November 23rd, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blog


By Guest Blogger, Daniel Smith

There is nothing more fundamental to the understanding of Oriental Medicine than understanding the concept of Ki. It is impossible to capture the concept of Ki fully in one English phrase but it has variously been translated as ‘energy’, ‘vital energy’ or ‘life-force’. Everything in the Universe is composed of Ki. The well-respected Western practitioner of Oriental Medicine Ted Kaptchuk captures the essence of what Ki is when he describes it as “matter on the verge of becoming energy, or energy at the point of materialising”. As the Japanese say, “when Ki gathers, so the physical body is formed; when Ki disperses, so the body dies”. The best way to understand what Ki is is to take a look at what it does.

The Science of Ki

The science of Qi (Japanese for Ki) in Chinese medicine is illustrated by the theory of Yin and Yang which is represented by the above symbol. The characters for Yin and Yang are often compared to the two sides of a hill, one being shady and the other sunny. Although these two symbols are often described in terms of opposites, they are in fact two aspects of the same phenomenon which appear simultaneously and are interwoven in all the myriad processes to be observed in nature and the universe as a whole. There can be no shade without sun, no death without birth and no distinction can be made as to the exact point at which one becomes the other. It is therefore the interplay of these two aspects of phenomenon and their play together which create Ki.


“Generally speaking, Yin and Yang are just one Qi. When Yin circulates forcefully it becomes Yang.
When yang Qi congeals and consolidates it becomes Yin.”

[Zhu Xi, Beresford Cooke 2011]


The Symbol in Chinese is of a bowl of steamy hot rice. The steam is the manifestation of Ki in its most refined almost invisible form and the rice represents it in the denser, coalesced form. Ki is present in the insubstantial as well as the physical: in emotion and feeling, social movements throughout history and the infinite connections that make up the life in general.

Western scientific thought and in particular Quantum physics, talks of particles existing only in relationship to each other, interconnected infinitely so that the matter they create in the form of cells, tissues, bodies and other forms of life, can be seen as patterns of activity rather than distinct ‘things’. Likewise, Yin and Yang are not static opposites but can be observed as an ever changing, interrelated flow between two principles that produce or indeed are made up of Ki. Yin and Yang can be likened to positive and negative charges that create electric current or positive and negative poles that create a magnetic field. In this way Ki can be understood as the life force that governs the planet and it is no small coincidence that it was in China that the magnetic compass was invented. The Chinese interpretation of Heaven (Yang) and Earth (Yin) and its continuous interplay affecting all forms of life can be compared to how it is understood in western science that all of the biosphere i.e. Plants, bacteria, fish, insects and mammals are influenced by the earth’s magnetic field. It can also be observed how the oceans and by connection all forms of Ki that manifest as water, are influenced by the lunar cycle. As human beings, our bodies respond to the fluctuations of the earth’s magnetic field. The electric currents running through our bodies, the passage of micronutrients through our cell walls and all other processes that describe how life is created and maintained are all examples of Ki.

How Shiatsu works with Ki

Shiatsu can be described as a form of bodywork that employs ‘energy medicine’ and uses touch to diagnose and treat imbalances of Ki in the body that result in (dis)ease. Many medical technologies such as pacemakers and MRI scans use different forms of energy to treat illness but the human energy field or life force (Ki) cannot be measured in the same way. This has led all forms of ‘energy medicine’ to be discredited by western science not least because the of the ‘holistic’ approach being at odds with the treatment of separate systems and parts. In Shiatsu, the body is seen as a whole, all the parts and processes responsible for animating and maintaining us are connected. The relationship between tissues and cells is not seen as only a material one. They can be described as containing a charge, wavelength and frequency where messages are carried from cell to cell by an identifiable vibration that practitioners train to attune themselves to. Thus, ‘energy medicine’ can influence and alter our chemical balance and hormones or affect our metabolic processes and emotions. The Schumann resonance which measures the charge created by the lightning that strikes the surface of the earth some two hundred times a second has been proven to have the exact same frequency as human brainwaves. This confirms that our bodies are not only influences by the earth’s magnetic field but also that they resonate at the same frequency found in the earth’s atmosphere, between the surface of the earth and the ionosphere. This interplay of Yin and Yang, mirrored and repeated throughout the living world can help to illustrate the role of Shiatsu in terms of the mechanics of energy flowing throughout the meridian system and its manipulation through touch to restore harmony and balance. It is this interaction of yin and Yang that can be said to create Ki and it’s the job of the Shiatsu practitioner to work with it.

 A good Shiatsu practitioner will employ a combination of bodywork, applying physical pressure and stretching the body tissues, and ‘energy medicine’ which is the manipulation and restoration of balance with the life force of the body known as Ki.


“The common conception that Shiatsu is no more than the application of strong digital pressure on single points
of the body misrepresents the truth. Shiatsu is based on a full Oriental medical system, which explains the human
body in terms of a network of meridians through which flows an energy called Ki.”

Shizuto Masunaga ‘Zen Shiatsu: How to Harmonize Yin and Yang for Better Health’, 1977.


The molecules in the human body broadcast to each other via the flow of charge between the tissues so that, for example a hormone molecule sends an electromagnetic signal to other receiver cells and doesn’t have to physically encounter them. Ki influences our thoughts, feelings and physical body and Oriental medicine does not differentiate between mind and matter: both are forms of Ki in different aspects.  When the Japanese ask how are you (nan ki des’ka) they are literally asking ‘how is your Ki today?’. How one is experiencing a level of health or ill health is fundamental to the concept of Ki. The magnetic signals that pass throughout the bodies tissues can be understood as a person’s internal communication system. A Shiatsu practitioner trains to tune into the magnetic sensitivity in their hands to feel this as it is happening and understand it as the flow of Ki. When Ki becomes stuck or fails to flow smoothly it leads to a state of (dis)ease and Shiatsu practitioners aim to restore flow within the meridians to regain balance and therefore health in the receiver. When the energy of giver and receiver are enmeshed a healing process it made available. A practitioner tunes into the receivers needs and intuition can play a significant roll especially if it is sensed that there is an underlying psychological aspect to the receivers complaint.

Human energy fields do in fact influence each other even when they don’t come into direct contact. For example, when we get the feeling that someone is watching us and we turn around to meet their eyes or we walk into a room and there is a palpable tension in the air. Likewise, when we are in the presence of someone who has a deep love and non-judgmental attitude towards us then we feel that we can relax and enjoy the encounter on a deep level. This highlights the important role of intention within the therapeutic encounter and has been coined as ‘Unconditional Positive Regard’ by the psychotherapist Carl Rogers. Essentially this means have a feeling of compassion towards a client whilst honoring their self-healing ability. This goes right to the heart of Oriental medical theory which views the human system as having the ability to self-heal and the role of the practitioner as to aid this process. During the Shiatsu encounter, there is a communication between the energy fields of giver and receiver that often occurs beneath the level of conscious awareness:


“Eleven million ‘bits’ or units of information from our senses is the minimum number estimated to reach the
brain each second. Of these eleven million our conscious awareness registers…50 bits, according to the
maximum estimation. The remaining 10 999 950 are experienced as ‘intuitions’ or ‘hunches’, among other
things. According to the Danish mathematician, Tor Norretranders, ‘trust your hunches and intuitions-they are
closer to reality than your perceived reality, as they are based on far more information.”

Zimmermann 1989.


The human Energy Field or HEF can be measured using electronic Photonic Imaging (EPI) or Gas Discharge Visualization technology which is based upon the stimulation and recording of photon and electron emissions of an object. This discharge is recorded by the GDV Bio-well camera system which converts it into a HEF image and generates energy readings using sophisticated computer software. For centuries researchers have been trying to capture images of these subtle energy layers and it is now possible record images of the HEF at the tips of the fingers and thumbs, recording the energy status of each Yin/Yang meridian and associated organ. It has been found during these studies that the glow of the HEF was significantly affected by the persons wellbeing and that images taken post Shiatsu treatment showed improved brightness, clarity and uniformity of the HEF image. The images show fewer holes (Ki deficiency) and spikes (Ki excess) and treatment appeared to enhance the flow of Ki and improve energy balance. A reduction is stress levels and emotional disturbance along with an improvement in relaxation and an enhancement in the natural healing process were also found. Results also showed an improvement in blood, lymphatic flow and overall vitality.

Murray Nicholson MRSS. Shiatsu Society Journal Autumn 2017.


 As practitioners, we attempt to tune into this subliminal energy link with our receiver, often termed the ‘sympathetic resonance’. Since it is inbuilt and an instinctive aspect of human awareness it can be learned and develop so that one doesn’t necessarily need to be born with a gifted healing ability. Examples of such highly regarded healers can be found throughout history. It’s interesting to note that it is only a modern phenomenon that sees a strict dichotomy between different professions: Doctors for medical problems, Psychiatrists for problems of the mind and priests or Spiritual Guides to address spiritual matters. In the past, a Spiritual Guide would perform all these functions simultaneously. An example of such a person is the Buddhist master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche who is my teacher. As well as being a Buddhist scholar and Tantric Master he was also a healer when he lived in Tibet and the sick were said to que for miles outside his retreat hut in order to seek a healing encounter with him. As someone who has attained a deep experience of Universal compassion and who has devoted his life to cherishing others, this kind of example again illustrates the important role of intention in the healing encounter. In Buddhist thought what determines the Karmic effect of an action, whether it ripens as an experience of suffering or happiness, is entirely dependent on the intention with which it was performed. By viewing the person we encounter as in essence a perfect, pure being who is just temporarily under the influence of delusion (dis-ease of the mind) or physical imbalance, then a calm and non-judgmental space is created whereby real authentic healing can take place. This non-judgmental or pure view is then perhaps the most important quality one needs to develop in order to become a truly authentic practitioner in the healing arts.

In tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism, instead of Ki and Meridians it is channels and inner winds that are spoken of. It is said that all our different minds are mounted upon inner winds which transport the mind to its object:


“Internal winds are the winds in the continuum of a person that flow through the channels of the body. The main function
of internal wind is to move the mind to its object. The function of the mind is to apprehend objects, but without a wind
to act as its mount it cannot move towards, or establish a connection with, its object. Mind is sometimes likened to
a lame person who can see, and wind to a blind person with legs. It is only by operating together with internal
winds that minds can function.”

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso; Mahamudra Tantra P.200-201.


Without a wind, the eye awareness couldn’t apprehend a visual form. When we are asleep the reason we cannot see is because this wind has withdrawn back into the subtle mind at the heart. This enables us to continue to ‘see’ in our dreams but would be understood as subtle visual awareness and that experienced in our waking state as a gross awareness. As a preliminary to meditation exercises such as yoga are performed to enhance and encourage the free flow of wind within the channels. During meditation, concentration (which can be seen as the result of gaining control over the minds and inner winds upon which they are mounted),  is developed in order to bring the inner winds into the central channel where the mind becomes increasingly more subtle and can be mixed with emptiness or the true nature of reality. This is where enlightenment is cultivated and experienced once extremely advanced levels of concentration or Tranquil Abiding have been attained. Revealingly, the highest attainments in Buddhist meditation can only be attained if there is first cultivated the supreme mind of Bodhichitta which is the wish to become enlightened for the benefit of all living beings to lead them out of a state of suffering or Samsara. So again, a pure intention is seen as the only vehicle powerful enough to bring about a profound transformation or liberation from suffering.

In Shiatsu treatments, we use techniques such as palming with our hands to locate the meridians that are out of balance. Kyo qualities in the tissues can manifest as emptiness or hollowness and tends to feel inert or devoid of vital energy. Jitsu qualities in the tissues often feel full and can be felt as areas of tension and can feel resilient to touch as if the Ki is ‘fighting back’. In a jitsu area the aim will be to disperse the Ki and the application of pressure in this instance would be gentler and there may be more ‘holding’ and sedating as if to encourage the Ki on its way. Conversely in an area identified as Kyo, the aim would be to tonify or increase the Ki so more vigor would be employed and an intention on behalf on the giver to direct their own Ki into the area employed.


“The Kyo-Jitsu reaction is essentially the meeting and interaction of Yin and Yang, of positive and negative charge that
generates Ki. When we experience the reaction, we are tuning in to the process which is generating the receivers Ki-field
at the time of the session and it can be interpreted on a wide range of levels, from the structural to the spiritual. The
meridians involved in the Kyo-Jitsu reaction are in a relationship similar to that of Yin and Yang- they are movements
of Ki which combine to produce the receivers Ki-field, her life and consciousness, at that moment in time. Considered
together, they are a composite picture including both obvious and hidden.”

Carola Beresford-Cooke, Shiatsu Theory and Practice 2011. P. 337.


As a practitioner of ‘energy medicine’ it is essential to take good care of our own Ki. Most of us don’t own a GDV Bio-well camera but we can attune our own bodies to register and adjust the Ki of another person. Tai-Chi and Yoga promote an awareness of our own Ki and allow us to observe in real time its movement around the body. A relaxed mental awareness serves to improve our experience of Ki so cultivating a meditation practice is also invaluable. A balanced and healthy diet is also an imperative since this represents our intake of Ki. Above all cultivation of an awareness of Ki within ourselves and the universe we inhabit, it’s the best thing we can do.


For further details about Daniel, and contact information, please click here. 

  1. Joanne Faulkner said on November 24th, 2017 3:49 pm:

    I would like to share this particular blog on the Shiatsu Society Ireland Facebook page but I only seem able to share the site as a whole – could you add a share button to this blog – many thanks Joanne Faulkner

  2. shiatsuhealthpoint said on November 25th, 2017 10:24 am:

    Hi Joanne, There are share buttons at the top of the blog to the social media sites.