What’s love got to do with shiatsu? (Day 2 @ESC)

On day 2 of the European Shiatsu Congress I went to the workshop of Gayaka Backheuer. He is a shiatsu teacher from the German ShenDo Shiatsu school. As an Osho-adapt it is no coincidence that this workshop is all about love. Unconditional love.

Rember Osho? He was the founder of Bhagwan. The public remembers him as the owner of 93 Rolls Royces. But he is mostly recognized as a spiritual teacher. Claiming that everyone can become a living Buddha. By opening the heart. By totally accepting what lies within. The good and the bad. Backheuer mixes Osho with Shiatsu. And it’s like a warm bath.

love BackheuerHead rules

Shiatsu and love. I have never considered this relation. Love, by itself, seems such a worn-out word. It is hard to find genuine love these days, where the head and not the heart rules. I know shiatsu and empathy. The caring for the receiver. Listening and feeling their pain and suffering. Hoping you can give a stimulus in the right direction. A spark that can start a change. But love?

Backheuer sits in front of a classroom of the hara-shiatsu school. No chairs. Just yoga mats. There are about 30 participants. In the next 3 hours, his funny German-English guides us straight to our heart energy. As the heart is where the connections are made. The hands are tools of the heart.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength”

Hara hug

He starts with some nice stretching exercises. Reaching for heaven and for earth. Heart in the middle, connected with the hara. Then he talks about touch. Connecting. He shows us the 3 ways how people hug. Most commonly in public: the shoulder hug. Less often and closer: the heart hug where the breast is connected. The closest one and specifically for lovers: the hara hug. We, his audience, his public, followed his directions.

My father thinks shiatsu is some kind of sect. I knew that if he could see me at that moment, it was his ultimate proof. Hugging with a stranger, at first a bit hesitant but later on without shame. I was like the scene in Fight Club, but without the crying part.

Exploring nerves

Next exercise. I am standing back to back with a German shiatsu woman. We put the weight of our bodies against each other. We keep each other in balance. I feel her back, she feels mine. It is touching and feeling in the highest gear. You connect your back to a chair, clothes, a wall, a bed. But how often do you connect your back to another human? We are exploring with nerves we never use for this kind of action. We approach, enter, engage, listen, back off, shocked by the intensity of what we experience, we make and lose contact. We melt together for a split second. It was an unknown and overwhelming experience (to get a picture, check this still of the video impression of the ESC).

Beyond empathy

I have no idea what Gayaka Backheuer told during the rest of the workshop. My mind switched off. My heart opened. I can not remember feeling this open before. I do know that if you can reach this kind of contact within a relationship, like within a shiatsu session, a bigger world of outcomes reveals itself. Shiatsu beyond empathy. It is about sharing yourself, diving in with your whole heart.

Freud park ViennaLoving acceptance

After the workshop, I had my lunch break through sunny Vienna. My heart was open. The whole world would have fitted in. But walking through the classical streets where Johann Strauss and Gustav Mahler left their footprints, I only met a few open hearts. What did I expect? The public was not enchanted with the Backheuer exercises. Their hearts were closed, like mine was this morning.

Being captured into this cocoon of love, I only wanted to extend it. So I went to the afternoon workshop ‘Love is the best therapy’ with Ramita and Nalina Keienburg. It took some time before I figured out they were mother and daughter. They are also trained in the Shen-Do Shiatsu-style like Backheuer. Combining loving acceptance with Shiatsu.


In their practical workshop, they showed some nice massage techniques. Some were new like making breath-like movements around a joint. Others just had a new name (‘sandwiching joints’, ‘moving touch’). It was nice to have a lot of practice time. But there was something missing. Ramita and Nalina gave another kind of love. More Metalic. More clinical, robotic. Karslruhe-love. It felt like they tried to express a feeling, an emotion, that they only know from the outside. They definitely did not vibrate on the deep red Backheuer-frequency.

Act from the inside

As these workshops were both centered around the Heart, it gave me a good insight into the different approaches and mindsets for applying love, or a loving touch, in a Shiatsu treatment. We can say we have a loving acceptance to our clients. Or we can act from the inside. Enabling the heart energy to flow without words. Sigmund Freud, one of Vienna’s celebs, already told us: “Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength”. Sometimes we just need an exterior impulse to prompt us to remember.

Thank you Tamsin Grainger for the revision of this post!

Looking for more posts about the European Shiatsu Congress 2017? Try here