Judith Stone went to a shiatsu teacher, where she found herself face-to-face with the Pillars of Heaven, the Palace of Anxiety, and—grab your umbrellas—the Gushing Spring. Sound weird? It was pure bliss.
I'm being taken on a tour of my body's key pressure points, each of which has a delightfully poetic traditional name. My guide, Marianne Turner Fuenmayor, is a teacher of shiatsu, a form of bodywork developed in Japan according to the principles of ancient Chinese medicine. Its practitioners aim to reduce tension and encourage healing by pressing and kneading the body at crucial spots so that energy can flow unfettered through channels called meridians, charted thousands of years ago by Chinese physicians. You could think of it as acupuncture using finger pressure—that's what the word shiatsu means in Japanese—instead of needles.
Fuenmayor recommends four shiatsu exercises that you can perform solo and one to try with a friend:
For more about shiatsu, visit the Motherhand Society Online, www.geocities.com/motherhandsociety
Place your left hand in your right hand so the four right-hand fingers are under the hand and the right thumb is on top of the palm. Gently press your right thumb into the middle of the palm (that's the Palace of Anxiety). If you allow the pressed hand to relax, folding gently around the thumb, the thumb will be able to reach the deepest places in the palm. Press for a count of five, release for a count of five, and repeat twice more. Then switch hands. "I suggest doing this once in the morning and once in the evening," Fuenmayor says. "But you can do it more often under stressful conditions."
Hold each end of a light, silky scarf (at least 24 inches long) and loop it behind your neck. Raise both hands toward the ceiling. Let your head gently fall back into the scarf. Very slowly roll your head from one side to the other for 10 to 15 seconds. Then bring it up, wait for a count of five, and repeat the process. "You're putting light pressure on the Pillars of Heaven," Fuenmayor says, "and that relieves tension in the back of your neck."
Sit cross-legged on the floor with one of your feet soles up in your lap. Place the four fingers of each hand under the foot, one hand resting on the other, and the two thumbs on the upturned ball of your foot—straight down from your third toe, at a spot on the ball just above where the foot arches. Press with the thumbs for a count of five; rest for five. Repeat twice, then switch feet. "Don't worry about finding the exact spot," Fuenmayor says. "You almost can't go wrong. Applying gentle pressure to this spot, the Gushing Spring, relieves adrenaline-churning tension and anxiety."
Working on the spot in the sinewy web between the thumb and forefinger, called Meeting Mountains, can help relieve headaches, Fuenmayor says. Start with your left hand palm down. Place four right-hand fingers under the web and the thumb on top. Apply pressure, gently squeezing the web, then make a circular motion with the thumb, rubbing the whole area for five to ten seconds. Wait for a count of five, and repeat. Then switch hands.
One person, the receiver, sits in a chair; the giver stands behind her. The giver places her hands on the receiver's shoulders, at the base of her neck, and leans forward, exerting gentle downward pressure without pushing. She leans for a count of five and releases for five, two more times, placing her hands a little farther out toward the arm sockets each time. She does another round of three leans, and then, says Fuenmayor, "the most important thing happens—you switch! Some people say they experience the process as a two-person meditation." When I try the leaning exercise on Fuenmayor, I find it almost as relaxing to give as to receive. "People like the equality of shiatsu," she says. "There's no expert healer, just two people taking turns, helping each other summon their own healing powers."