This calming, yet energizing, Japanese practice can help you soothe mind, body and soul.
When poet Walt Whitman wrote the line, “I sing the body electric,” he could have been talking about Jin Shin Jyutsu, a physio-philosophy that teaches us how to hear our body’s distress signals and use them to heal. Based on the belief in a dynamic flow of energy (chi) that runs through channels in the body, Jin Shin Jyutsu (pronounced “jin-shin-jit-soo”) is an age-old Japanese healing art that allows us to release blockages along those pathways.
The gridlock caused by the daily stresses that wear down our physical and emotional constitution is addressed through 26 “safety energy locks” located at key points along these channels — at the top of the head or end of our pinkie fingers, for instance, or at the center and base of the sternum. These spots act as circuit breakers to protect the body when one or more of the passages becomes blocked.
Think of what happens when you blow a fuse in your house and it’s easy to understand the concept: Once a safety energy lock shuts down, it manifests a symptom in a corresponding part of the body, like the lights going out in a room. This is the body’s internal circuitry saying, “Wake up!” The resulting disruption in energy flow can cause muscle aches, cranky joints, or merely a feeling of malaise.
Conscientious health spas (as well as private practitioners and some medical centers) are embracing Jin Shin Jyutsu as a means of alleviating stress and discomfort for clients open to the experience. There is nothing passive about this therapy — self-care is as integral to Jin Shin Jyutsu as it is to shiatsu, putting the power of physical health and harmony into your own hands.
So how does Jin Shin Jyutsu respond to your body’s all-points bulletin? It’s as if the hands were jumper cables, restarting the flow of energy through a “broken” safety lock. A practitioner uses his or her fingertips (instead of needles, like those used in acupuncture) to apply gentle pressure by lightly touching or holding the body’s various safety locks for a set amount of time. Based on the concept of mudras, the holds have profound healing capabilities.
Jill Holden, a practitioner in Northern California, starts each session by feeling a client’s pulse in both wrists, “listening to the body’s language” in order to identify where the energy is blocked. She then applies her hands to the locks, gently pressing and holding different points in tandem, all the while synchronizing the pulse she feels. For instance, she might start by placing the fingertips of one hand on the top of the head, simultaneously using the other hand to press the area between the eyebrows. After a certain amount of time, Holden moves on to a different combination of points to bring about a particular result — whether to relieve pain, insomnia, and fatigue, or restore emotional, hormonal, and mental balance. Each holding pattern is called a “flow,” and each flow addresses a different aspect of the body’s well-being. Over the course of a session, she uses a sequence of flows that may involve points on the fingers, toes, arms, legs, and back.
A typical session lasts around an hour, while you lie face up and fully clothed on a cushioned massage table. The effects percolate for about eight hours. Both Judy Brooks and Cayte Holland, therapists at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona, find that guests normally experience feelings of deep relaxation and peacefulness after a session. During the 12 years that Jin Shin Jyutsu has been offered at the spa, there has been a steady increase in interest, particularly in the past few years. “More and more people want to treat the total being, energetically and physically,” says Brooks. “As we become more health conscious, we want to do something for ourselves that is truly healing, as opposed to the simple luxury of classic spa treatments.”
Jin Shin Jyutsu also offers a self-care component that intrigues clients interested in living healthier lives. “Once they’ve experienced the treatment, my clients want to learn more about it so they can practice it on themselves as well as their family members and friends,” notes Brooks. Holden also passes along the techniques to people she works on, believing that by practicing it daily, they can prolong the benefits of each session and remain in better balance going forward.
Jim Root, spa director of Miraval in Tucson, Arizona, believes Jin Shin Jyutsu is favored by some guests because it produces results similar to acupuncture without the use of needles, which scare some people. Miraval offers Jin Shin Jyutsu alongside other holistic body work such as shiatsu, reiki, Thai massage, reflexology, and chi nei tsang. Ara Jin, a treatment unique to Miraval, combines the modality with color therapy. “All of these treatments tap into the body’s vital energy, release emotion, and rejuvenate the metabolism,” says Root. Over the course of a spa retreat, this can translate into a remarkable sense of recovery from the daily impact of stress or even more serious illnesses.
Jin Shin Jyutsu dates back to the early 1900s, when a Japanese philosopher, Jiro Murai, rediscovered its concepts in a very personal way — he practiced its tenets to recover from a life-threatening illness. Mary Burmeister, a student of Murai, brought the healing art to the United States in the 1950s, and today there are thousands of students and practitioners throughout the world as a result of her work.
Dorothy Richmond, a veteran therapist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, which introduced Jin Shin Jyutsu to visitors 20 years ago, has seen the benefits firsthand. “For people in pain, it offers almost instantaneous relief,” she says. Health professionals have also applied the therapy to the post-operative recovery process, using it to relieve pain and nausea in patients and stress and anxiety in nurses. A study by the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, looking into the effects of Jin Shin Jyutsu on fatigue, nausea, and quality of life during treatment for breast cancer is due out soon.
For anyone living with chronic conditions or life-threatening illness, Jin Shin Jyutsu is an invaluable complement to conventional healing methods. “The diseases of our time center around compromised immune systems,” claims Holden. “People get sick more often and stay sick longer,” she notes, citing the American lifestyle of fatty foods, too little exercise, smoking, overconsumption of alcohol, and overworking as culprits. “The end result is that more people are suffering from a variety of immune-related diseases, including cancer, Epstein Barr, and chronic fatigue.” Half of Holden’s client base is comprised of cancer patients. This is how I came to find her.
Shortly after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I began visiting Holden on a weekly basis to help me get through the chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries that I would undergo over the next two years. After a few months of weekly treatments, I was convinced that Jin Shin Jyutsu was the primary reason that my body, mind, and spirit were faring so well under the circumstances.
Even though I had lost my hair during treatment, everyone was telling that I was the healthiest looking cancer patient they had ever seen. Learning to practice the modality on myself has been a gift I would have never received had I not been diagnosed with cancer. By day, while undergoing chemo, it prevented me from feeling nauseous. By night, it helped me overcome insomnia. During radiation, it helped me fight fatigue. And after surgery, it helped to reduce pain and speed up my recovery.
But the real beauty of Jin Shin Jyutsu lies in its ability to help us find the balance in our daily lives. With a few simple gestures and moments of mindfulness, we hold the power to release anxiety, eliminate headaches, and generally dispel the unease that accumulates with stress. With Jin Shin Jyutsu, renewed energy and a clear mind are just a few hand holds away.
JIN SHIN JYUTSU AT HOME
Despite its esoteric principles, Jin Shin Jyutsu is an ancient art that anyone can use without much training. Many of these exercises, known as holds, are so discreet that you can do them anywhere. Try to maintain the suggested positions for five to ten minutes at a time. The pressure should be gentle yet firm.
Anxiety and depression
Wrap the fingers of one hand around the thumb of the other and hold; switch hands and repeat.
Place your fingertips in the creases between the torso and hips to the left and right of the groin. You can do this sitting, standing, or lying.
Clarity and memory
With the whole hand pressed gently on the top of the head, hold the tips of the fingers on your other hand to the third eye in the middle of the forehead. This hold stimulates memory and recall, as well as clarity.
Compromised immune system
Place left hand over left shoulder with fingertips and top of back/base of neck, to left of spine. Place right thumb over index, middle, ring, and pinkie fingernails, separately, one to two minutes each. Reverse hands and repeat both steps.
Sit on either the back of your hands or the palms of your hands.
Encircle the thumb on one hand with the thumb and middle finger (curl it under so the nail makes contact) of the other for a total body energizer.
Sit cross-legged. Hold both big toes with opposite hands. If this position is uncomfortable, sit in a chair and press your hands into the insides of opposite knees.
Heart conditions and poor circulation
Wrap the fingers of one hand around the pinkie of the other and hold; switch hands and repeat.
Hold the pad of the thumb, then pinkie, on each hand for five minutes each, but don’t stay up to finish.
Wrap your hand around your index finger or cross your arms and apply slight pressure on the inside of your knees until you start to feel better.
PMS and menopause
Place three fingers on the right side of your neck, applying light pressure. On your other hand, place your thumb over the nail of your ring finger.
Jennifer Omholt first published this article in SPA magazine’s 2005 Worldwide Guide. She is a professional writer, cancer advocate and 20-year cancer survivor writing a book for newly diagnosed cancer patients entitled, The Cancer Playbook: A survivor’s guide through the critical weeks after diagnosis.