DIY Shiatsu for a better night’s sleep

lIn today’s borderless digital age where we often need to be available 24/7 during the Blursday stress of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that many of us struggle to calm down to go to sleep. The toll on our bodies from being folded forward like origami screen zombies all day long doesn’t just magically disappear before bed.

“Babies learn to sleep, but we adults go on autopilot,” says New York-based shiatsu therapist Ori Flomin. If you struggle to down-regulate your nervous system at the end of the day, he says, adding some simple, self-administered shiatsu sequences to your evening routine can better prepare you for sleep success.

Shiatsu, translated from Japanese as “finger pressure,” is a holistic discipline developed in Japan in the 1900s, but with roots in ancient Chinese medicine. It exploded in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to the counterculture movement, with Westerners seeking more approaches to a healthier lifestyle.

Flomin, who trained at the Ohashi Institute in the late 1990s, was drawn to the modality because of its whole-person approach that integrates physicality, psychology, emotionality, and spirituality. Shiatsu works with meridians, or energy channels that flow through the body “like the flowing water in a healthy river,” Flomin says. “In a stagnant puddle, the water becomes dirty, like blocked energy. Likewise, in a flood there is excess water or excess energy.”

To disperse energy through movement, a practitioner begins by gently manipulating the limbs and brushing the body with the hands, then applies pressure to points along the 12 primary meridians to equalize the energy, causing the body to return towards a more grounded sense of harmony. “Shiatsu is not a medicine for serious problems, but in a short time you can change your condition and change how you feel,” Flomin says.

“Shiatsu is not a medicine for serious problems, but in a short time you can change your condition and change how you feel.” —Ori Flomin

Although he has since returned to giving treatments in person, during the early pandemic Flomin developed a workshop for people to learn the basics of shiatsu to use on their own. “The pandemic stopped our energy. We were locked up, at home and couldn’t see or touch each other,” Flomin said.

Use this self-help shiatsu toolbox from Flomin anytime in the two hours before bed to calm down from being rushed and cramped all day. He emphasizes the importance of being relaxed and comfortable while performing these sequences gently – the key word is ‘gently’. Meridians are in muscles, but you won’t do any damage if you don’t hit the exact points. Just press with your fingers or palms, instead of massaging or kneading. Don’t force your way into areas that are painful. “Be playful but careful; it’s easy to overdo it,” he says.

For the arms, shoulders and hands

  1. With the left hand holding the right wrist, circle the right hand in both directions.
  2. Use the left hand to wiggle each finger of the right hand, starting at the palm and moving to the tip of the finger.
  3. Holding the right elbow, fold and extend the right forearm.
  4. Hold the right shoulder with the left hand and gently manipulate it back and forth, circling in both directions.
  5. Brush the right arm from shoulder to fingertips, as if you were dusting it. Notice how this arm feels heavier, longer and more open.
  6. Repeat on the other side.
  7. Then to open the chest: Start at the sternum and apply light pressure to run the right fingers along and around the left collarbone to the shoulders, then repeat on the other side.

For the legs and feet

  1. Sit on the edge of a chair, fingers intertwined under the right leg, pick it up and shake it relaxed. Keep the leg muscles relaxed and passive, don’t let the hip flexors tense.
  2. Lower the right foot and swing the knee back and forth, releasing the hip socket.
  3. Move into a figure-four position with the right foot on the left knee. Support the ankle with the right hand while gently circling the foot with the left hand.
  4. Pinch the toes and fold them forward and back.
  5. Lay the leg down, brushing the front and back as you did with the arms, from hip to foot.
  6. Repeat with the other leg.

For the head and neck

  1. With fingers intertwined behind the head at the base of the skull, gently manipulate the head in small circles in each direction, feeling the weight of the head in the palms of your hands.
  2. To relieve the compression that builds up over the top of the cervical spine, gently pull up to lift the head slightly away from the neck.
  3. Repeat with hands folded around your temples.
  4. Then brush the back of the neck up to the head and up to the shoulders.

Pressure points on the primary meridians

For these pressure points, Flomin recommends holding them each for a few seconds (a few deep breaths), no more than three times.

Pillar of Heaven

  1. Using both hands at the same time, starting at the point just below the inner edge of each eyebrow, run the fingers up to the hairline, across the crown of the head, and all the way down toward the base of the skull on either side of the spine . Hook your thumbs into those little niches.
  2. Slowly and gently let the weight of the head fall back into your open palms while pressing the thumbs into the recesses.

Good in the shoulder

  1. With the right hand, lightly squeeze the trapezius muscle from the base of the left side of the neck to the shoulder. Then find the center of the trapezius (the highest point of the muscle between the neck and shoulder) and walk your fingers back slightly to the point of tenderness. Hook your fingers and press gently.
  2. Repeat on the other side.

Palace of hearing

  1. Brush your face with both hands at the same time, starting at the nose and working outwards.
  2. To release tension along the jaw, bring your fingers just inside the bump in the center of your ears (called the tragus) and open your mouth. Find the niche that forms when the jaw is slightly opened and press into it.

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