With the cold weather here in full force, there’s no better time than to talk about the wonderful hot therapy called moxibustion.
In this post, we’re going to investigate the 2 main types of moxibustion and showcase Japanese moxibustion (moxa) which is the kind that we burn the most at the Center.
But first here’s a quick rundown on what exactly Japanese Moxibustion is. Watch this video of me doing my best to keep it simple…
In this video, I get a chance to hang with my friend Hiroshi who owns Sankei, the only shop in the world (inconveniently located in Tokyo) that exclusively sells “everything moxa”.
If you’ve never had a treatment at the clinic (what has taken so long?) you will know that I use moxibustion ALL THE TIME BECAUSE IT WORKS SO WELL!!! If I had to pick one modality that’s the coolest, I’d definitely have to pick moxibustion. The fun part about moxa is there are so many fascinating ways to apply it.
Indirect Moxibustion- less impact but a slightly more comfortable heat application. We gently burn a lesser quality moxa herb that is rolled up tight to heat an acupuncture point or area of pain. It can be manufactured with charcoal or without. It’s smoky, soothing and causes the affected area to turn a nice rosy hue indicating fresh blood is saving a problem.(Please excuse my jet-lagged dishevelled appearance).
Hiroshi demonstrates waving a moxa stick (indirect moxa) over a sore muscle on my arm.
A chunk of moxa can be placed on top of something else (ginger, salt or garlic) and then burned on the skin so that you get a double whammy. You would get the benefits of not only moxa but whatever else is below it on your skin. We love ginger at the clinic and use ginger moxa lots! Ginger moxibustion is amazing for digestion and anything “gut” related.
You can even get moxa stuck on the end of your acupuncture needle. We call it a moxa ball!
We basically burn the skin on charted acupuncture points or problem areas. This kind of moxa is also called blistering or marking moxa. The effect is more powerful and faster acting than indirect moxa. It’s a micro-burn of the skin. It sounds brutal but not painful. We light on fire 3-5 dabs of a teeny-tiny herb are placed on the skin with a buffer ointment (shiunko cream). This is a beautiful Japanese technique and the herb we use at the clinic comes straight from Japan. Check out our supplier’s goods! Sankei has gorgeous moxa. His stuff is without a doubt the most healing mugwort in the world. Whenever I visit, he prepares me a lovely cup of moxa tea and I start shopping for supplies to bring back to the clinic!
Shopping for the highest quality mugwort in world for the clinic. PURE BLISS.
What are Moxa’s healing powers?? (The short answer)
Moxibistion is the ancient practice of burning mugwort on the skin to heal. Mugwort grows all over Asia like wild and carefree weed. When burned on the skin, magic happens.
Here are just a few benefits of moxa:
Break down knots
Soothe arthritis and heals joints
Rid the body of unwanted waste (known as “evils” in Chinese medicine).
Nourishes life… great for male/female reproductive and sexual health issues
Fresh off the plane from Japan! I’m going to do a series of posts on a few incredible experiences I had during my travels. I’m going to share a cool Sotai experience during a recent visit to Yokohama. Sotai is a uniquely Japanese kind of bodywork. While it’s totally different than Shiatsu, it’s still pretty neat and has a lot of curative value.
Sotai = funky Japanese physiotherapy
Sotai is a wacky little therapy that is vaguely similar to other movement based modalities. Although I did study Sotai in College, it wasn’t extensive enough for me to go full force. Shiatsu therapists often learn sotai on the side and incorporate some basic techniques or ideas. Sotai consists of either therapist directed self-care exercises or straight-body work.
1.Directed self-care- consists of the therapist checking out your posture and then shows you how to do slow rehabilitative exercises.
In this video, Sotai master Fumi Kusaki demonstrates a forward bend technique to help my back tension.
2. Treatment- The second kind of Sotai is where you lie down, relax and get a treatment as you would for any massage. In this quick video, I get to try out some of the interesting techniques Fumie teaches.
Alleviates pain specifically in neck, spine and hips.
Fumie demonstrating a sotai posture. She believes that this pose should be practiced regularly for back and hip pain.
Field Trip- Kusaki Soatai Clinic- Yokohama, Japan.
I was lucky enough to get some training at the The Kusaki Sotai Clinic in Yokohama. Fumie Kusaki is a sotai instructor. She has written a book, come out with a CD and has a home based clinic in Yokohama. My friend Hiroshi who owns Tokyo’s Sankei moxa supply store arranged a mini-workshopat Kusaki’s clinic and off we went! It was so cool to not only get a refresher in Sotai, but to also learn from a FEMALE master!
In order to be the BEST therapist I can be, the most relevant continuing education a therapist can get for themselves includes getting as many treatments from incredible healers as possible. The last 2 treatments from “masters” ranged from bad to horrible including the weird Masunaga clinic visit (see previous post) and another recent disappointing experience at the Kimura clinic in Tokyo (check out our Facebook page video and you’ll get the idea.) Anyways, I was relieved to FINALLY learn something from a humble, lovely knowledgeable sensei. PHEW!
Fumie Kusaki, is a the real deal. Her teachings and treatments are confident and her vast knowledge shines!
#1 SOTAI tip for helping pain
I’m going to share the most important principal I’ve taken away from Sotai…
ALWAYS start with the unaffected side first when stretching or doing any kind of home-care exercise. Yes, it’s that simple. Check out which side hurts, feels stiffer and then do whatever you need to do on the side that feels good. Easy right?
Sotai always stretches and moves the pain free side first to create equilibrium. Often a stretch is done until it is no longer comfortable potentially a few times and then movement is rechecked on the painful side. 99% of the time, will feel better!
Shizutu Masunaga invented shiatsu therapy. Obscure would describe the Oike Center (Masunaga’s clinic). A lot of shiatsu history took place there and Masunaga infuenced offshoots of other kinds of shiatsu such as Ohashiatsu and wastu. I recently made the pilgramage to Tokyo for an epic visit the birthplace of Shiatsu massage. To anyone interested in the history of shiatsu therapy, a quick background on why the Oike center is such a big deal.
Masunaga’s version of the meridian system. Notice his abdominal and back “reflex” zones that he charted as a way for therapists to palpate how ones internal organs are doing. Genius!
Shizutu Masunaga revolutionized shiatsu. Master Namikoshi was the first to coin the term “shiatsu” which is translated as “finger pressure”. This finger pressure massage was based on Anma and Tuina which are the oldest Traditional Chinese Medicine based massages. Namikoshi branded and delivered shiatsu to the western world with his cool use of thumb pressure. A bit later, Masunaga came into the picture. He formulated specific treatments that blended concepts of western medicine, psychology, zen and enhanced the basic shiatsu technique that Namikoshi used. . Masunaga came came up with his own (extended) version of the meridian system. This is a HUGE deal. He discovered the the energy pathways used for thousands of years could be found in other places on the body. He created an “updated” version of our meridians which is similiar to our nervous system according to Chinese medicine. A new chart was drafted by him and used by thousands of therapists worldwide. He also was the author of many of the text books that can still be found in most shiatsu school programs all over the world.
Shizuto Masunaga invented the shiatsu technique
He introduced some pretty sweet moves such as massaging folks with elbows, knees and feet. He also taught therapists to work hard and be “shiatsu athletes”. He had boundless energy when he worked even into his old age and stretched people because it just feels good. He wore matching Adidas jump suits. Shizuto Masunaga was basically the shit. Shiatsu therapists aren’t known for their savy advertising skills so there was hardly any footage of Masunaga. But here is a rare video of him treating. Look at him go!…
Oike Shiatsu Center- really tiny and IMPOSSIBLE to find
New agers, shiatsu fans, therapists all over the world can head to this mecca.
Master Masunaga died in the 80’s and that was as much as I knew. I had no idea what he left behind as it remained a mystery. I was determined to find out! The curse of lack of time, marketing and self promotion plagues Oike. Out of all the places I travelled to in Japan, (including remote rural areas where no one speaks enlish for miles) this place was by far the most difficult to find. It took the help of 3 kind strangers, barging into a quiet office to beg for help and a heck of a lot of getting lost to find it.
FINALLY found it! Anyone expecting flowers, waterfalls, hot springs will be pleasantly surprised. Yes folks, all those shiatsu books, posters and teachings of complete wellness came out of this mundane beige 70’s building. I would provide the address for you but there are no street names and building numbers are not chronologically numbered.
ART (and the Japanese lettering) apparently is another name for the Oike. NOBODY knew what or where this place is. Come on Masunaga, step up your signage game!
A sad looking elevator pulled me up. The office lobby The building and especially the elevator reminded me of your dad’s office is the early 80’s. The kind he got a “great deal” on commercial rent for and cared 0/10 how the place looked. It was beige, gray, functional and good enough.
I opened the clinic door and had visions of water features, hand crafted intense, Japanese flute music pouring through the hallway. I would open the door and a perfectly healthy looking admin staff would embrace me then in a hug after recognizing me as one of the foremost female practitioners in Canada. “Ah yes Sensei Kreitzer, we have heard all about you. Welcome!! Welcome!! (gazes into my eyes and bows in gratitude). “Let me pour you tea”
Back to reality… I creaked the door open and found no one. Literally the office was empty, silent and lifeless. Everything was a different shade of beige. I questioned whether I was in the right place ten times over in my head. Until I saw the man himself on the wall.
I took off my shoes and waited. I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for as I hadn’t really thought about anything except for finding the clinic. There was only a little room with the texts that were printed in many languages. I myself studied them in college. There was a small kitchen. It looked very clean and efficient (like everything else in Japan). After a while of just standing around awkwardly, a man came out. He didn’t say anything, rather gave me the “What do you want” look. Borderline irritated. I excitedly told him that I was a shiatsu therapist from Canada and had studied and practiced Zen Masunaga shiatsu for over 10 years. He couldn’t care less and didn’t hide it. I dragged it out a little bit more- “I’m so happy to be here.” and “I came a long a way to find the clinic”. Birds were chirping. He seemed emotionless. “That’s my father” he said flatly. I had no idea who was running the clinic because literally none of my colleagues recently spoke of Masunaga’s
“That’s my father.”
clinic. One keen senior therapist told me of his visit to the center when I first started my career many years ago. He let me know that it was quite small and when he went, he was treated by a female therapist. That’s all I knew. I had never heard of Masunaga’s son and had even tried extensively researching the clinic on-line and found nothing. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t believe him. This dude? Really? He also looked nothing like his dad. And his vibe was so lifeless. So exceptionally flat. Like a pancake. No, that’s too full. Like a piece of Japanese rice paper. “Do you want to book an appointment?” he coldly asked. At that point I snapped out of my over enthusiastic glee and realized I hadn’t planned anything beyond finding the place. Since my welcome party didn’t pan out, I figured, sure, let’s book a treatment. I had to wait 4 hours till it was my turn. “Worth it”, I thought. I excitedly approached Masunaga for a photo shoot. He really wasn’t into it but I laid on the pressure thick. He was about as excited as an overweight child being forced on a diet eating his first salad. Selfie time dude, whether you like it or not!
See, he really is my dad.
A reluctant pose with the overenthusiastic Canadian girl. If you look closely, you can see the lifeless boredom in his eyes.
As I was about to leave, he motioned me to follow him. I was completely shocked… He was inviting me to observe him treating. AWESOME!
Observing Haruhiku Masunaga
The treatment room was very warm and I thought “how does anyone work in here. It’s sweltering!” There were 4 treatment stations in a medium sized room. There were no other therapists working while I was there. Each station was ready to go and neat. It reminded me of shiatsu training. Traditionally shiatsu is practiced on the floor and you learn most techniques there which never made sense to me because literally not therapist I know that has a busy practice treats on the floor in Canada. Especially since most of us incorporate acupuncture.
The boiler treatment room.
I had high hopes. He quietly worked on a female patient. I recognized these moves! He began by checking her hara. He massaged the meridians his father conceptualized. He used his elbow which his father brought to shiatsu.
Checking out a patient’s hara (abdomen). All treatments are done on the floor. not one massage table in the joint.
He even used his knees to massage her hamstrings in a squat position. I noticed everything he was doing was just done once. He never focussed or spent more time on one area. Hmmmm, maybe she just asked for a tune up I thought. It was really great to see the master’s son still treating at the original center and using techniques we all learn in textbooks. I was so excited to have a treatment with Haruhiku. I was confident that this was going to be the massage of a lifetime.
Getting a massage from Haruhiko Masunaga
My turn! After a few hours I returned to the clinic to receive a treatment. When I walked in, Haruhiku was came to the door. He pointed to a closet and told me to get changed. I was horrified by what he was asking me to do. I saw an assortment of grandpa-pyjama outfits and picked the best of the worst. After having a good chuckle in the closet, I stepped out to get the massage of lifetime. This was bound to be the healing experience of a lifetime.
Mandatory shiatsu patient outfit.
I entered the treatment room and it was empty again. Still several neat mats set up to receive clients but nobody else around for miles. I lay down at a station where there was a clip board. It was his file for me. It had all the makings of a typical shiatsu patient report.
Masunaga quickly entered. He got right to the work. Nothing was asked. No intake, no questions, nothing. I took the liberty of telling him that my shoulders where tense/painful. He nodded and moved on. He didn’t acknowledge my chief complaint. I thought, this guy must be such a gifted master that he doesn’t need to ask. He doesn’t need to follow the same basic communication all the rest of us dummies use. He’s on another higher level. He’s Masunaga for Christ’s sake! He palpated my hara (abdomen). This the method of checking the organ health. It’s a daily snapshot of how our internal organs are functioning. He went through the treatment using basic technique. At some point I realized it was totally familar. Firstly, it was the EXACT same treatement he did when I observed him working before on the female patient. Pound for pound, nothing was unique. I then realized it was the sequence that we had learned from the text book. Nothing about it was custom tailored to checking my hara or painful hara. He worked everything but nothing in detail. When he got to my shoulders, he breezed though them. There was something special about his touch. It was healing. His technique and the way he worked my body spoke of many years of doing the same thing. He was a shiatsu athlete and was agile. The pressure was not firm nor soft. It didn’t vary depending on what he was feeling. It was never adjusted based on the point. I had received much more incredible treatments by some of my collegues back in Toronto I thought. This is just “ok”. Not bad. Average. It went on like this for the hour. At the end something that has never happened in all my years of getting hundreds of treatments. I was exhausted. I have never felt as drained after getting any bodywork in my life as I felt after Masunaga’s massage. Never. I’m not adding a judgement to that. It was hard to get up. My body felt like cement. I’m fairly certain I the travelling around Asia caught up to me in that moment. I gathered my strength, got up and changed.
Haruhiku was waiting expressionless by his appointment book. He told me the cost softly. I paid the man. I realized that this guy had some big shoes to fill. Shiatsu to him was clearly a job not a passion. Just because someone is a master, doesn’t mean their child will be. Sigh. Look at John Lennon, Julian and Sean, case in point. I now understand why nobody had heard of Haruhiku. He was just another shiatsu therapist trying to make a buck. His dad just happened to invent shiatsu. Oh well, it was a fun experience. A women (maybe his wife) was in the clinic when I got up. I asked her to take one last photo. Haruhiku obliged but the distance between us signifies his annoyance with me at that point. I know, I know, it’s late and you want to eat and drink a beer. I felt it. It was a fun experience that I will never forget, even if the treatment was just ok.
Your spleen Qi is likely weak. The spleen is one of the THE MOST important organs in the body according to TCM. Out of over 5000 treatments I’ve done, 90% of patient’s spleen energy is depleted. Chances are if you live in North America and you have visited a Chinese Medicine practitioner, you have been told that your spleen energy could use a bit of work.
The spleen get’s jazzed up by eating a healthy breakfast. Every organ has a peak performance time slot. Chinese Medicine practitioners refer to it as the “Organ Clock”. The spleen is said to flourish between 7AM-9AM.
Each organ flourishes at a certain 2 hour interval everyday.
So it’s very important to not only eat breakfast but eat foods that the spleen loves during this time. This will harmonize your digestive system. Harmonizing the digestive system is a hippy way of saying “it will help you with almost any digestive issue you have”. The spleen loves sweet things. Not Reese peanut butter cups, Werthers Original or sticky buns. Naturally sweet things. Here are of the healthiest and most delicious breakfast ideas according to Chinese Medicine and my foodie taste buds. Both are gluten, dairy, and animal free. They are also paleo friendly. Enjoy!
Breakfasts of Champions!
Sweet Potato Porridge
This porridge is so delicious. It is indicated for ANY specialized diet including paleo, weight watchers, gluten/grain/dairy free and vegan (without the addition of ghee.) This first recipe is the ultimate Chinese Medicine dietary breakfast! This is absolute health. I pre-bake sweet potatoes on a Sunday and then just re-heat the morning of.
3 sweet potatoes- peeled and cut into 3rds
Shredded coconut- 2 table spoons
Blueberries half cup
Cinnamon to taste
Almond milk- half cup per bowl
Other options- finely chopped dates, carob chips, maple syrup, grated apple, coconut oil, clarified butter (ghee)
Directions- Wrap each piece of yam in foil. Bake 9 portions on a foil lined baking sheet for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until mushy at 375 degrees. Potatoes will keep in the fridge for up to one week.
When ready for breakfast, toss a piece of sweet potato in a sauce pan. Mash. Add berries cinnamon, coconut and other toppings. Best to wait to add the fruit towards the end of reheating the yam as to not break down the sugars in the fruit.
Pears are a powerful yin tonifier. Great for those who have trouble falling asleep, night sweats, stress, overwork and exhaustion.
Jook (aka congee) is historically medicinal rice porridge. It has been used for thousands of years to nourish the sick. In China, it is breakfast! I like the addition of pears because they nourish Yin (which almost anyone can use if you overwork or are stressed). Hundreds of cookbooks have been written on congee. Many Chinese Medicine congee recipes are more for medicinal purposes and include all the herbs one would normally drink in a tea. I wouldn’t want to eat most of them for breakfast. This basic recipe is so delicious and easy. It is so fantastic for the spleen and Kidneys. Substitute pears with apples or any of your favorite non-tropical fruit.
1 cup rice (your favorite or whatever you have on hand)
Water- ¾ cup
Pears- 2 large of your favorite variety
Cinnamon- a few shakes
Optional- Chopped pistachios or other nuts, cherries, sesame seeds or honey.
Directions– Simmer everything for one hour on medium heat or until mushy. This can be stored for up to one week re-heated as needed.