Loneliness is a public health issue.  Research shows that people who feel lonely for much of or all of the time are at greater risk of heart problems and stroke and more likely to develop high blood pressure. They use more medication and are more prone to depression and dementia. Loneliness can lead to substance abuse and suicide.  The impact of loneliness on public health has been assessed as equal to that from obesity or smoking.

Text: Carola Beresford-Cooke

It has been said that loneliness is increasing in our society.  Societal changes seem to confirm this, as traditional communities find themselves forced to change, sometimes breaking up or disappearing. Jobs rely increasingly on computers.  People move away from their home environments for reasons of work, family or economic pressures.  Housing has changed, so that many people live in individual apartments in high rise blocks or estates whose design does not facilitate social contact.

But perhaps it is not all the fault of external factors.  As a report on loneliness by the BBC noted, loneliness does not mean being alone, it means feeling that you have no-one to talk to, that no-one cares about you.  We all know that feeling and I would guess that some of us have felt this way for much of our lives.

We are social animals and there is a theory that our large brains evolved to cope with the challenges of living in large and complex social groups.  And yet those challenges, to conform, to learn the acceptable means of communicating within the group, to behave as society wants us to behave, often require us to suppress our individual uniqueness and to question our essential nature. To become a socialised human, we must master complex social skills to guide us through our interactions, but they are no substitute for feeling understood, valued and accepted.

This can lead to anger, sadness and depression, to defensiveness, so that we keep people away from us, or to feelings of deep unworthiness; a friend once said that she felt “leprous”, as if people were disgusted by her.

When we think about how hard it is to be a human in society, how our sensitive inner being is coerced by social requirements, often brutalised by rejections and injustice, loneliness can seem like a universal condition, and maybe that is not far from the truth.

How can Shiatsu help? 

Obviously, the simple comfort of touch is the first step towards healing loneliness.  Shiatsu touch is special, a deep and respectful contact with our “upright Ki” that can remind us of our essential goodness. But Shiatsu can offer so much more, through work on the meridians.

The classic “loneliness” meridians are the Metal ones, Lung and Large Intestine, which can give us the feeling of being almost physically disconnected from the rest of the world, as if we were in a glass tank.  But there are also Triple Heater and Heart Protector, which may be struggling to find the right way to extend out to others or may be withdrawing to protect us from rejection.  Wood meridians may carry our rage against ourselves and the uncaring world.  Water meridians may hold our fear, Earth our insecurity.

Any of the meridians can express the stresses of our loneliness, and Shiatsu can help release them. It can also restore our mental and physical energy so that we feel strong enough to go out and join groups where we can meet other people.  Most importantly, Shiatsu can help us feel complete within ourselves, so that we can encounter the world in a natural way.  Others are more drawn to us when we are relaxed and being ourselves; it can be the beginning of a new way of relating.

Curious about this subject?

Carola could have written so much more about Shiatsu and loneliness. If you wish to learn more about this topic, visit her three-hour workshop at the European Shiatsu Congress.