Friday, January 6, 2012


Last week at the spa, I had a very interesting and instructive experience with shiatsu.

Passive stretching and that specific style of massage feels extremely good. Not a big surprise there, but an excellent reason to grant myself some more regular shiatsu sessions. The movements have a relaxing and activating effect at the same time. And besides, the flexibility and agility of those masseurs is pretty impressive.

Now about the "energetic" part. Shiatsu is not meant to be a simple stretching exercise. It's meant to work on your "meridians". Now, this specific practitioner did something very interesting: She predicted that, since she had worked on my "bladder meridian", I would probably have to use the restroom more often the following day.

Did I? I have no clue. For one, I was sweating all day in the sauna, and therefore drinking a lot; secondly, I really couldn't tell whether I peed more than usual; and thirdly, she gave me the suggestion beforehand, so in case there was an effect, we can't tell whether it came from the massage or from the suggestion.

But in hindsight, another thing stands out. Imagine a western doctor treating you for... whatever, a nosebleed. And at the end of the treatment, said doctor says, "Oh by the way... I gave you something for your bladder, you'll have to use the restroom a lot these days."

Wouldn't you be a bit upset? I, for one, can imagine suing that doctor all over the place. I rather like to know beforehand what I will be up to, or if there are any side-effects to a treatment. That is because I like to take my decisions myself. Strictly speaking, this is an invasion of my privacy and physical integrity.

Of course, I wouldn't do that with a shiatsu practitioner, and I don't think anyone would.

The reason for this is shockingly simple: When a western doctor gives you a prediction, you can bet almost all your money on that prediction coming true. When a practitioner of some eastern massage technique does the same, you can bet that the prediction will come true in exactly 50% of all cases.

Now, I don't even want to claim that there is literally NOTHING to meridians. I'm perfectly convinced that those old chinese (or, in the case of shiatsu, those not-so-old japanese of the late 19th century) knew a bit about the human body.

But I am equally sure that their metaphysical, "energetic" explanation kept them from developing their knowledge to its full potential.

I would bet that because the "energetic" explanation is unfalsifiable, and therefore utterly useless. You cannot disprove any specific part of a theory like that, therefore the theory cannot be expanded upon or improved.

In other words, the "bladder meridian" will most probably have an effect on the bladder in some cases - namely, those cases where they hit on an actual nerve center by chance. In all other cases, nothing will happen. Or perhaps, something entirely different from what the practitioner expects. Happily, since our body is constructed to withstand outer influences to a large degree, most effects will either be beneficial or insignificant. That is, in my view, eastern practitioners' real competitive edge.

And of course, because eastern medicine never ever claims any actual effects - it's only ever for prevention, never for healing - you cannot decide whether there is something to it or not. If the desired effect does not appear, then there's always some explanation for that. And even that practitioner at the spa only said that it would "probably" happen.

I will definitely go on with shiatsu. I will ask the next practitioner to refrain from giving me their predictions beforehand. One week later, I will ask them, and then compare notes.

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