Tomas Nelissen, trained by Masunaga, belongs to the select group of pioneers who have formed the basis of Shiatsu in Europe. In the late 1980s he founded the International Academy for Hara Shiatsu in Vienna. The course is known for its collaboration with hospitals and the high level of quality of its graduates. His mission: to conquer the world with shiatsu.

Interview in Dutch by Mark Vroonland, 19 February 2018.
Translation: Adeline Kuiken

Research

“In the 70s and 80s we were in a euphoric exploratory phase with shiatsu; experimenting with it and taking it to the next level. As of the early 90s I introduced Hara Shiatsu in hospitals: psychiatry, geriatrics and gynecology. We combine the treatments or our students with research. This helps us to prove the effectiveness of shiatsu. Moreover, we show what we have to offer. As a school, as a student and as a future shiatsu therapist.”

Regenerative effect

By documenting the collaboration between conventional medicine and shiatsu treatments in a controlled manner, Nelissen can demonstrate the value of shiatsu as a therapy. From faster healing from a physical or mental trauma, anorexia in growing children, to the prevention of a surgical procedure. “The surgeon did not expect Hara Shiatsu to have such a regenerative effect. After an intensive cycle or 10 sessions, it turned out that surgery was unnecessary,” he says.

Credibility

In recent years, the school has continuously refined and improved research into the effectiveness of shiatsu. “After an anamnesis, we discuss the cases with the doctor on the basis of a questionnaire. After 10 treatments we evaluate the progress. This is endorsed by the doctor. The research results speak for themselves: 50% reduction of shiatsu complaints with high blood pressure and insomnia. Having an authority look at it works well for credibility. We can show what we are good at as a course. And that shiatsu works. 

Only through years of research with concrete results on the effectiveness of shiatsu can you build trust and respect

Progress

“It is also important for students to accurately keep track of the results of a treatment. If you can demonstrate 80% progress, you will get a different picture of yourself. Maybe you can’t solve that last bit with shiatsu therapy, but with herbs or another therapy.”

Hands on

In comparison with Dutch standards, the bar is high for shiatsu training at the Hara Academy. For example, a student must perform and document 300 treatments in 3 years. This is a heavy load …

“That depends on the person. If you have a cognitive attitude, are very much in your head or do office work all day, the training is indeed like a trip to an exotic country. As if you come from another planet. If you are used to working with your hands, if you have children and therefore have a practical attitude, you can easily pick it up. Shiatsu is manual work. Not something you can do with your head.”

You experience that intuition can unfold, that you can learn to feel.

Basis for a profession

“With the Hara Academy, we really provide the basis for a profession. 70% of the students at the Hara Shiatsu school start their own practise after obtaining their diploma. I’m really proud of that. In the training we further refine the curriculum. Students in the first year are unbiased. It is all new. They are still “naive”: There is no brain that sits in between.

Organic

“It’s almost never too much. If you make the curriculum organic, it has added value. You experience that intuition can unfold, that you can learn to feel. But also that everything is subject to change. You don’t have to worry about taking it. The theoretical foundation will not come until the second year. “

Quantum leaps

“Students are also extremely hungry for this knowledge. They make quantum leaps. You see that reflected in their personal life. They change of direction in life. Changing relationship, home, job. It is a recognition of something they were looking for. You often hear: “Wow shiatsu changed my life completely.”

Lifestyle

“If you advocate a philosophy, you must also live it. For shiatsu, that means a life style approach with a vegetarian or vegan diet. In the rhythm with the elements. Without alcohol or nicotine. In harmony with yourself. With such an approach to life, shiatsu becomes stronger. Body, mind and soul are not separate. Both for the therapist and the client it really delivers if you take responsibility for your own life.”

Shiatsu is manual work. Not something you can do with your head.

Invest in yourself

“Of course we also have a different tradition in Austria. The spas here have been around for 1000 years. They are huge palaces. People over 45 can go to a spa once a year for 3 weeks. Funded by the health insurance fund. That is unthinkable in the Netherlands, but it indicates how important it is in Austria that you invest in your health. Shiatsu fits in that picture.”

Full practices

“I always said that shiatsu is the most important body therapy in the West. That is certainly true in Austria. Practices are really full here with 20-30 clients per week. In the Netherlands and England that is less obvious. You can’t compare it completely either. The Dutch are much more cognitive and set different priorities for themselves. “

Trust and respect

“It is useful to make a distinction between the objectives of shiatsu: the difference in quality of shiatsu in the Western world depends on the school and the teacher. If you want to present shiatsu as a therapy, you must profile yourself more professionally as a study program. This is where the form and content of the thought Shiatsu come in. Look at collaboration with doctors, provide statistical evidence. Only through years of research with concrete results about the effectiveness of shiatsu can you build trust and respect ”


In 2017, Tomas transferred his work at the Hara Shiatsu school to a new class, by Mike Mandl. At the time of writing, he works at a yoga center in South India and writes a book about shiatsu and gynaecology.