We Shiatsu therapists often use Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a theoretical base. At least while we are treating people, we use terminology from TCM, like Yin and Yang, Meridians, 5 elements. Many of us also use all kind of diagnosis based on these terms. We talk about Yin deficiency. Yang excess. A meridian is Kyo. An element is out of balance. An organ is too hot or too cold. 

And we western people, western therapists, kind of Really Like this. We like to know what the diagnosis is.

The clients like it too. It feels workable. It sounds therapeutic. A diagnosis means for us that we know what is wrong. And if we know what is wrong we also know what to do about it: balance the imbalance, cool the heat, temper the rebellious, strengthen the weak one. That is the traditional western idea of a positive development and an effective treatment. It is all about fixing things. Going from A to Better. 

So we love diagnoses, but do we need them? And even more important: what does a diagnosis in terms of TCM actually tell us? Is it meant to help us to find out what is wrong? Is it meant to help us to go from A to Better? 

In this article I will share some personal insights about this subject 


TCM is a holistic way of looking at illness and health and healing processes and it originates in Taoism. A Taoist (he/she) is an observer. She looks at the world and applies words to that what she sees or feels or hears or senses. She gives it words so as to understand it better, to see it more clearly, to hear it more sharply, to feel it more deeply and to sense it with more differentiation. 

A holistic Taoistic therapist is not interested in finding out what is wrong, she is not interested in finding out what needs to be put right again. The effectiveness of her treatment is not depending on how much “better” something is going to be; she just wants to see the truth. She wants to give words to the truth to understand it better and to help to find out how to give the truth even more room To Be What It Is.  For a holistic Taoistic therapist there is no imbalance that needs to be balanced, no shortage that needs to be supplemented, no energy that needs to be sent in the other direction. There is just What There Is. A holistic Taoistic therapist just wants to make more room for What Is. So that What Needs To Happen can happen. 


If we are concerned with what is wrong with ourselves or with someone else, we in a way deny the value of What Is. And What Is, is what it is all about in a holistic Taoistic healing method. Paying attention to and respecting What Is. Without judgment. Because there is nothing wrong with What Is. 

If you as a therapist say to your client:Your Kidney Yin is deficient” (one of the possible TCM diagnoses). Then it does not mean that something is wrong with her Kidneys. It does not even mean that she has too little of anything, it is just a name for the situation. It is really to help you as therapist find out how you can make more room for what is there, no more or less than that. (That’s why I never myself would say to a client: your Kidney Yin is deficient! Or tell her anything about any of my other TCM diagnostic thoughts). Nothing needs to be repaired! Your client does not have to Get Better. Her Yin does not need to get stronger. And this is quite a different approach from what most of us are used to, isn’t it?  


In general we wealthy western people have been taught to spend our entire life trying to “improve” ourselves. Most of us are constantly trying to get somewhere. We spend our life and our energy to become less tired, have less headaches, become less sad, become stronger, become more confident, become thinner. And we think, once we have arrived there where we want to arrive, then life begins. Then we can do whatever we want, then we can be who we really are.  

I know this from my own life. After becoming a mother more than 30 years ago I put on a little bit extra weight….. okay, to be honest: a lot of extra weight. In the years that followed I sacrificed my life, in a large part, to trying to lose that weight and thought: “Once I have lost weight, I can do anything I want to do.” After 10 years it still had not happened. I still was obese. One day I thought: “F*ck it, enough is enough. I just start to do what I want to do anyway! No more trying to lose weight for me!” And that has been the best decision of my life. Really. The first thing I did was attending belly dance lessons 


What I learned was that I do not need to lose weight to start living. I do not need to get Better. I can just live the life I have been given. Complete as it is. I can just do what I want to do, within my individual limitations, listening to my own body and my own heart, having respect and love for myself as I am and for my life as it is. It does not mean that I stopped taking good care of myself. There are other reasons to take care of yourself than trying to get somewhere.  


You can take care that you get enough rest, not because you want to become fitter but because your body needs rest.
You can start working less, not because you want to have fewer headaches as a result, but because it is nice for you to work less.
You can eat healthy, not because you want to become healthier or lose weight, but because your body loves it.
You can exercise, not to become fitter or to lose weight, but because you like it.
You can be sensitive with yourself and not want more from life than you can handle, not because you want to be able to handle more in the future, but because you want to treat your body and your mind and your heart and your soul with respect now. 

What kind of message do you give yourself? It is not about what you do, but about why you do it. If you eat healthy because you want to become healthier (or thinner), the message is: you are not healthy (or thin) enough. If you eat healthy because your body loves it, the message is: I take good care of myself! I love my body! You can say: it makes no difference! But I think it makes a huge difference! For me at least it makes a huge difference. 


With clients it works exactly the same: most people want to get Better when they come to a shiatsu treatment, and that is okay. As holistic, Taoistic therapists we will support them in their wish because that Is What Is but…. we do not need to share their wish. 

If we as Shiatsu therapists make a TCM diagnosis, for example she has  a Kidney Yin deficiency or a Kyo Spleen meridian or  the Metal element out of balance, and then we do things that are good for Kidney Yin situation or the Spleen meridian or the Metal element. We do not do it because we want our client to become less Yin deficient or her Spleen meridian less Kyo or her Metal element more balanced, we are not moving towards that kind of a result. We are just giving space to What Is. We are loving whatever is there, exactly as it is, loving Yin deficiency, loving Spleen Kyo, loving unbalanced Metal element. We are trusting that what needs to happen will happen. The diagnosis is not there to point the way to Better. The diagnosis is there to help to understand how we can make room for What Is 

If we work this way, and in Shiatsu we almost automatically do because Shiatsu by origin is all about being there and making room, the client will feel it. She will feel the acceptance and the freedom and the love. To be invited to be where you are and who you are because it is good as it is often changes the whole picture. That’s why a good Shiatsu treatment touches people so deeply. It has a humbling effect; it brings people back to where they are, on their own two feet. 


For us, as therapists, this way of working also has a humbling effect When we as therapists are working towards results, it is Hard Work. When we just want to see and respect and love What Is, What Needs To Happen just happens. That is Wu Wei. Doing From Not Doing. The Taoistic principle of life.  We do not need to do anything. It does itself. And that is humbling.


To prevent my students from “misusing” the TCM diagnoses to bring themselves or others from A to Better, and thus to actually reject themselves and others, I reverse the process during my trainings 

The student first gives a treatment, in which she and the person who is being treated both find out what is good for the them at that moment. What happens during the treatment gives the student the information that she can use to give words to as a diagnosis. Then the diagnosis helps her to understand why what she did was good for the other person at the time.  

For example, the student finds out that the person who is treated needs time to adjust to the touch, that she needs to be touched in a subtle, investigating, unhurried way. The touch needs to have a message in it: “It is safe here, nothing bad will happen, just relax.” If this is the case, the student knows that there is Yin deficiency involved. 

Another example. The person who is treated has pain and tension in the neck and shoulder area. She loves to be massaged and finds everything lovely: deep, slow, quick, strong, it does not matter, everything feels okay as long as it is firm enough. The student knows that the diagnosis of the problem in neck and shoulder area is Qi stagnation. 

One more example. The student notices that the breathing is very important during the treatment. The touch automatically starts to follow the breathing of the person who is treated and the breathing gets stronger and deeper. The student knows, then, that Metal element is asking for attention.  

The diagnosis does not tell the student what to do in the first place. What she does, tells her what the diagnosis is. You see, it’s other way round! 

After studying and working this way for so long it takes, the moment will come that the treatment and the diagnosis become one thing. While the student does something the diagnosis just comes to her without her needing to think about it or search for it. Then, the diagnosis helps her to give a more precise treatment, it helps her to do even more of what is working well, and it helps her to frame her thoughts and open her mind for deeper insights. The diagnosis helps the student to work with Head, Heart and Hara; the Hands On Tao way of practicing Shiatsu. 


In my opinion TCM diagnoses tell us nothing about someone or his or her health. And they surely tell nothing about how to get from A to Better. TCM diagnoses are just meant to help us to give words to what we are doing while we are making room for What Is so that What Needs To Happen can happen.  

We do not need a diagnoses to find out how to make room for What Is. The diagnosis mostly does not even help us to find out. What it does is help us to understand why something is the right thing to do, so that there will be more confidence in our touch, more trust in our heart and hands and more room for delighted insights in our heads 


Ps. Would you like to learn more about our way of working with TCM diagnoses? For Dutch speaking people I have an online training where you learn the basics and more about connecting TCM with a Shiatsu treatment. What you learn you can start to use immediately.

Lees meer over de intensieve online training en meld je aan:

Pps. You can leave you comments and questions here under! Or  you are welcome to send me an email: I’d love to hear from you!!!! 


Showing 8 comments
  • Conny

    Wauw Jaana!
    As your student i know that this is your way of teaching us Shiatsu. And still i’m surprised and think: ‘yes this is it! This is new and something what i still know. But i need to read and remember myself this again and again. To remind myself that what is, is… more and no less.
    Thank you for this beatifull and clear artikel.

    • Jaana

      Thanks Conny! How nice words!!! Need to remember and read it over and over again. That is true!! Thank you!

      • Katharina Klippstein

        I arrived at Amsterdam,Camping Zeeburg and preparing for the congress and workshops.
        Your article is phantastic and I’m glad having booked your workshop.
        Looking forward to hearing more about the “just being and accepting what is”…..
        Katharina from Germany

        • Jaana

          Ah thanks Katharina, so nice! See you on Sunday!I am also looking forward to it!

  • Birgit

    Oh Jaana, wat een juweel van inzichten. Zo begint mijn zondag goed 💜
    Kom net uit het ziekenhuis ivm ingreep hart. Het liep niet als verwacht en gehoopt, maar we zijn een stap verder. Het, wat er is, kreeg ruimte, om zichtbaar te worden. En daarvoor ben ik enorm dankbaar.
    Heb veel aan inspiratie en inzichten overgehouden, die ik in de opleiding van jou heb mogen ervaren en ze groeien alsmaar verder.
    Hartelijk dank en geniet van een heerlijke zondag.
    Liefs Birgit

    • Jaana

      Ah Birgit, wat eng en wat mooi! Goed dat er zicht is en dat je verder kunt. In een ziekteproces kunnen de inzichten uit shiatsu heel helpend zijn. Een ontspannen patiënt is altijd beter af als een gespannen. Wat niet betekent dat je niet gespannen mag zijn. Juist wel! Maar het is mogelijk om te ‘ontspannen in het gespannen zijn’. Het is wat het is. Je onbewuste kun je niet sturen, je kunt er alleen bij zijn en het de ruimte geven.
      Het lijf is een wonderlijke machine. En de gezondheidszorg is bij jullie en bij ons zo goed als het om ernstige dingen aankomt. Je kunt vertrouwen hebben in je lijf en in de zorg die je krijgt.
      Ik wens je al het goede van de wereld! En dat het allemaal goed verloopt.

  • Marja Hamacher

    Hoi Jaana, zo fijn om jouw artikel te lezen. Het duurde voor mij enige jaren om de moed te hebben mijn gevoel te volgen en aldoende te ontdekken wat er gedaan ‘moest’ worden in plaats van de verlemmende angst van mijn denkhoofd te voelen.
    Mijn vraag is dan hoe en wat we ‘leren’ als we shiatsu leren.
    Of is het eigenlijk de vraag wat we afleren wanneer we shiatsu leren?
    Of gaat het over aldoende meer bewust worden, benoemen, reflecteren en uitwisselen en herkennen vanuit eigen verzamelde kennis?

    • Jaana

      Hoi Marja, Shiatsu leren is per definitie het leren er te zijn, dat noemen we “werken vanuit de Hara”. Werken vanuit de Hara betekent de flow volgen, doen wat er gedaan “dient te” worden, volgen van dat wat zich aandient. Dat is werken vanuit de Hara.
      We oefenen het aldoor als we shiatsu leren, door onze houding, zowel innerlijk als uiterlijk, recht, open en ontspannen te leren maken. Dit doen we door bewust te zijn van ons lijf en steeds zoeken naar dat wat goed is en klopt voor dat eigen lijf. Vanuit het lijf, het onbewuste, leren we werken en daar leren we vertrouwen in hebben. Dat is het leerproces. Daar is alles op gericht.
      Het betekent niet dat je je eigen verlangen om het “goed” te doen hoeft weg te cijferen. Of dat je niet “je best” mag doen. Ook dat is een deel van de lijfelijke ervaring. Als je de ander wil laten zijn waar degene is, start het bij zelf zijn waar je bent. Wij noemen dat de 20/80 regel. 80 procent van je aandacht bij jezelf, bij het volgen van je eigen flow, en slechts 20 procent bij de ander. Pas dan kun je de flow in de ander volgen.
      Niets geven, niets weghalen, gewoon er zijn. Dat is de basis van Shiatsu. Dat noemen we: werken vanuit de Hara. Of Wu Wei; het doen vanuit het niet doen, wat juist betekent: de natuurlijke flow volgen. Komt allemaal op datzelfde neer.
      Shiatsu op deze manier leren is een levensveranderend pad. Het vraagt van je om elke dag in je dagelijkse leven weer oefeningen doen om jezelf in contact te houden met je eigen lijf, de lichaamsgevoelens en het onbewuste. Als je loopt, als je zit, als je werkt, als je ontspant. Steeds weer terug naar het lijf. Openen, rechtmaken, ontspannen, strekken, ruimte nemen. En tegelijk bewust zijn en accepteren van alles wat er is. Lichaam en geest gaan samen op dat niveau van oefenen. Het is bewust zijn van dat wat er is en spelen met Qi. Yin en Yang. Een prachtige weg!

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