A new study showing that stress and anger causes heart disease – is a reminder of why mental health should be a priority.
It’s official. Stress is as risky as smoking and high blood pressure – because emotional turbulence causes inflammation of the arteries that can trigger a heart attack or stroke. Research by Harvard Medical School published in The Lancet this week makes sense of the idiom ‘anger makes my blood boil’.
The study aligns Western Science with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which is the theoretical basis for the bodywork therapy Shiatsu. These holistic Eastern disciplines have long believed that worry and difficult emotions are a major cause of physical disease. They approach the body and mind as a single entity and make a direct connection between the condition of the blood and arteries – and the stillness and clarity of the mind. In Chinese Medicine, the mind or awareness is known as “Shen” and resides in the blood.
Shiatsu’s success at soothing stress and difficult emotions means it is increasingly popular in mainstream mental health services. London and South Maudsley NHS Trust say a Shiatsu project set up in 2010, is one of its most “valued” interventions. Sarah Cook, head of occupational therapy at the Trust, said: “Service users, carers and staff alike have spoken highly of the impact this has made on their sense of well being. Particular reference has been made to renewed energy, improved motivation, reduction of side effects as well as reduced tension, improved healing and increased hope.”
Here are some of the tools Shiatsu practitioners use to boost mental health
Acupuncture Points – there are specific acupuncture points in the head, neck, arm, chest and leg that take pressure away from the chest, cool the blood and quieten the mind. These points alleviate physical and mental symptoms simultaneously, For example CV17 on the chest bone helps palpitations and cardiac pain and anxiety and panic attacks. HP6 on the lower arm calms the Shen or consciousness and relieves congestion in the chest.
Human Touch – instead of a cold and clinical needle, Shiatsu therapists uses the warmth of human touch, working thumbs, fingers, palms, elbows and knees to manipulate, stretch the body from head to toe. The feeling of being connected with another person through touch can be a powerful tool for dealing with mental health problems which often leave people feeling socially isolated and disconnected. It helps reconnect mind and body to the outside world.
Muscle release – Shiatsu therapists are trained to find and release areas of tension, which almost always triggers an audible “sigh” and a subsequent improvement in the quality of the breath. For example the psoas muscle, connecting the back to the legs, can become chronically tightened in times of stress as it prepares the body to run from danger. Stretching the psoas enables a release deep which can be profoundly satisfying for body and mind. When muscles release, the breath deepens and lengthens, which in turn stimulates the rest and digest functions of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Therapeutic space – Shiatsu is not mere mechanics – it is equally important to create a nurturing space where a person can take time out and be comfortably themselves – in silence or conversation, in tears or laughter, in a doze or highly alert.
Self discovery – Last but not least receiving Shiatsu is an immensely enjoyable opportunity to be totally pampered while developing self awareness. Treatments are an opportunity for self discovery because they provide a mirror to ourselves. For example they give people insight into habitual and often unconscious habits that contribute to a painful mental outlook. Clenched teeth, hunched shoulders, arms and fists braced for action and a shallow intake of breath will prolong feelings of stress, even after the stress situation has removed.
In treatment we become aware of our unhelpful habits of holding ourselves – which makes it easier to take steps to improve our way of being and moving in the world.