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Massage Today
November, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 11


By Barbra Esher, AOBTA CI. Dipl. ABT & Ac. (NCCAOM), LAc

Yin/yang theory is the foundation of shiatsu and all other forms of Asian bodywork. It's definitely a "cool" symbol, as it appears on surfboards, notebooks, pendants, etc., but many are unaware of its meaning beyond that.

Simply, yin and yang reflect all phenomena in the universe. First mentioned in texts dating back to 700 BC, the theory of yin/yang was developed from observing the ebb and flow of the cycles of nature. Yin and yang are not only opposing forces, they also are mutually dependant on each other: neither can exist in isolation. They are contained in one another, change into each other, and consume one another. When the yin of the night becomes the darkest, it transforms into the yang of dawn.

In a future article, I'll talk about how important it is to consider all aspects of yin and yang in your practice; today, it seems more appropriate to discuss the transformative aspect of yin/yang-the fact that extremes create their opposites. If we move into the greatest part of the yin/yang orb, it starts to flip over into the opposing energy. For example, particularly during winter, what happens to individuals who "go and go," paying no attention to their hibernation-slow-down cues, staying up late, getting up early, etc. (yang yang yang)? They get sick and collapse into a big, phlegmy ball of yin. But it's kind of nice because they can finally stop and rest (because they can't move!) It's peaceful, and they take care of themselves and rebuild.

September 11th -- if there was ever an extreme, we saw it then, in the sheer hatred, destruction and horror of those planes hitting the World Trade Center and the subsequent attacks. It was so extreme, it seemed to flip into an opposing energy: an outpouring of love, generosity and a determination to rebuild. Even Hollywood found it appropriate to be more quiet and release only "yin" films!

I have been so struck with the compassion pouring from people, and the deep self-reflection that this event seems to have initiated. The eye contact and smiles from people in the street suggest an appreciation for each moment of the life we have here together. The most powerful metaphor for me is the mass blood donations across the U.S. Do people realize, at least on some level, what we know in Chinese medicine: that the Spirit/shen is housed in the Blood? And do they realize that we are giving our Spirit to circulate as one? I truly believe that people have become more sensitive to and aware of the web that connects us all.

A simple technique for soothing the Spirit is a mu-shu combo. Do you remember my column in the September issue? (Editor's note: See "I'll Have a Mu-Shu Combo" on line at Hold Bl 14 (Pericardium shu point) with Ren 17 (Pericardium mu point). You can do this at the end of a bodywork session, with the client face-up. Stand at the side of your client and reach under his or her back with one hand, cupping your hand beside the spine at the level of T-4 (Bl 14). At the same time, use your other hand to hold the point directly between the nipples in the center of the sternum (Ren 17). Hold for a couple of minutes until you feel the points soften and pulsate. Have your client breath into the points. Make sure to have some tissues ready for tears; this can be a very powerful release!

If you work on the floor, the best way to perform this soothing technique is with your client face-up again, but with you standing above their head. Take your feet and slide them under your client's back, alongside the spine. When you are between the client's shoulder blades, turn them sole-to-sole so that the medial aspect of the balls of your feet press into Bl 14 bilaterally. Hold the point directly between the eyebrows with one hand (Yintang) and place your other hand on the point in the middle of the client's sternum (Ren 17). This position gives you the added advantage of adding another point to the combination used to calm the Mind/Spirit (Yintang). In addition, your client's chest is lifted, opened and relaxed, allowing for deep breaths into life, connecting with one's own Corporeal Soul (po).

Again, I'm so grateful for this work we do. It feels so right to touch people at a deep level, where they are supported through the array of emotions surfacing. They might feel fragmented and broken, their shen scattered, but we can remind them of a space in themselves that has always been completely, forever whole; a place where we are one.

Learn More!

For a list of schools that offer programs in ABT, go to For information on the national ABT exam, go to

Click here for previous articles by Barbra Esher, AOBTA CI. Dipl. ABT & Ac. (NCCAOM), LAc.


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