February 23, 2023

The Effect of the Therapist’s Alignment

The treating person’s alignment and presence considerably influence the effect of a Shiatsu treatment. As many of these effects on the client are the expression of a resonance phenomenon, I would like to begin this article by looking at the resonance space.

The therapeutic space is a resonance space

When people meet and spend more time together than would be the case during a more casual encounter, they instantly and unavoidably form a communal resonance space, in which they mutually experience and also influence each other. This occurs independently of the number of persons involved, be it only a few, several hundred or even thousands. The more the persons involved focus together on an event (e.g. a concert or a football game) or a person (e.g. a political speaker or an actor), the stronger and the more easily perceivable will be the communal resonance space. Such a shared experience can touch us deeply. When it is very strong it may significantly influence a person’s further life.

In a Shiatsu practice generally only two people meet but what happens is the same. Both contribute in equal measure to the jointly formed resonance space; their personality, their intention, their strengths and weaknesses flow into this shared space. Even if the persons involved are unaware that this is happening, the shared space will evolve nonetheless. It will frequently develop its own dynamic and influence the further development of the treatment.

In the therapeutic work, therapist and client occupy different roles. It is the therapist who kicks off the events and changes within the resonance space. The practitioner’s own resonance space, based on alignment and presence and developed through training and practical experience, allows her to present the client with an offer of resonance. By doing so she observes and follows what is happening in the evolving resonance space. Through touch and words she proposes a direction that appears meaningful. Based on the client’s objective, the therapist’s art lies in transforming it into a mutually experienced flow.

Clients will be mostly unaware about the events described here. However, the more they are able to trust the therapeutic situation, the more they will relax into the resonance space, thereby reinforcing the resonance. The client’s opening up and relaxation will have an immediate reciprocal effect on the therapist. She, too, will then be able to open up further into the space. If the resonance is strong, both will have the feeling of moving into the same or a similar direction.

Giving and receiving Shiatsu will then feel much easier.

Alignment and increased capacity for resonance

A person’s natural capacity for resonance can be increased in a targeted way through alignment and presence. Since, generally, it is the practitioner who initiates the resonance process described above it is helpful if she is aware of this connection and continually practices her body’s and spirit’s alignment.

Alignment means uprightness and the opening of one’s body as well as presence in the body space. Full contact with the floor as well as being anchored in the floor form the foundation. Arising from this solid base the rest of the body straightens up; it may even expand a bit. Straightening up always also refers to the alignment and straightening up of the spine; this is also true when the attention should primarily be focussed on the spaces before / in front of the spine (the ‘Three Burners’). Relaxed presence ensouls the aligning and expanding body space, providing it with orientation. All this will have an effect on the strengthening of one’s own capacity for resonance.

Ideally, presence means to be equally ‘there’ in the Three Burners, i.e., the heart, the solar plexus and the lower Tan Den. In this context the space of the solar plexus is of particular importance. I have made the experience that for many Shiatsu students and practitioners alike this ‘meeting place’ tends to withdraw from the interplay of the Three Burners during treatment. These practitioners seem to buckle in the area of the upper Hara. However, an alert presence, especially in the solar plexus, is a prerequisite to truly meet the other person – a prerequisite for the efficacy of our work. This may require courage; the courage to show oneself to the other in the encounter, to ‘impose’ oneself on them, as well as the courage to endure one’s own self.

An important aspect of presence is attentiveness moulded and guided by the mind. A relaxed mind is able to expand its field of attentiveness and also to focus it. It can send it in a particular direction and also call it back. This allows the resonance space to be moulded and aligned.

Strong focussing and relaxed expansion do not represent opposites here, but are rather two simultaneously existing poles mutually depending on and complementing each other. With this tool it becomes possible during the treatment to concretely touch selected areas, possibly with attention alone (also see the explanations in my article ‘Inner Techniques’). This can be complemented by direct physical touch.

Alignment and presence can be developed, for example with methods such as yoga, qi gong or meditation. And, of course, the practice of Shiatsu is a welcome opportunity for learning. The application of the ‘Inner Techniques’ can thus lead to a relaxed expansion in the therapist’s body space. Shiatsu treatments become a kind of Still Qi Gong. By tenaciously practicing their alignment and presence in this way, the therapist will develop an increased capacity for resonance.

To deal consciously with the resonance space requires opening one’s body space. This can be challenging since it will bring the affected person in contact with themselves. Old emotional topics and patterns may surface and demand to be dealt with. Old physical problems may resurface as well and can now be treated again. All this is very rewarding: dealing with these issues will lead to more contentment and joie de vivre, as well as an increased capacity for resonance.

The effects of alignment and presence on the client

The main effect of alignment is that by virtue of the arising expansion in the practitioner they can offer the client a bigger space. This will initially result in the client relaxing more easily; an effect which can be checked anytime during the treatment. For example, right when the therapist strengthens the relaxed presence in their solar plexus, the client will react visibly and noticeably as well, typically by taking a deep breath or increased relaxation.

Such deep relaxation is (generally) not only pleasant but also a prerequisite for a wide range of changes in the receiving person’s body and mind. Stress and tightness in the body space as well as the mental space are the cause or exacerbating factors of a plethora of physical problems and illnesses. If stress and tightness abate, new pathways for solutions can be found more easily.

At the moment of the relaxation reaction a possibly painful physical touch may become less painful. In physical problem areas (for example back pain) not touched at that time the pain may diminish in that moment as well. Expansion and relaxation relieve the pain by offering a bigger space to a tense painful area.

This phenomenon reaches beyond the physical body, also affecting emotional experiencing. Thus potential problems may still exist but are no longer as distressing or challenging. Within the expanding resonance space, the person is no longer tied as much to their problem but gains the expansion to consider it from another, bigger angle and find new solutions.

In the resonance space, alignment and expansion in the therapist will affect alignment and expansion in the client. This is the prerequisite for the specific work with energetic and physical patterns underlying any physical or emotional problems to develop a deeper effect. Focussing directly addresses the pattern, expansion opens up opportunities for change.

At the same time what is happening in the mutual resonance space often facilitates the experience for the client to feel more accepted and held, and offers a feeling of safety. This, in turn, promotes relaxation and an opening towards the shared space.

However, in the client the opening of the space can result in difficult or painful topics, which were previously kept in the background, pushing into consciousness and demanding to be faced. Sometimes this can be a challenge for the client so that the practitioner’s counselling support may become important.

Based on her alignment and relaxed presence, the therapist will eventually also gain access to information coming up in the resonance space. This could be intuitions, feelings, treatment impulses but also images from the client’s biography. Through the experiences in the shared space the therapist gains a clearer guidance regarding the client’s current situation and a precise course of action. By mindfully following these impressions in the shared space, clients will feel seen and heeded. Coupled with the feeling of comfort and emotional safety this will increase the motivation taking steps and implementing necessary changes in their daily lives that may have arisen during the treatment and accompanying dialogue. 

The experiences described last will occur randomly in clinical practice time and again, even if we should be unaware of the connections described in this article. They will become a dependable companion in our work once we have learnt to align our body and mind, filling them with relaxed heart-presence. For professional Shiatsu it is therefore invaluable to occupy oneself more thoroughly and to invest time in tenaciously practicing alignment and presence.