chinese medicine in a book that was found in a tomb from the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD)." - explains Carola Beresford-Cooke in her book Shiatsu.


Where does Shiatsu help? ​ Everywhere and in combination with other treatment methods, it is particularly effective for ailments caused by emotional shocks or stress, such as: ​ - insomnia - anxiety - Headache - indigestion - menstrual cramps - muscle tension - susceptibility to infection - back pain - Neck and shoulder stiffness - joint pain - edema - poor circulation.


Shiatsu is not just a form of bodywork originating from Japan, but an attitude and philosophy. The life energy of the body (called Chi or Ki) is balanced with deep and gentle thumb, ball of the hand, elbow and forearm pressure. I work on my clothed body on a soft mat on the floor. It is best to wear light and very comfortable clothing that completely covers the legs and arms (to avoid pressure surfaces on the skin). With Shiatsu you can nourish the body:

- for tiredness and exhaustion - after a long illness - to strengthen the immune system - if you have digestive problems - Accompanying and after birth.


Shiatsu can also move: - for shoulder and neck problems - for back and joint problems - at PMS - in the case of depressive moods.


The five-element teaching comes from TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and relates to the vibrational qualities of Ki. It also forms the basis for the Shiatsu theory. The five elements or phases of change are: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. The relationships between the elements and the connection between the elements and the cosmos are the focus of the five-element teaching. The element of fire creates earth (like ashes), earth creates metal (like gold and silver mines), metal creates water (like the drops of water in a saucepan), water creates wood (like watering a garden), and wood creates fire (like a fireplace).

Water symbolizes winter and cold, wood stands for spring and wind, fire is summer and heat, earth is late summer and moisture, metal is autumn and drought. A Shiatsu treatment always starts with a conversation. I offer a protected space where you can talk about anything. What are you concerned with at the moment? What is your main focus? Do you have a specific request? Is it "just" back pain or are there other factors that throw you off balance?


How does balance feel in your life? Yes, we all need attachment, recognition, autonomy and a feeling of pleasure. A feeling of lack of basic needs creates inner tension. Bond is related to the earth element. It's about caring for and being cared for, being nourished and warmed, having someone to look after you, having a home, physically and emotionally as well. Bonding creates security and ensures survival.


Recognition and self-worth stand for fire and water. Does anyone admire you? How is the love in your life The element fire nourishes the kidneys, where our life energy is stored. We know who we are and what we want. When it comes to autonomy and control, the elements wood and metal are at work. It is an exciting path that we will walk a little together. For example, if your parents or caregivers often said in childhood: "Be perfect!" this is a positive driver in your life, you are accurate, thorough, and strive for flawlessness. In professional groups such as surgeons or air traffic controllers, these qualities are desirable. What makes a "driver" (formulations and messages) problematic if you put the word "ALWAYS" in front of it. We don't always have to be perfect, just in certain areas and times in life. Perfection, flawlessness, top performance are required, but if you overdo it, you may get burned out.

"Out of drivers and the corresponding fears (for example: Be perfect! - I'm afraid of making mistakes) we form beliefs. They are deeply anchored convictions that express our attitude towards ourselves and towards everyone." - Arno Siegl explains in his Post "Who am I and what do I want?" in the Shiatsu Journal. "I can't do that.", "I always have to be nice.", "I'm helpless!" These negative beliefs have an impact on the protective strategies we build over time. We give up, we withdraw, we avoid situations or we adapt. Sometimes overcompensated or overplayed problems.



Drivers and beliefs influence our self-image. When we work with the elements metal and water, we balance a deficiency. The goal is then to strengthen self-confidence and self-confidence, to create a free flow of energy in the body in order to rediscover optimism and joie de vivre. To bring Yin and Yang, light and darkness, active and passive, positive and negative into balance, that is an eternal challenge but also a wonderful task in life.


- By Ottilia



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