I was brought up to win. To compete, to strive, to struggle, to triumph. I was taught that emotion didn’t matter, that excuses were for losers, and failure was not an option. Independence and self-sufficiency became my gods, those who leaned on others or asked for help were weak.

Well, it was a great theory. And it got me through my twenties just fine. But as you get older, you begin to realise that – no matter how hard you try, however strict your self-discipline – the future is beyond your control. Which is why an unexpected family death, a tryst with extreme ill-health, and the launch of a new venture – all within the space of a year – left me more strung out than Widow Twankey’s laundry. Sure, I was coping, but I was exhausted: my inherent positivity was fast running out, and for the first time in my life I wasn’t sleeping soundly. And my answer? Do what I’d always done: give more, try harder and win.

It didn’t work. So I finally gave in and decided to listen to what everyone from my doctor to my barista had advised: “Destress!” But, when you’re in the media – covering stories 24/7, always staying ahead of the curve – taking time off is a luxury you can’t afford. Of course it would be great to jump on a plane. But it’s impossible. Not only would I be neglecting work, I’d also end up stressed about what I was missing – a vicious circle. What to do? If only there were quick-fix tension reliever for those of us who are time-poor and stress-rich.

But there is… The answer came from a friend in a similar situation who’d done his time at the altar of stress-related ill health. The solution, he said, was simple: shiatsu.

What is shiatsu?

A dynamic body treatment which restores the balance of energy in the body, shiatsu is an 8000-year-old therapy grounded in Chinese medicine based on the assumption that the body is a self-healing organism, and that the practitioner can aid and support the process while balancing the underlying causes of a condition. And, says Emma Michael – a psychology graduate with a background in yoga who’s been practising shiatsu for seven years now and works from her own studio, The Centre – it’s perfect for dealing with stress.

“Shiatsu is both a preventative treatment that builds the immune system and deals with stress before the body is in crisis, and also an emergency therapy if you’ve got to the point where it’s hard to get out of bed,” she explains. “It will calm you down,” she clarifies, “switching the nervous system into relax mode rather than stress mode to remind you there’s more to life when you’re in balance.”

How does it work?

As Emma takes my case history, she explains she’ll be using elements of physiotherapy and osteopathy while working on the meridians and pressure points that relate to energy flow. “Having energy blockages affects your muscles. In modern society we’re constantly over-stimulated – on our phones, our laptops, in the car – and it can affect the nervous system to a huge degree,” she says, adding that, in her practice, she sees a lot of people suffering from stress. “The adrenaline can be addictive; you may want to calm down, but sometimes you enjoy that feeling of ‘keeping going’. Ultimately, it’s going to affect you physically: hormonal problems, back pain, tension, waking up in the night, tight muscles, jaw clenching…”

What happens?

images (7)As I settle into the ergonomic mat, Emma begins with an alignment of energies and, feeling the warmth spread through me, my journalistic instincts (what does that do? How does it work?) give in to a blissful state of relaxation.

It’s hard to describe everything my shiatsu session entailed, because somewhere along the line I forget to live in the past (“What haven’t I done?”) or fear the future (“What do I need to do tomorrow?”). As rivers of light flood through me, I succumb to the now – for the first time in months.

It’s a strange and wonderful sensation: as if something is inside your body, gently resetting and soothing tensions you didn’t know you had. The back of my head prickles; I can feel energy tingling in my hands and feet; a sense of everything reconnecting. There’s a gently spreading lightness that creates a bubble of golden laughter, and at the same time it’s grounding: like arriving home at the end of the day to find your house has been cleaned, your work done and your papers filed neatly in the right place.

And the result is…

For the first time in a long while, I feel on top of life. Not in the sense that I’m bursting with boundless energy and a hectic desire to get things done, but rather that my priorities are straight once more, and my internal filing system is working. And the feeling lasts. The following day, I’m calmer than I have been in a long time. I’m aware of my body again; my balance has returned and my mind has stopped its incessant whirling.

Shiatsu has accomplished – in a mere hour – a feat which I thought impossible. It’s pressed the reset button on life. Winning, it occurs to me now, as I take a break from typing and gaze at the high blue autumn sky, may be less about beating others and more about taking care of yourself.

The full text originally appeared in The Cyprus Mail

Have you ever tried shiatsu? Did it work? I’d love to hear from you!


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