I studied Zen Shiatsu with Reuho Yamada, who learned directly from Masanaga, the originator of Zen Shiatsu in Japan. Zen Shiatsu had more dynamics, creativity, and flow than other styles of Shiatsu, using all parts of the hands, elbows, knees, and even integrated stretches.
Early in the 1980s, Reuho Yamada was attracting huge crowds of mostly young people in San Francisco, on the highest peak overlooking the San Francisco Bay Area — it was quite a scene.
I fell in love with the flow of Zen Shiatsu as a form of movement meditation. The way Zen Shiatsu used the body to release another human being’s tension was so powerful, yet graceful. Different parts of the hand and elbow were used for both sensitive people with vulnerabilities, as well as for large and muscular people who need deep pressure for their healing. I discovered what points and meridians were stimulated in each of the Zen Shiatsu techniques.
Reuho Yamada was a very influential teacher for me, and I had great respect for him. I’m grateful to have received a complete individual session from him. I thought it would be deep and painful, something extreme from the master himself. But Reuho’s Zen Shiatsu session was flowing, skillful, seamless, and not harsh. He was remarkably relaxed as he let go. As in the book, Zen in the Art of Archery, he aimed and surrendered all of himself, leaning his weight into the center of the body being treated. The experience of receiving a treatment directly from the master demystified my concepts of Shiatsu Therapy.
Reuho Yamada was a monk in a Japanese monastery who led the burial ceremony. When his blind father died, Reuho lead the
monastery. He was asked to come to San Francisco to treat Suziki Roshi, who was famous for writing Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Once he was in the U.S., the Zen Center in San Francisco asked Reuho Yamada to lead the Center, but he declined. He preferred giving Zen Shiatsu workshops and spiritual talks instead.
Reuho was very humble and spontaneous, and also often playful and expansive. One moment, covered in silk robes, he would talk about the ancient sutras and traditional Shiatsu healing qualities. In the next, he would surprise everyone, when he’d say, “I believe — that in this country, American women are far-out!” He gave a huge smile and a slight bow with the palms of his hands together.
He started his classes by having students close their eyes and rotate their head slowly around. He instructed us by saying,
“Let your mind go as you move your upper body. Just relax your mind, and expand your consciousness. Start by feeling the inside of your head, relax your skull, let yourself go, open to expand your mind, experience the space within the room … become conscious of the entire city, and now open your mind to the whole universe.”
He would guide us with that movement meditation to expand our awareness of the oneness of creation, to comprehend the essence of the Zen in practicing Shiatsu. The guided meditation and the essence of expanding oneself through opening up the breath and the energy in the meridians are central to Zen Shiatsu teachings.
I asked him to teach at my Acupressure school in Berkeley, California, after I had studied with him for a couple of years. His Zen Shiatsu instruction expressed a deep mastery. It made me proud to have Reuho teach my students at the Acupressure Institute, which I founded and ran for many years.
Twenty years later, I was absolutely astounded when he showed up at my home in Maui. It was towards the end of his life, and he was legally blind and recovering from cancer. We sat one-on-one for several hours and practiced Zen Shiatsu on each other. Reuho wanted me to press 50 pounds of pressure into his lower back, behind his kidneys.
We took turns giving and receiving, so he could show me exactly what his verbal instruction meant. I can still feel him pressing his elbow into my lower back using his whole body weight. For me and my wife, it was an awesome blessing to be in his presence. A year later, Reuho passed away from cancer.
In teaching Zen Shiatsu, one of my main goals is to show students how to lean their weight and synchronize their breath with their body movements. I am jubilant when that dance occurs.
In addition, I incorporate my knowledge of the Acupressure points — what specific points are being pressed, how those points work, and what their benefits are. When you include the specific points that are stimulated in applying Zen Shiatsu techniques, it provides another healing focus to the teachings.
Reuho Yamada taught Zen Shiatsu in definitive detail, as if he had an endless wealth of practical techniques. From his teachings, I compiled a one-hour instructional Zen Shiatsu video. In the video, I demonstrate from head to toe the techniques I learned from Reuho Yamada, in order to make his meditative healing bodywork methods available to the world. Zen Shiatsu continues to be one of my favorite modalities to practice and receive to this day. You’ll find that Shiatsu techniques are included in some of the Acupressure routines you’ll find on this site.
Another resource for you is my illustrated Shiatsu Instruction booklet. It shows 50 traditional Shiatsu techniques and has a complete bodywork program with treatment routines.
My undying gratitude goes to Reuho Yamada for instilling in me the fortitude to share this healing practice.