Foreword for “An Atlas of Shiatsu” by Wilfried Rappenecker and Meike Kockrick

What are meridians? These strange and wonderful currents continue to interest the scientific world as well as the Shiatsu and acupuncture communities. Scientific studies demonstrate their existence, although so far they have not been shown to be physical structures. In fact, the reality of meridians as electro-magnetic phenomena has been demonstrated more conclusively than that of the acupuncture points, as a recent scientific review tells us1, contradicting the view held by many acupuncturists that the meridians are simply a linking system connecting the points.

The present book, together with the majority of Shiatsu literature, uses the word “meridian” in preference to the term “channel”, more commonly in use in acupuncture literature. The original term for meridian was mai, a word still used for the Eight Extraordinary Vessels. According to Chinese medical historian Vivienne Lo, mai signifies a longitudinal structure; it can refer to a mountain range as well as to a channel, and “meridian” seems more in keeping with the meaning of the source word mai, as well as the modern Chinese jingluo2.

The current “classical” system of meridians is not the earliest version; indeed, in the early days of Chinese medical philosophy there were no meridians at all. The earliest experiences of qi in the human body (usually arrived at through the practice of DaoYin, the ancient form of Qi Gong) were described in terms of water. Like water, the experience of one’s own qi constantly flows and changes. Haoran zhi qi, “flood-like qi” was consciously cultivated by Mencius and in some of the early writings qi was described as flowing downward, like water, rather than travelling in cycles and circles. The earliest version of the meridians in existence is the MianYang figurine excavated from a tomb of the Western Han dynasty, well before the acupuncture points were defined, and before a system of the circulation of qi in the meridians was thought of. (This figurine is also of interest because its meridians resemble those proposed by Masunaga, who possibly had a chance to see it after its discovery in the early 1970’s.)

The beginning of Chinese medicine as we know it today coincided with the founding of the Empire. Since “directing water is the first step to a civilised world”3, channelling qi into routes round the body coincided with the establishment of waterways for irrigation, transport and communications in China, and the meridians or “channels” became part of the pervading metaphor of the body as a state, with rulers, officials, granaries and armies.

It was around this time that, as the great tradition of Chinese medicine became established with the Nei Jing and the subsequent classics (subsequently re-edited and commented upon throughout the centuries), the freshness of the earlier internal experience of continually changing qi began to disappear from medical writing, although it survived to some extent in the meditative and alchemical traditions.

The “classical channels” of acupuncture have now, in consequence, taken on a hallowed quality. Traditionalists react with outrage if any variations on the theme are proposed. And yet, as contemporary authorities remind us, “we should remember that the channel network is considerably more complex than this (the superficial pathways of the twelve primary channels) and there is no part of the body, no kind of tissue, no single cell, that is not supplied by the channels.”4

Perhaps Shiatsu practitioners, or at least the practitioners of Zen Shiatsu, can claim more familiarity with the meridians than can the practitioners of acupuncture, who work with points. Shiatsu practitioners are more relaxed about whether or not meridians exist concretely, because they can feel them. In Wilfried Rappenecker’s words, “Meridians are only real if they are experienced by a person”. In the moment of touching we can establish places, flows and currents with a degree of certainty which depends less upon the precise location of the pathway on the surface of the body and more upon the angle and quality of our penetration and our feeling of connection with the whole body of our receive. As Rappenecker observes, “meridians are spaces, not lines”.

And indeed, research shows that meridians are spaces, spaces for communication within the body. Current thinking on vibrational medicine in all its forms proposes that it works upon the human energetic field, that field which is consulted by orthodox physicians by means of diagnostic tools such as the electrocardiogram or electroencephalogram. It makes sense, therefore, that meridians are shown to have lower electrical impedance than the surrounding tissue (see above) and that research has demonstrated that the collagens in the connective tissue in meridian locations are highly efficient in transmitting infrared signals5. Electro-magnetic and infra-red signals are two of the many aspects of “energy” or qi associated with the human field. The contact between the giver and receiver of Shiatsu involves the resonance between two fields, and the meridian is the space where this resonance can take place.

The form of Shiatsu which has proved most popular in the West, precisely because it has allowed its practitioners to feel the phenomena described above more easily, is Zen Shiatsu. The contribution which its creator, Shizuto Masunaga, has made to the practice of Shiatsu is profoundly significant, yet little understood or recognized. More written material illustrating and expanding upon Masunaga’s work is needed in the world of Shiatsu literature, and it is for this reason that the publication and translation of Wilfried Rappenecker’s book is so welcome.

Masunaga was the first philosopher of East Asian medicine to define in practice as well as in theory the dynamic connection of Yin (mother hand) and Yang (working hand). Side by side with this practical innovation came the concept, new to Shiatsu, of seeking the relationship between the “kyo”, often manifesting on the physical level as empty, weak, hollow, deficient, and the more obvious, active “jitsu”. He also introduced extended pathways to the “classical” meridians which made it possible to treat each meridian throughout the body.

Significantly, the Japanese approach to meridians and points is far more subjective than that of the Chinese. “Find it by feeling” summarises the Japanese approach. Masunaga’s focus was upon what the meridians communicate, how they resonate in the human field, and he followed that resonance throughout the receiver’s body by the pathways that presented themselves to his touch. The extended meridians which resulted are the subject of much debate. Some Shiatsu theorists see them as versions of the 6 Divisions, or as manifestations of the deep pathways and connecting meridians. They may also have some connection with the meridians of the MianYang figurine mentioned above. Notwithstanding the controversy which surrounds their locations, his extended meridians offer the Shiatsu practitioner an opportunity to focus upon the “echo of life” contained in the kyo-jitsu reaction while still giving a complete whole-body Shiatsu treatment. In this way the receiver’s perceived needs (“fix my shoulder”, for example) are attended to while balance is also restored to the deeper distortions in the energetic field which may have contributed to the problem.

Masunaga’s work is a bridge which enables us to bring Shiatsu into the modern world. An ancient therapy, yet one without a written history, Shiatsu is uniquely placed to draw upon the twin reserves of Chinese medical tradition and modern scientific research. Unhampered as yet by orthodoxy enshrined in recorded writings, Shiatsu can make connections and interpret traditional wisdom in a new and fresh way.

Rappenecker’s introduction to this book is an example of the best of Shiatsu literature, combining the clear and objective observation of experience and a compassionate and subtle interpretation of that experience. Like the early writings of the Chinese medical tradition, it is honest and forthright in describing the reality of subtle energies. The community of Shiatsu students, who will benefit immensely from the detailed illustration of the Zen Shiatsu meridians, need to bear in mind the spaciousness of the introduction as they focus on the pathways in their eagerness to learn and bring themselves ever deeper into the world of form. As Rappenecker points out, “there are no fixed pathways. Illustrations showing pathways in the form of lines in books such as this one are simply guidelines that complement the written descriptions.” As practitioners, we need to remember that our own qi is an equal participant in the connection with our receiver, and our own experience of contact with the meridian – vital, rich, imaginative, profound – is an essential part of the process of healing.

Carola Beresford-Cooke

1 7 out of 9 meridian studies in a recent review showed positive association between acupuncture meridians and lower electrical impedance and higher capacitance (Wiley Interscience Journal 2008).

2 Although jingluo is usually translated as “channels” in the acupuncture literature, the actual meaning of the characters is more complex. Jing has many possible meanings, all containing the idea of continuity or connectivity; among these are the meanings “warp” as in the warp of a fabric, and “longitude”; luo means a net, or anything having an interwoven structure

3 Sarah Allan “The Way of Water and the Sprouts of Virtue” Albany : SUNY press 1997

4 Deadman, Al-Khafaji and Baker (1998)

5 At the time of writing this foreword, Fritz Albert Popp and Emilio del Giudice are conducting an experiment at the Institute of Biophysics at Neuss in Germany to measure the infra-red changes in meridian pathways during Shiatsu treatment.