Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Applying the 5 Principles of Ohashiatsu to Community Engagement

Recently I was looking through old files and came across this list of principles for practicing a certain kind of shiatsu massage called Ohashiatsu. I trained in this body work practice when I was working as a chaplain as a way to help me understand how to be present with people’s bodies as I encountered them in the hospital.  Ohashiatsu practice works off the paradoxical idea that when we are serving another person, the more we try to “do something,” the less effective we will be.

I thought there was some great applicability to community work, as well, so I’ll share the principles here. I’m just going to present them without interpreting what they mean for community work.  Rather I’ll ask the question that comes to my mind as I think about the principle. I’d love to know what you think about it and how you see the principles connecting with what you are doing with community engagement.

Principle 1: Just Be There. Don’t Press.

The first principle tells us to simply be present and to pay more attention to our own state of being than to the state of the person we are trying to “help.”  Be in tonus—quiet, self-connected, balanced, ready to respond, listening.  Don’t work. Don’t maneuver. Don’t wear yourself out.  Rather than pressing, the person giving the treatment simply leans into the receiver and the receiver supports the giver.  Indeed, the bigger, the heavier, the more difficult the receiver, the more you have to give yourself up to be in tonus. The more you have to simply lean in. When we press, it is our egos pressing. When we press, we quickly become tired.  Ohashiatsu teaches us that when we attend to the well-being and comfort of our own bodies, we can listen to the other with more joy. The receiver can tell the difference!

What does it look like to be in tonus in our community engagement?

Principle 2: Use Both Hands. Make a Connection

Make a connection with the receiver with both hands. This allows you to stay balanced. You can support your own body more easily with 2 hands and this also allows greater ease of movement.  When you fully use both hands, one hand is still. It holds, listens, diagnoses, attends to the other. This is the “Mother Hand.”  The second hand, the “Messenger Hand,” acts based on information from the Mother Hand.  When you use both hands in this way, you can feel with one hand the receiver’s reaction to what the other hand is doing.  This also helps the receiver to relax because they are being grounded by the Mother Hand as the Messenger Hand applies the treatment. Using both hands in this way allows for a continuous process of diagnosis and response.

What are the hands that we bring into our work? How can we practice so we are both listening and acting simultaneously?

Principle 3:  Be Continuous

Shiatsu understands the body as having energy meridians that run the length of our bodies and affect how we feel physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Many of these energy meridians run from the top of the head down to the toes.  An Ohashiatsu treatment tries to work continuously with the whole meridian in mind, not just focusing on specific points.  The entire meridian is connected. So even though the head and the toes seem far apart, they are part of the same field and can’t be separated.  Working with continuity also helps the receiver relax and maintain trust. They always know where the giver is going and are never surprised or jolted.

Where are the energy meridians that run through the communities that we work with? How can we work harmoniously across the whole line of energy?

Principle 4: Be Natural

The first task with Ohashiatsu is always to enjoy yourself. If you are enjoying yourself, the tonus will come. Don’t pretend to be something other than what you are.  Don’t try to force the healing or your own capacity to be present. Allow the natural energy to come to you rather than seeking it. Become a vessel. You’re not the healer! The healing is not in your hands!

What are your natural gifts that you can bring to the community with joy and pleasure?

Principle 5: Be Reverent. Be Compassionate

Feel healing love toward the receiver. Believe in the universal higher energy that is the source of that healing love and allow it flow through you.


A joint project of Advocate Health Care & the OCEAN-HP at the University of Illinois at Chicago.