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Herbs and Shiatsu are like Mother Hand and Son Hand

I was a budding herbalist when I started learning Zen Shiatsu. Up until then I had been spending a lot of time with my plant friends in the mixed deciduous/coniferous forests of the Adirondacks. When I began my shiatsu training I became aware of some of my blind spots. My introverted nature led me to center my study in a very Yin place where I focused mostly on the nature and function of the plants. With my initiation into the world of Zen Shiatsu it became apparent that I had been ignoring the more Yang part of the equation, the Humans!

Equipped with a higher resolution and wider panorama I immediately got to work merging the two realms into a cohesive strategy. Shiatsu is like Son Hand, it moves, it happens immediately. Herbs are like mother hand, their stillness provides a stable base for transformation. Using pulse, hara and meridian palpation it is possible to get a much more accurate understanding of what is going on than with questioning alone.

At the beginning, when I was still a novice and my experience had not yet begun to fill out, I focused primarily on topical herb use. I began to prepare herbal liniments and oils that I apply directly to acu-points or along the entire meridian pathway. I select herbs that accentuate or balance the energetic qualities of the channel I am working with. For example I may use cinnamon or rose at CV14 on a patient who’s HT is Kyo to warm and invigorate the channel. If HT is Jitsu I would choose Gardenia or Jasmine for their cooling effects (these all make for a delicious post session tea as well). When people present with sports injuries they get a plaster with herbs that are blood invigorating, anti-inflammatory and analgesic. I usually apply topical herbs near the end of a session so that the sticky or oily texture does not interfere with shiatsu. For cold, in the lower burner, I heat a small pillow containing rock salt, cinnamon, fennel, ginger and mugwort then place it on CV4 or GV4. Salt can be empowered with various healing mantras and also holds the heat for a long time.

It is a blurry line between Aromatherapy and some of the previous therapies I mentioned. However, it is worth discussing as a separate item. The part of the brain that processes smell is very instinctual and ancestral. Smell often has the ability to access memories from deep in the subconscious and effortlessly effect subtle shifts in the nervous system. A diffuser is a great way to employ this strategy. For those who prefer a more low-tech approach it is simple to place a few drops of essential oil on the 4 corners of the futon. Citrus has a sunny quality that is good for patients who’s Ki is very cloudy and sad. Lavender and chamomile are light and cooling flowers for people with a lot of heat. Angelica and clove are great at invigorating the blood. If there is good ventilation and the patient can tolerate it, incense is a more traditional approach. Recently, I have been blending my own incense. When my technique is adequate, I plan on making preparations that address specific conditions.

Now days, I am equally comfortable treating my patients with shiatsu and internal herbs. I often utilize both. It is common that I give shiatsu to move deeply entrenched patterns and then follow with a customized herbal formula. The daily dosing of an herbal formula re-enforces the momentum created by the shiatsu and can also replenish substances that are lacking ion the body. Together they work

synergistically to achieve quicker more permanent results.

Whatever skill level you enter at, adding herbs to your shiatsu practice can further improve your treatments by increasing inertia, longevity and specificity. They work together in harmony like Mother Hand and Son Hand.


Chilán Mustain is a Shiatsu Practitioner, Herbalist, Acupuncturist and above all a Student of Life. He has been studying Herbalism since childhood, practicing Shiatsu since 2003, practicing Acupuncture since 2014 and specializing in Japanese Meridian Therapy since 2015. He is currently practicing and teaching both online and in person in Tucson Arizona. This January he will initiate the second cohort of a year long online Herbal Alchemy Apprenticeship. For people near Tucson, there will also be a 2 day class with CEUs on Zen Shiatsu for Table. For more information go to

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