Let the Qi do the Talking: body-friendly language for shiatsu

Shiatsu is about touch. Our hands, feet and body weight are our primary instruments to get the Qi of our clients flowing. By moving the body, we move the mind. There is no need to speak to our clients, because their body tells us what’s going on inside. Right? Well, this might not be the whole story. Nick Pole, UK-based shiatsu practitioner and teacher, combines shiatsu with Clean Language, a fusion of cognition and mindfulness. Let’s have a word with Nick.

No lust for reading? Then maybe you like to watch the interview..

Who is Nick Pole?

“I’ve been a shiatsu practitioner and teacher for 30 years and one thing I love is making connections between things which are often thought of as separate: between conscious mind and body-mind, for example, and between words and touch. As a shiatsu teacher I specialize in bringing language into a shiatsu session, in a body-friendly way.”

This body-friendly way is Clean Language?

“Yes, a mixture of Clean Language and a few other ingredients to help the process along. The purpose is to help the client develop a more mindful relationship with whatever is going on for them. So rather than thinking: ‘I must go to a shiatsu practitioner to take my symptom away’, it’s about getting to know what your body is trying to tell you with this symptom. Being able to develop a conversation between your mind and body.”

What led you to Clean Language as a therapy?

“When I did research for my own book, ’Words That Touch’, I came across a truly inspiring book, ‘The Master and His Emissary’, by Iain McGilchrist, about why the two halves of our brain perceive the world in very different ways and don’t communicate very well with each other. For most people, the left side, where language is processed, dominates our day-to-day experience. It can only interpret that experience in terms of what it already knows. It’s very good at denying anything that doesn’t fit with those existing categories and labels and sees the body as simply a collection of mechanical parts. In the right hemisphere we connect with our embodied feelings, seeing ourselves as a whole and sensing our connection with what is actually happening in the moment. When you use Clean Language you are inviting the left hemisphere to find language for our non-verbal embodied experience.”

And what is the relation between Clean Language and mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is thought of as a way of being more curious and open towards what is happening in the moment. But it is also about being connected to your body, about your embodied experience. Shiatsu is such a beautiful way to help people develop this sense of experience. When you sprinkle in a few questions to that process, the mind and body begin to realize that they are one. Mindfulness creates the space where that dialogue between brain and the body can be really fruitful.”

Nick Pole Clean Language

What is the value of Clean Language to a shiatsu therapist?

“In a rather subtle way, Clean questions are a form of mindfulness training for the therapist.  We become more aware of our own thoughts. Clean questions help us to filter out our ego, our theories, our pre-suppositions so that we can truly apply that fundamental Zen principle of ‘Not Knowing’ to the way we are present with our client.”

How do you use Clean Language in a shiatsu session?

“I begin by asking the usual questions: what has brought them to see me? What has their doctor told them? Then I invite the client just to sit in a more-or-less meditative way and to answer – if any answers come –  a few simple questions that might help them to connect with what is going on inside. As a person pays attention to what their body is trying to tell them, symptoms begin to shift. Something new might come into their awareness. A traumatic memory may resurface, but in a safe kind of way. This prepares the ground for the actual shiatsu treatment.”

And during the session?

“Once the shiatsu begins, it is up to the client if they want to continue to talk. Most will go off into some other kind of zone, processing what has emerged from the Clean questions. At the end I ask a couple of valuable closing questions. This helps a client to make sense of what happened and to find out what is different about their relationship with the symptom, and what they can do themselves after the session in everyday life to change that relationship.”

So you are a guide in their inner journey?

“A facilitator and sometimes a bit of a guide. I ask clients to feel that they are in charge of the process as much as I am. I don’t know what is going on for them. I use Clean questions to start a conversation between their conscious mind and the body-mind. We shiatsu practitioners are not taking responsibility to solve the problems of our clients. We give them ways to get back to everyday life with more resources.”

How quick does it work?

“I don’t use Clean Language to get quick results, but to help clients to start that conversation with their body and to take it with them into their everyday life. Often in shiatsu our clients come from a very busy, exhausting life. They lie down on the mat, have a very relaxing hour, then jump up and go straight back into that dominant left-hemisphere, thinking about tomorrow’s To-Do list. I am using Clean questions to get people more curious about the patterns behind their problems and symptoms. To take responsibility. It is an invitation to listen to the story your body tells you, again and again.”

When I am your client, and you ask me Clean questions, do I answer them to you or to myself?

“To yourself – that’s the whole point! I tell my clients: this is not a psychotherapeutic conversation. It’s about how can I ask you the kind of questions that help you to have a conversation with yourself. These questions make it very difficult for me as a therapist to impose my ideas, theories, my desire to get results, onto the client’s space. The harder it is for me to bring my own stuff into their space, the more likely it is that something important will arise from within them. That’s why it’s called ‘Clean’ language.  For me, there’s a purity and an emptiness to it that really resonates with the Taoist and Zen roots of shiatsu.”


Curious about Clean Language? Visit Nick’ workshop at the European Shiatsu Congress in Amsterdam, Sept 4,5,6th 2020.
Thank you’s🙏:
Translation: Adeline Kuiken



Bij Happy Hara kun je terecht voor shiatsu massage. Mijn specialiteit is shiatsu voor emotionele klachten zoals slapeloosheid en stress.

Lid van Shiatsu Vereniging Nederland

Shiatsu Vereniging Nederland

Ik ben aangesloten bij de Shiatsu Vereniging Nederland. Hierdoor worden behandelingen (deels) vergoed uit de aanvullende zorgverzekering.
Happy Hara staat ingeschreven bij de KVK in Rotterdam onder nummer 70545200