Michel Odoul: “Shiatsu is imbued with Buddhist references. »

- through Sophie Solere

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Founder and president of the French Institute of Shiatsu, best-selling author (1), Michel Odoul has become one of the main voices in France to promote this therapy imported from Japan. A method that has to do directly with Buddhist reflection: we met him to discuss it.

What exactly is shiatsu?

It is a body work technique that comes from Japan, "shiatsu" means "finger pressure". It has a relaxation aim in the biomechanical field – it acts on the muscles, the joints or the vertebrae – but also a rebalancing aim in the energy field, by working on acupuncture points. It is a form of oriental osteopathy which will be interested in the vital flows which can be momentarily unbalanced.

Personally, I discovered shiatsu in the 70s with the Japanese master Nakazono. At that time, no one knew about this method! But it immediately allowed me to find answers to conflict situations that I encountered in the world of work. Shiatsu, like reflexology, is what is called complementary alternative medicine. In Japan, it is a method that has been integrated into the Ministry of Health since 1950. Its fundamental principle is very simple: it is better to stay in good health than to fight disease afterwards.

Implicitly, there is this idea, which you defend in your latest book, that we must maintain a different relationship to care and health.

The central axis is to consider that any disease is the signature of an imbalance. Any physiological manifestation, whether traumatic or pathological, is the result of tension or fragility. And therefore, rather than treating the consequence, let's treat the cause! Attention, it is not a question of opposing the disease, which is by itself a life force: the more vitality someone has, the higher the fever. It is useless to castrate it, any opposition to the circulation of life always generates a reaction or a blockage. But we must try to circulate this vitality better. The flows of life circulate all the better when they are part of themselves!

What is interesting in this vision is that the disease is not inevitable. On the contrary, it is everyone's responsibility. Anyone can behave in ways that keep them healthy. This is something essential, which is not necessarily very audible in our contemporary societies: it is everyone's responsibility to manage their microcosmic biotope, which is itself in symbiosis with the macrocosmic, all around.

How does this have a common history with Buddhism?

Shiatsu was formed around the fundamental bases of traditional Japanese medicine called "Kampo", which is itself the meeting of traditional Chinese medicine with the animist and shamanic medicines that pre-existed in Japanese culture, in particular through Shinto. However, these approaches arrived at the same time as Buddhism, around the XNUMXth century AD. It was a very important moment of bubbling, when many cultural bridges were erected. Until then, in Japan, this form of animism did not need to be named: Shinto was thus constituted under this name only when Buddhism arrived, because from then on there was a need for differentiation. However, there have never been any conflicts, because Shinto is a kind of spiritual philosophy, a very animist way of life, which is articulated around the " Us », these divine entities present in all things. In Japan, a distinction is made between Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

“The central axis of shiatsu is to consider that any illness is the sign of an imbalance. Any physiological manifestation, whether traumatic or pathological, is the result of tension or fragility. And therefore, rather than treating the consequence, let's treat the cause! »

There was therefore a real cultural fusion from which stems this medical vision seeking to rebalance this state of harmony, which is simultaneously based on Shinto and Buddhism as spiritual roots. Shiatsu is, historically, imbued with Buddhist references. And this is also the reason why, in many Japanese medical approaches, we find codes that are those of the martial arts. In shiatsu, for example, we rely on the code of Bushido, which the samurai were required to observe, which notably stipulates that it is necessary to respect any respectable life.

The notion of interdependence, which seems essential in shiatsu, is also omnipresent in Buddhist thought.

It is very present in all human thought, in fact. On this question, I was first intimately touched by Jung's work, particularly in the way he reconnects the individual with the collective, with the concepts of projection, the collective unconscious, etc. Jung, moreover, was very marked by Tibet and the mandalas, by Taoism and the famous secret of the Golden Flower, which he commented on and allowed him to transform the concepts of Ying and Yang. All of this leads to this essential idea: the way we think about the world allows us to resonate with it and nourish it. Because at every moment, we feed the collective unconscious and participate in what is.

This directly echoes the Buddhist and animist vision, which presents us a bit like cells in a body: we are directly linked. For cancer to gangrene the human body, all it takes is a single cell which refuses to die, which then multiplies... At the individual level, it's a bit the same thing: it seems trivial to me to believe that consciousness individual can exist, be conceived and understood outside of something collective, outside of an environment which shapes and nourishes it, but which it also nourishes! We are in a bilateral exchange, everything interpenetrates. And that too is a great responsibility.

How did you come across Buddhist reflections?

Through different channels. I discovered the first scraps in the practice of aikido and shiatsu, then through friends who followed retreats with Kalou Rinpoche. So I went to Karma Ling and Kagyu Ling. I was also interested in how Alexandra David-Neel had encountered this world. I found there a very coherent vision of the world, in phase with what I had encountered in Japan, based on this same idea of ​​a rather animistic character, with the presence of animation and a spark of life. in everything.

It is for this reason that Tibetan Buddhism was more immediate to me, compared to Zen and Japanese Buddhism. At first, I had found the teaching of Deshimaru a little too rigorous and strict. Tibetan Buddhism seemed more interesting to me, with this thought that the very essence of life is a flow that circulates everywhere. Buddha is then only an artefact of expression or manifestation of this thought which is there, present everywhere.

Today, what relationship do you have with Buddhism?

I am in a companionship process. I am of Christian origin, but I never wanted to go into dogmas; I am rather in search of a thought which seems healthy and coherent to me. Basically, the so-called "organized" religions all say somewhat the same thing, and Buddhism has helped me to understand that there is undoubtedly a somewhat more universal thought, which is consubstantial with humans and which belongs to this particular field that can be called "the causal body" or "the collective unconscious".

I intervene for example in a DU of medicine, in Strasbourg, which is called “Medicine, meditation and neuroscience”, which was set up by the rheumatologist Jean-Gérard Bloch, who is himself a Buddhist. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed mindfulness meditation, is also a Buddhist, but he had the intelligence to understand that if we wanted this tool and this thought to be widely welcomed, we had to "purify" and not necessarily present him as a Buddhist.

For the practitioner that I am, notions such as non-judgment or benevolence are essential in my activity. Because we treat the being, we don't treat what he has done. So Buddhism remains an important source of inspiration.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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