Psychology and the holistic view of man: between West and East. In body-mind energy balancing work Shiatsu & Co. by Liliana Atz

Part 1: West.
Starting from childhood, as the structuring nucleus of the human universe, various psychological studies have highlighted how the relationship with the mother and/or other reference figures is decisive in the activation of those temperamental traits that manifest themselves from the first year of life. These traits represent the biological matrix from which, in interaction with the environment, personality traits will develop.
Eysenck (1) states that temperamental traits have a genetic basis, however, we do not inherit the behaviour, but the biological structures that give rise to those behaviours that we manifest more frequently than others. There are certain biological intermediaries, such as hormones and neurotransmitters, that translate genetic potential into behavioural constants (personality traits). In interaction with the environment, the physiological underpinnings we inherit produce both those behaviours that can be detected in the laboratory, such as gestalt retention and sensory threshold, and those behaviours that are observed in natural contexts, such as sociability, sexuality, and aggression. Affective communication is thus outlined as the first source of stimulation of the child’s behaviour and, subsequently, through a process of introjection, also the basis on which to structure the framework of its internal world. This capacity seems to be profoundly conditioned by the type of emotional response he was able to enjoy during his childhood experience. The intrapsychic world of the child is, in this sense, the result of the interrelation between its original temperamental, communicative, emotional and responsive structure and that of its attachment figures.

The ability to recognise one’s emotions, which the child progressively articulates, without resorting to defensive operations of deformation and limitation of them, is fundamental to his development, because it leads him to establish adequate intrapsychic communication with the world of his affections.

According to Bowlby (2), Internal Operating Models (MOI) are formed in the child, i.e. models of the relationship of self and self with other. These are mental representations constructed by the individual, containing schemata, representations of the world, which enable him to make predictions and create expectations in his relations with others. Over time, MOI become automated, until they operate at the level of the unconscious, that is, until they become tendential characteristics of the individual’s personality.
For Bowlby, there are several Internal Operating Models for each of the main motivational systems. It is on this basis that the motives of the self are constructed, i.e. all information concerning oneself ends up being organised in a series of cognitive structures called ‘self-schemas’, within which one finds both representations of specific events concerning the individual and more general representations, the outcome of the customary evaluation of one’s personal conduct. The security and support provided by the attachment bond are, therefore, indispensable factors in the child’s acquisition of independence. The absence of such a bond, or its rupture, has the effect of halting or at any rate considerably slowing down the development of the child’s communication and movement skills and, as a whole, his or her entire affective and mental development, and of marking the successive stages in the construction of a personal identity. The latter is built in increasingly differentiated and complex concentric circles: primary and then secondary socialisation (family, school, peer group, etc.). At each stage, the individual takes on new roles that add to and transform previous roles, changing personal identity as a mirror of social identity.
In the sociological field, various research has proven the intertwining of temperamental and personality traits with the individual’s primary and secondary socialisation. Entering a group (school, joining groups of various kinds, military service, entering the world of work), are experiences that punctuate a person’s entire life and are closely linked to both the type of group one joins and the characteristics of the neophyte. The individual enters the ‘group culture’ with his or her baggage of experiences, self-assessment and self-preservation mechanisms, becoming a more or less active member and structuring his or her identity through implicit acceptance of the group’s rules.

Imbalance, illness.

In ‘normal’ situations, the person becomes an active agent of his or her own socialisation. The opportunities that society offers him may be more or less extensive, but the space for choice is never completely reduced, leaving him the possibility of directing the process of his own socialisation and identity construction.

In other cases, the close intertwining of social, occupational, environmental and genetic conditions means that the disease may unconsciously be experienced as the only escape route from an otherwise untenable situation.

Body work (according to the Western view).

It was Sigmund Freud, who stated that a large number of illnesses were nothing more than the bodily expression of childhood experiences characterised by great pain and fear. Freud’s work was expanded by his pupil W. Reich, who introduced the examination of the person’s body into psychoanalysis; he was the first to talk about what is now called body language. Reich experienced how direct pressure on the muscles of the body helped the patient to get in touch with strong forgotten emotions and painful memories. The unity between the mind, body and emotional aspects of the person became evident.
Alexander Lowen, a patient and student of Reich, coined the term ‘bioenergy’ for it. Lowen observed how a person whose energy flow is blocked loses much of his or her vitality and personality, causing imbalances at various levels. As the individual begins to grow up, he learns how the free expression of his emotions both in the family and in society clashes with rejection, disapproval, humiliation and punishment. This is followed by a natural unconscious control of emotions through the permanent blocking of the body parts involved in these manifestations. Unlocking the ‘armour’ that the individual has created during his or her evolution leads him or her to reconnect with his or her forgotten parts and their acceptance can, over time, turn into a delicate path of personal re-evolution.
Recent developments of the Bowlbian school (2) also recognise how body contact represents a fundamental component of the therapeutic relationship, as it can foster in the patient the perception of the therapist as a secure base and thus facilitate that overcoming of dysfunctional internal operating models that stimulates a reworking of narrative versions of the self with greater coherence. For Zerbetto (3), the implications of body contact extend far beyond its use for therapeutic purposes, being connected to the deep structure of the self.
1) Hans Eysenck, psychologist. He was one of the most influential proponents of the heredity of intelligence.
2) Jphn Bowlby: father of Attachment Theory (1969-1988).
3) R.Zerbetto: Gestalt-oriented psychologist and psychotherapist.

Part 2: East.

….for life is in two ways, speech is a wing of silence and fire has one half of cold. (P. Neruda)
It is from the interrelationship between Man and his inner/outer environment that the Chinese also derive the concepts of health and disease. In Chinese Medicine (C.T.M.), the dichotomy between body and psyche does not exist: the psyche is the body and the body is the psyche, there is no organic function that does not contribute its ’emotional colour’ and there is no intense or chronic state of mind that does not leave its trace at the organ level. According to Chinese Medicine, both body and psyche feed on the same Energy (Qi), so there can be no separation between physical and mental illnesses, both of which are the result of an energy imbalance.

Any therapeutic action performed on the body also influences the mind and vice versa. The Chinese view has grasped the close interrelationship between body and psyche for more than two thousand years and believes there are no negative or positive feelings or drives, as all are necessary for the development of the personality. What gives negativity and positivity is the deficiency or excess of one aspect over the other.
For the Chinese, what we call ‘Psyche’ is called Shen, similar in some respects to the ‘Self’ of modern psychology. The abode of Shen is the Heart, because Shen is in the blood. The blood supplies the whole body, reaches all organs and districts. For the Chinese, a balanced and healthy body/mind is the result of all organs functioning well. There is no concept of organic disease, or psychosomatic illness, as psyche and soma always express themselves simultaneously through each other.
According to C.T.M., there are external causes of illness (wind, cold, heat, humidity, dryness, etc.), food causes of illness and internal causes of illness (five emotions and seven feelings). The five emotions are linked to the structure of being, to its ‘constitution’. It is the ‘Factory Mark’ linked to what is received from outside. These are the innate characteristics, the feelings ‘congenital’ to the individual (temperament traits).
The seven feelings are the realisation of Shen with respect to the world, to reality. It is the fusion of what is inside the individual with what is outside him. The realisation of the will, the transition to the act (personality traits). The excess of a feeling weakens (the Yin/Yang) of the corresponding organ and, analogically, the malfunctioning of an organ can be evidenced by an alteration of the corresponding feeling. Interrelation, therefore, also according to the Chinese vision, between internal and external aspects (also family, environmental, social, cultural, etc.) of the individual, which, if unbalanced, cause alterations at a psycho/physical level, those same imbalances that are commonly defined as illness.
To rebalance the body, it is essential to restore the energy flow within the body/mind. To this end, Oriental medicine uses various therapeutic techniques including body work. Shiatsu is a manual technique that relies on pressure applied on energy meridians and/or acupuncture points with the thumbs, palms, elbows and, in some styles with the knuckles, knees and feet. It has been characterised since its inception (it is therefore not correct to call it a massage) by the static nature of the pressure applied, which enters perpendicularly to the surface of the treated body. The pressure enters deeply without slipping over the skin and produces a stimulus to which the organism ‘responds’, recovering and manifesting its vital resources ‘from deep within’. Experimentally, preferential energy flow paths within the human body were discovered and identified. This is possible because our skin, which has the same embryological origin as the nervous system, is able to receive and select stimuli from the external environment and, through the nervous system and meridian network, make them communicate with the interior by rebuilding the balance of Qi, which intervenes in the entire psycho-neuro-endocrine-immune system.
The meridians are paired (Yin/Yang) and each pair presides over the circulation of a certain amount of energy that goes to nourish the corresponding organ and viscera (see table pg.10), also regulating the corresponding emotions and psychic functions. When energy circulates unimpeded, the organism is healthy in all its aspects. Shiatsu considers the person as a whole: body, mind, spirit, and emotions. Twenty years ago, M. had an accident that caused him partial desensitisation, gradually worsening, in his lower extremities. When we started the treatments M. was also depressed and suffering from energy imbalances of various kinds. The work on the body and the consequent reworking of his experience have led him to shed, to paraphrase Lowen, his armour.
The response on a psycho/physical level was one of renewed well-being, which helped him to have a new vision and planning in his daily life. M. is no longer depressed and his organic functions have regained their youthful functionality: he no longer has digestive and intestinal problems, his sleep-wake rhythm has normalised and his muscular pains have disappeared while, gradually, his lower limbs are also regaining their full sensitivity.
Shiatsu is global interrelationship between the parts. Its potential, which has no predetermined and predeterminable boundaries, has, however, not yet been fully understood, evaluated and utilised in Italy…


– What is personality – Lisa di Blas – Ed. Carocci 2002
– Handbook of psychiatry and clinical psychology – G. Invernizzi – MC Graw-Hill
– La comunicazione affettiva tra il bambino e i suoi partner – edited by Riva Prugnola – R. Cortina ed. 1999
– Mother-child interactions in development and growth – D.N. Stern – ed. Cortina 1998
– Introduction to Social Psychology – S. Boca, P.Bocchiaro, C.Scaffi di Abbate – Il Mulino 2003
– Sociology course – Bagnasco Cavalli – Ed. The Mill 1997
– Taken from Shiatsu and emotional distress – lecture by M. Parini – Text taken from Bonanomi, Corradin, di Stanislao.
-“ A Oriente’ – September 2003 – Iome publication
Table 1.

Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Seasons Spring Summer Late summer
Fall Winter
Directions East South Center West North
Wind Heat Umidity Dryness Cold
Mutations Birth Development
Putting in reserve
Colors Green/blue Red Yellow White Black
Flavors Acid Bitter Sweet Spicy Salty
Sounds Xu He Hu Shi Chuei
Organs (Zang) Liver Heart/MC Spleen Lung Kidneys
Viscers (Fu) Vesicle
Small Intestine Triple Focal Point Stomach Large intestine Bladder
Sense organs Eyes Tounge Mouth Noise ears
Body parts Tendon muscles Blood vessels Meat Leather/fur Bones
Emotions Wrath Joy Reflection
Sadness Fear

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