Uguisu Seikotsuin: Training/Visit Report: Tsubasa Ohkawa
Arrived in morning, got my first look at Tsuchiya Sensei’s clinic. Very casual and unique atmosphere with house and living space connected to the clinic (massage chairs, machines, record player, instruments, all together), yet very professional, inviting, and organized.
Ate obento lunch together and chatted about my direction for the future, what I want to learn. I tell him about my experience and my interest in Shiatsu.
Then, Sensei asked me to give him massage as he lay on his stomach and to feel free to do how I want. I do my “usual” routine as I do for friends and at occasional volunteer clinic. I felt nervous and unsure (which im sure reflected in my massage). Then we switched, me lying on my stomach the same way, while he gave me some responses to my massage and some constructive criticism. While demonstrating on my body, Sensei kindly explained to me what I was doing and also taught me about some fundamental points about shiatsu and massage in general.
He said that my massage felt like all of the pressure, or atsu, was coming from my hands and that it was a very shallow pressure. He also said that I was doing these circular movements that maybe feel nice to some, but do not apply any real pressure to the deep tension in muscles. While showing me on my own body, he taught me that the hands and thumbs should be only the point where the pressure is concentrated, and that you should use the weight of your body instead to add pressure. This serves to both protect your body from injury as well as to give you sufficient pressure to stimulate the points in the body. I have read this concept in massage and shiatsu books before about using your own body weight and being relaxed, but when Sensei actually showed me using his hands, I felt I really understood for the first time what that really meant by feeling the difference in my own body, and by being worked on by a very experienced and skilled teacher.
I took some time to sight see and walk around Koya san and returned around 5pm, when another student of his would coming to practice and learn as well. She, is a Judo therapy college graduate who has had over a year of practice in various clinics, and was now hoping to learn from Tsuchiya Sensei about shiatsu and also to work part time while she attends school in Koya san. She has the same license as Tsuchiya Sensei as Judo Seifukushi, or Judo Physical Rehab clinician, one of the certifications approved by the Japanese Ministry of Health.
Before I left for the day, I was glad to receive a “homework assignment” from Tsuchiya Sensei, to look into the different kinds of massage therapy certifications that exist in Japan such as Anma Shiatsu, Acupuncture, Judo Seifukushi and others
Arrived at 10 in the morning and Yoshimori san (the other trainee) was already there. During some free time between patients, Tsuchiya Sensei gave us both a lesson on his method of working on patients legs/hips and shoulders and used me as a dummy.
He bent my knee and guided it in circles in order to loosen up the hip joint. He emphasized not using so much strength but using yours as well as the patients weight and momentum, and to be sensitive and respond to the patients body always. After, he let Yoshimori san and I practice on each other so we could get a feel for the exercise. He then showed us a common exercise he uses to loosen up the shoulder area another commonly tense area and also, a ball joint like the hip. While probing around the shoulder blade and collar bone, he spins the arm in circles gently and stretches. Tight shoulders are a common theme in his patients, and seems to be caused by poor posture, (neko ze), and excessive computer use/ sedentary lifestyle. He showed us points on the arm that were connected in terms of meridians and energy channels, that are closely related to shoulder and neck tension.
Throughout the day, I tried to observe as much as I could Tsuchiya Sensei’s posture, form, and attitude with patients. His calm and relaxed attitude is expressed in his casual conversation during bodywork and in his posture. He is not using any extra effort or tensing his body in any way while working with patients.
Today, continued observing and watching how the clinic runs relatively smoothly even with three our four patients at a time, and only one doctor, and one helper. Tsuchiya sensei would skillfully rotate between patients: while one was connected to a compression machine or doing some light exercises, he would be doing hands on work with another.
There are four machines that he uses regularly in his practice. The first is the Ultra sound wave device. This sends high frequency sound through a small handheld device, similar to that used by doctors to see what is going on in a pregnant woman’s stomach (using the similar cold gel). When applied to a patient’s body, these waves help to loosen up tense muscles and fascia, most often in the shoulder and neck but also as needed, on the lower back, or in any injured areas. This device is used most often in Tsuchiya sensei’s clinic and he charges a separate fee for this device.
The second machine used commonly is the leg compression sleeve. These sleeves fasten on both legs up to the middle thigh and compress air, contracting and expandind, helping to stimulate circulation in the legs. The patient lies on his/her back with a blanket covered over their body while the machine goes through a roughly 15 minute routine.
The third machine is the electric acupuncture device. This device is a commonly used device in Japan, many people even owning their small handheld version. This device, as Tsuchiya Sensei pointed out to me, is one that is actually covered by Japanese Health Insurance whereas massage, physical therapy, shiatsu etc. is not. I don’t know the exact science behind it, but basically, this device sends electric waves thru pads that are stuck onto the affected area. The muscles and nerves in the area respond to the electronic signal by simultaneously contracting then relaxing.
The fourth machine is the spine extension chair. Tsuchiya sensei sometimes joked around by saying it was a torture device, because honestly it really does look like it could be one. Basically, the device, similar in design and looks, to a basic work out machine, is a chair that the patients sits and is strapped into. The bottom of the chair is then lowered, using gravity and the weight of the patient’s own body to gently pull the spine, creating space in the joints between the vertebrae.
By this day, I tried all three of these machines but the last one (spine pulling device). I used the Ultrasound device most.
This day, Tsuchiya Sensei had to go to a on call massage visit to some tourist staying at a nearby temple, so he advised Yoshimori-san and I to continue practicing on each other until 8:30 (another hour.) We gladly took the opportunity to try and test out what we have been learning and I felt that it was a real blessing to have a fellow “student” to practice and exchange with.
Today my last day, so Tsuchiya Sensei let me practice on some of his regular customers who were willing to let me experiement on them ( of course, at a cheaper “student fee”).
I learned an important lesson right away, as I was applying the ultrasound device on the first patient of the day. I put the gel on the handle and immediately started going, without saying excuse me or “this will be cold.” Tsuchiya Sensei kindly let me know that, especially in Japan, communication with the patient is of utmost importance. Particularly in Japanese custom, it is polite to say something when beginning working with someone’s body, if only out of respect or obligation. I took care after that point to always say something like, “shitsurei shimasu,” before beginning.
All of the patients who let me work on them were very warm and encouraging. I don’t know the reason why, but almost every one said that my hands felt so warm (hot, even). They said it felt good just to have my hands on their shoulders and that I had a “natural skill.” I think they were just being nice!