I was teaching a course at the Shambhala Shiatsu School in Vienna recently and Johanna Garnitschnig, who was assisting me, added a contribution of her connection with the Extraordinary Vessels, where she described their “inner landscape”. I liked the way she described them and invited her to write a piece about her experience of working with them. As well as being a shiatsu practitioner, Johanna is a clinical health psychologist and many of her clients come to her because of psychological issues. She has found that working with the Extraordinary Vessels, has become a central core of her work.
You can read this blog in English (below) or German by clicking on the link
My experiences with shiatsu working the extraordinary vessels in clients with psychological issues, by Johanna Garnitschnig
Getting to know, experiencing and feeling the energy and power of the extraordinary vessels was, and is, like discovering and exploring a new inner world to me. I experience working on them like feeling and looking into the inner core of a person, getting a pathway to her/his personality, nature, self. The extraordinary vessels form a kind of container, a structure for the inner landscape. In a healthy person this structure is flexible as well as stabilizing. In case of imbalance one or more vessels become too tight, sometimes rigid and inflexible. Or they become too slack and lose their ability to give sufficient support. This can be visible and palpable in the body, be felt in the state of individual extraordinary vessels and in the emotional and mental condition of a person.
Emotional or psychological stress influences a person´s inner self, her/his personality. Positive life events as well as negative stressful experiences can be mentally destabilizing. Pregnancy for example is in many respects a time of change which can be very disturbing. Women with infertility issues are often assailed by doubts about life, about fate and themselves. In our practice we get repeatedly in touch with clients with different psychological issues or mental disorders.
Working with shiatsu on a person, who is under mental stress or even traumatized, I frequently experience that approaching her/him by the twelve meridians it is hard or even impossible to get access to the core. The client´s body can feel like being enveloped by a felt-like layer. I consider this coating, which is often impenetrable, as a protection of the self from the outside world. In acute mental crisis this protective layer can be quite helpful and in some cases even be of vital importance. With shiatsu we should never try to break it with particularly intense or deep work on the meridians, by mobilization of joints or stretches. This is a very crucial point: It is not about bypassing or breaking through this protective shell but about supporting the inner stabilizing structure. Psychotropic drugs can function as a kind of shield between the inner and the outer world which can be felt in a shiatsu treatment as a felt-like, tenacious and impenetrable layer. This is highly dependent on the kind of medicine and its dose.
For me the emotional and mental state of a person has a strong link to the condition of the extraordinary vessels. In my experience in most of the cases it is possible to get access to the inner core without being invasive. With quiet, holding, stabilizing shiatsu work on the extraordinary vessels we can support a client to get more stability and to organize her/his thoughts, feelings and experiences. Scattered, unstructured and unstable energy can be soothed, inner unrest can become calmness and rigidity can merge into gentle motion. With heavily traumatized clients this stabilizing work can help them not to drift into heavy thoughts, relapse into traumatic experiences, into another former reality. Consequential reactions can be reduced or it can even be impeded that memories become too overwhelming. This may allow a slow and profound integration and healing.
The extraordinary vessels have a strong connection to Yin and Yang, to the centre, the Jing, the Kidneys, the Brain and the Shen and thus also to emotions, feelings and mental health. They also regulate the defensive Qi (Wei Qi) and influence the way in which we can find our way in our environment.
For example by treating the Governing Vessel (Du Mai) we can strengthen someone´s back – also in a figurative sense – and raise her/him mentally. Via its connection with the Kidneys, the Brain and the Shen these can be positively influenced. Shiatsu work on the Conception Vessel (Ren Mai) can strengthen the front of the body. It can support an opening to the front, to the outside world, and at the same time it can provide a good protection for the self and the person and reduce sadness or anxiety. Unprocessed emotions, experiences, memories and injuries are stored in the Girdle Vessel (Dai Mai). Physically this becomes often apparent by indigestion or discomfort in the lower abdomen. Working the Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai) with shiatsu we can strengthen the Kidneys and the connection to the centre. Through its relationship to the Heart and the Shen more clarity in thinking and feeling can be obtained.
Also holding the opening points and paired points is diagnostically quite meaningful. We can very quickly get an idea about the condition of the extraordinary vessels. In addition to their opening quality they also have a stabilizing effect, connect upper and lower body, ground, anchor, connect and structure.
Another crucial element within the shiatsu treatment – diagnostically as well as therapeutically – which I consider important is including the Heart-Uterus and the Kidney-Uterus connections and do holding and connecting work on Kidney and Brain. By holding the connections I can get a good insight about the condition of the client in the beginning and during the course of treatment and perceive changes. For example I can feel inner peace or unrest, an inner trembling, emptiness, strength and also how the energy decreases or increases.
When working with mentally stressed persons and especially with people who have had traumatic experiences it is extremely important how and where we touch. Before starting the treatment, I think it is essential to ask whether there are any areas where the client does not want to be touched. In case of uncertainty concerning the client as well as yourself always ask also during the shiatsu session. We must be very attentive and perceive in every moment what is happening so that we can provide a safe space in which confidence and opening up are possible. This is a fundamental condition for recovery.
In my shiatsu work I let myself be guided by the extraordinary vessels into the inner space of the client. I listen, feel and wait for a reply. On my part, I also try to create a space, in which silence and rest, movement and development are possible. My intention in the work with the extraordinary vessels is to support a client individually in what is helpful for her/him: to calm down, to experience inner peace, to come to her/his own centre, to her/his self, to appease unsteadiness, to feel serenity, to have internal support, to make the very own inner power (again) tangible and perceptible.
Case study example
Rita (24 years) was suffering from anxiety since her childhood. Along with permanent anxiety which dampens her feelings, comes sweating, blushing and heat in her head while being in contact and communicating with other people. Often this keeps her from leaving home. She tells of strong teeth grinding at night for many years especially when she is in a mentally bad condition. Her partner is not understanding towards her. For several years she is doing psychotherapy. Recently she was medicated with an antidepressant and an anxiolytic.
Rita´s posture is very upright and looks kind of stiff. Her shoulders are slightly tilted forwards, her head is retracted. Initially she rarely makes eye contact with me. Both physically and mentally she seems to be very controlled. She shows high body tension, her jaw is working frequently, the teeth are often clenched. She seems to monitor and assess herself permanently and expects that others would do this as well.
My focus in the treatment (over a period of 4 months):
In the first shiatsu session I feel a rigid protective shell especially in Rita´s upper body which seems to keep her upright and holds together the emotional and mental confusion in her inner world. It dissolves in the course of further sessions (although the dose of medication has been increased).
My priority was strengthening her center and thus shifting the focus away from the outside world and the anxiety symptoms into her healthy inner space. Gentle, holding work on Chong Mai in the abdomen can support this. The concentrated energy from her head flows down. Rita relaxes visibly. By treating the Chong Mai in the legs and feet I try to ground the energy and anchor it. The body tension loosens and the jaw becomes much more relaxed. Also energetically there is a lot of movement. I sense an increase of clarity. Direct work on the head, the jaw, the neck and the shoulders releases a lot of tension. Using the Du Mai I try to strengthen her back and support the clarity of mind (Shen).
A clearly noticeable, strong anxiety and excitement can be appeased relatively quickly both by holding the Heart-Uterus connection as well as by working on Chong Mai. The anxiety tends to come up to the surface again and again, which makes it necessary to calm it repeatedly. I experienced that the opening point of the Chong Mai (Spleen 4) is particularly adapted for it as well. To consolidate the connection to the earth and to the outside world Bladder 62 and Kidney 6 are very supportive.
Chong Mai and Du Mai help reinforcing the Defensive Qi. With very careful work on Ren Mai the front can open up and be strengthened at the same time. This provides good protection for the inner self. Sadness and anxiety get their space if necessary, but cannot easily get out of hand. Dai Mai helps to process `undigested´ experiences and feelings from the past.
Rita tells me that her anxiety in contact with other people has diminished considerably. The unpleasant sweating had decreased in intensity and frequency. After the separation from her partner she feels lighter and freer. Altogether she is more relaxed, more balanced and happier. She had even started to work again. She can see and feel a lot of positive changes in her live and is very proud of her progresses.
Rita appears more confident and happier with herself and the world. Her posture has become more relaxed, she stopped clenching her teeth, her eyes are shining, she is more cheerful and our communication is relaxed and easy.
Medication may have a certain share of Rita´s path of recovery. However I think the shiatsu treatments and especially working the extraordinary vessels led Rita to herself and enabled her to take a deeper look into her inner world. Her self-confidence, her reflective faculty and her focusing of thought and action have been strengthened. This also supports her in being aware of her inner self while interacting and communicating with other people. I am thankful to be allowed to accompany her through the challenges and changes in life with shiatsu.