My 30 years as a Shiatsu practitioner have convinced me of the effectiveness of treating the belly – or ‘second brain’ (*) – by manual therapy to better help our patients.
I was originally inspired by the ‘Ampuku Zukai’, a classic Japanese book by Shinsai Ota on how to treat the abdomen. Ampuku Zukai, published in 1827, is one of the rare books from pre-modern Japan on the subject of manual therapy. It is a beautiful illustrated book that has had a great influence on the development of bodywork in Japan. From Amma to Shiatsu, it has inspired many generations of practitioners.
In Japan and in the Japanese healing arts the belly or ‘Hara’ is seen as an important – even the most important – energetic centre of the body. This energetic centre is considered as a microcosm that has a huge impact on our overall wellbeing and vitality. In recent years, scientific research has deepened our understanding of the importance of the belly and the gut, and the enteric nervous system, on our overall health; the number of studies, articles and books on the subject increases every year.
What makes the Ampuku Zukai unique is the fact that a whole chapter is dedicated to the treatment of the belly with Ampuku techniques. According to the Ampuku Zukai, the Hara is a place where tensions and negative emotions can gather and where disease or imbalance can take root. By treatment of the belly with the Ampuku techniques we can directly support health, assist recovery and restore the receiver’s health and balance.
“The stresses of one’s private and public life, work, or social obligations can give rise to a multitude of causes for the stagnation of one’s ki. When the ki stagnates, one might suffer from lethargy; intestinal discomfort; indigestion; hyper- or hypotension; aching joints and muscles; dry skin; or swelling. By applying Ampuku techniques to the abdomen, however, one can smooth the flow of stagnant ki; stabilise the intestines; regulate the gut; stretch out the muscles; moisten the skin; replenish energy; improve digestion and bowel movement, memory, physical fitness, blood flow, and joint movement; as well as hasten recovery from chronic illnesses.” Source: Ampuku Zukai
Ampuku, or traditional Japanese abdominal treatment, is a highly refined form of manual treatment. Shiatsu master Shinzuto Masunaga wrote that “Ampuku is a very important part of Shiatsu and can contribute enormously towards helping the critically ill and those patients who require calm but penetrating manipulation. Ampuku therapy not only allows the patient to remain tranquil, it also rehabilitates the patient’s internal functioning and is an important part of diagnosis. Therefore it is important we do not neglect Ampuku therapy.”
Although the Ampuku Zukai is most known for the techniques that address the belly and treat the second brain, it also has a wider scope. In addition to those techniques, the Ampuku Zukai offers us a description of a whole body treatment, descriptions of points over the whole body and a chapter on self-treatment.
In recent years I have studied and translated this important book. This has strengthened my understanding of, and respect for, the classic works at the heart of our profession. I am profoundly grateful to my teachers who taught me the techniques to directly treat the belly and the internal organs and who introduced me to the Ampuku Zukai.
* Footnote: The ‘second brain’ is a term used to refer to the enteric nervous system (ENS), a system of neurons that governs the function of the gastrointestinal tract. The ENS is embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal system. It is capable of acting independently of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, although it may be influenced by them.