Mike Mandl is the director of the International Academy for Hara Shiatsu and director of the 5th European Shiatsu Congress (2017) in Vienna. His experience shows that shiatsu is a powerful therapy to treat the roots of burnout. And it’s time to tell the world. “I truly believe we should stand up with shiatsu and take our space.” Prepare for a long read.

Text: Mark Vroonland | Translation: Adeline Kuiken

How did you start with shiatsu?

“I did not start with shiatsu. Shiatsu chose me. I was 24, living on a small farm, a post hippie community. We had a lot of guests and one of them talked about shiatsu. From then I knew I just had to learn shiatsu. So I left the farm and moved straight to Vienna, where I registered myself for the shiatsu training at the Hara Shiatsu School of Tomas Nelissen. I remember that day very well: everything I owned was in my backpack. I had no job, I had no place to sleep, but I was registered for the training. More than 25 years later I am the owner of this school.”

How did you experience your education at the Hara Shiatsu School?

“The training was intense. Tomas is a direct disciple of Masunaga. His approach to shiatsu was traditional. Sometimes, he just came in and worked on someone without saying a word. You had to copy what he did. You had to understand shiatsu from experience, not from lectures. My training was a manic Zen shiatsu boot camp with one clear goal: to be a shiatsu professional. In the second year, I started to work as an assistant. In my third, I gave my first lessons. Everything grew very quickly. I was a full time shiatsu professional, right after my training.”

What can you do with nothing but two hands?

One of the characteristics of the Hara Shiatsu School is the cooperation with Western hospitals and clinical trials. Can you tell something about that?

“I think our clinical approach is sometimes misunderstood. The ambition of Tomas was pure curiosity. He wanted to find out the possibilities and limits of shiatsu: what can you do with nothing but two hands? The best way to find out is a clinical setting, where you have to deliver results after ten treatments. It is not enough to say, that a client feels more balanced or more centred. You want clear improvements. And we delivered. Over time, the work of Tomas built a bridge between Western and Eastern medicine.”

How does this fit in with the Positive Health-theme that guides the ESC 2020?

“Positive Health stands for a broad view on health, in which health is no longer considered as a static condition but rather as a dynamic ability to adapt and to manage one’s own well-being. This is exactly what we did. We did not only see the symptoms, we saw the whole human being. We did not only see the shoulder problem, we saw that the whole life situation of the person was kind of frozen. If we wanted to move the shoulder, we had to move the person’s life as well.”

Which edition of the European Shiatsu Congress was the first you visited?

“One of the first larger shiatsu congresses was organized in Vienna by our school.  It was called the 1st International Shiatsu Congress. We had around 150 visitors and it was interesting, but too much work. Another school in Vienna picked up on the idea and also organized an international congress. The first ESC came after these Viennese congresses. I missed the first edition. At the fourth ESC I approached Wilfried Rappenecker with the idea of moving the congress from the Kiental to Vienna. He agreed and it felt like I had the torch. There was no way back.”

Why did you move the congress to the city?

“The Kiental has a tremendous inspirational atmosphere. But a congress can be seen as a vehicle. It can move people. It can make shiatsu visible for a bigger audience. This is my ambition. Shiatsu really needs a kick in the ass. It is such beautiful work. It can have so much impact. It could be one of the most important therapies of the future. We have to let the people know. This is why we wanted a big congress from the beginning.”

And did it work out?

“It turned out to be a mass event! We didn’t expect more than 500 shiatsu practitioners from all over the world. We showed that we are a big community. That we can generate power. Or to use our terminology, a big energy field. We have been in the media in Austria. We have been on TV. I truly believe we should stand up with shiatsu and take our space.”

Who is the ‘owner’ of the ESC? Wilfried Rappenecker, the founder, says it’s sort of organic. But he also mentions future locations for the ESC. How does this work?

“Till now, it is organic. For the future it will be important to develop a structure. As the event grows and gets established, you have to think about a long term development plan. It is good that the ESC moves around. It leaves footprints and can raise the energy of the local shiatsu scene. My ideal version would be, that the ESC happens every fourth year and every second you have bigger national congresses in each country.”

Your workshop at the ESC 2020 is about burnout. Is this a European or a global disease?

“Burnout is a first world luxury problem. In the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems burnout is defined as a problem related to life management difficulty, which results in a physical and emotional exhaustion state. Why are so many people affected by burnout? Why do we have such big problems with our life management, that we burn ourselves out? For me, it is a spiritual problem.”

Have you ever been asked in school, what makes you happy?

“We’ve lost the orientation in live. We have no idea, who we really are and what we really want. Our whole focus is on materialism. Our whole educational system channels us in the direction of having success, being socially accepted and doing something that’s important. But have you ever been asked in school, what makes you happy? What your ultimate dream is, that goes along with your talents and your potential? How can you create an interesting life?”

Is shiatsu the ultimate treatment for burn out?

“If you don’t treat the roots of a burn out, you just treat the symptoms. You enable the person to go back to their job. This is not enough. We need methods with a spiritual background. I am convinced that shiatsu is one of the best methods to work with burn out clients. Because you treat the physical, the emotional and the spiritual level.”

Are shiatsu professionals less susceptible for burnout?

“It depends on your motivation to do shiatsu. Do you want to work with people because it is your mission?  Many therapists are therapists, because they want to be accepted. Because they want to give in order to receive. If this is your basic motivation, it will be hard to be a fulltime shiatsu professional, and to rely on yourself. I know many burned out shiatsu therapists.”

A lot of people crash during the holidays. What would be your therapeutic advice to do during the X-mas holidays?

“Eat. Sleep. Repeat. If you follow the laws of nature, December should be a still and quiet time to save and restore your energy. In our modern society, it’s one of the most busiest times of the year. Instead of focussing inside, we go along with the X-mas madness. If you do so:  take a break, eat, sleep, repeat.”


Curious about Mike Mandl? Visit his workshop ‘Why society needs burn out. And why shiatsu is the best method to deal with it’ at the ESC 2020

Mike has also written an interesting and funny book about personality traits and the five elements.

Also don’t forget to check his homepage: www.mikemandl.eu and the Hara Shiatsu School in Vienna.