Shiatsu and Hallucinations March 12, 2017Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback
An autobiographical post. For the last months I have been invited by a friend to help with her shiatsu training. Shiatsu, for readers who might not know, is a form of Japanese massage where the body is pressed in certain key locations. It is frequently described, in fact, as acupuncture without the needles: the shiatsu masseur touches the body’s meridians. I was asked to lend my body so that my friend could practice shiatsu upon me as she is completing her shiatsu apprenticeship. I thought that it would be a stimulating and enjoyable but I did not expect the hallucinations…
Before I get to the hallucinations a few disclaimers and a little background. I should say, first, that I have no warmth for oriental philosophies and I do not understand meridians nor, to be honest, do I want to. I am not in perfect health and I am not convinced that the shiatsu has helped my health (though see the endnote).* The reason that I decided to take up my friend’s offer was that I had previously had one powerful shiatsu experience where I had practically passed out after the treatment and I was interested to see what would happen: I’m fascinated by body extremes. Perhaps also fundamentally I like being touched: this has nothing to do with intimacy and everything to do with feeling my body, part of my illness involves difficulties in sensation. Finally, my friend may be a beginner, but she is clearly very good at what she does and I knew that she would be before I even lay down on the first visit.
Now back to the hallucinations. In the course of my life I have had a handful (perhaps three) aural hallucinations where, in moments of extreme stress I have heard voices; and I have had one experience of a visual hallucination in an emotional moment. In this I’m probably not too far outside the mean. In all cases I felt these ‘things’ were hallucinations the moment I heard/saw them: I did not interpret them as something external from my brain. I think about these experiences a great deal because I have studied and written in the last years on people seeing and hearing impossible things.
Since starting a cycle of twelve shiatsu meetings I have had two sessions where I have had what I would describe as ‘hallucinations’. Often in these twelve shiatsu meetings I fall asleep and this is surely the key to the experience: namely that I am passing between sleep and waking. On the first occasion the masseur’s hands began to send messages to my brain in an unexpected way. The experience was synesthetic, her touch became images that had a feel to them: a map of France for example, showed borders growing and contracting (honestly, historians…) as the fingers moved. There then came a Delphic voice in my head: ‘the weary waters of the world’, since you ask.
The second experience was yesterday. I saw the masseuse walk in front of me as she was massaging my head, something that is, of course, fantastical. It was not frightening, and it was more a shadow than an image, but it still shook me. The person walking was not very clear. Perhaps it was not even my friend: the figure had something in her posture that reminded me of our family babysitter, who I often watch walk across the room from the kitchen settee. In the first experience I felt that I was in a dream connected to things in the world; in the second I was in the world connected to a dream. In fact, the second ‘vision’ seemed much less significant, just a neurological accident, perhaps a shadow of something seen before. In the right circumstances and with a lot of charisma I could, though, have started a religion with that map of France.
I’ve looked through Google and found surprisingly few references to these kinds of effects. I wonder if others have had or can explain these experiences: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com. As noted above I’m ‘ill’, but, at least theoretically, my illness does not cause cognitive issues.
*It is of course very difficult to judge the effect of treatments like this on an illness and I tend to be skeptical. I do not know if the treatment helps, though I have found, no surprise here, that talking about my health with my friend is useful. However, shiatsu manages one thing. My illness involves periods of inflammation. The probing fingers of the masseuse hurt in the points where the inflammation is: as the inflammation is in the central nervous system I didn’t expect this. I felt the pain reduce as the weeks passed and as other signs (admittedly impressions) suggested that the inflammation was going down. If I have not misinterpreted things then shiatsu helps me to measure the activity of my illness?
Ruth in WA, 30 Mar 2017: Well Beachy, getting off into the realm of the esoteric a lot, aren’t we? Not that I’m complaining here, some of it is interesting. Witches spells are bunk, personally, but the mind can be put into a frame that permits strange things to happen. I had heard of Shiatsu, but never exactly what it involved. (Will have to do some more study on it now.) Massage definitely has healing qualities, relaxation of the body and mind can cause it to “heal itself” or possible lessening of tension can at lease cause some problems to go away. I have a skill for getting rid of migraines in other people with massage by feeling where the spine is out of line and coaxing it back, though which causes which I can’t say as headaches can cause the spinal misalignment and vice versa. Wish I could do it for myself but I have found acupressure points that help. My MIL was trained in reflexology which uses points in the foot that correspond to points on the body for relief. This was also helpful at times for many things. As for hallucinations of aural or visual types, that’s a new one. (Do you get migraines with either of these symptoms?) [No!] Something is obviously being triggered in your brain by stimulation of the troublesome nerves. Not an impossible thing, though it would probably take some research to find out. Guess it’s a good thing you aren’t a religious fanatic, eh? We are supposed to be able to heal ourselves by meditation, but most people can’t get into that deep of a trance state. I tend to fall asleep when trying, but find it useful for relaxation of cramping muscles. The brain is a funny machine at times and can do the most amazing things.
Jenn writes 30 Mar 2017: Good morning! I just finished reading your article on Shiatsu and hallucinations and thought I would share a similar, yet different story. Due to some harmless brain cysts, I suffer from varying amounts of “head pressure” largely based upon stress level and physical movements. The best solution I’ve found to relieve this pressure is a procedure called Craniosacral therapy, where a therapist gently moves areas of the head to move around fluid. You might want to look this up as this probably isn’t the best definition 🙂 I’ve had it done numerous times by different therapists and one of the possible side effects is traumatic memories (at least from what my last therapist told me, sometimes even bring patients to tears or screaming.) The only time I’ve actually had something like this occur, I know I was awake, however moderately relaxed. All I remember seeing is the bright light of a doctor’s light as he peered into my eyes with the figure of the doctor behind the light. I do realize this is different than your experience but thought in some strange way it may be applicable. Have a great afternoon!
Ruth the truly curious, 30 Mar 2017: I am really surprised that you did not find anything from a search on the hallucinations you experienced during your shiatsu sessions. They’re called hypnagogic hallucinations, in case you weren’t aware of the search terms. Here’s a discussion I picked at random from the Google search results: https://blog.udemy.com/hypnagogic-hallucinations/ There is no doubt in my mind that you were indeed in that between waking and sleeping state. And yes, I’ve had them also, mostly visual. As for the shiatsu itself, if it makes you feel better, go for it. I can’t think of a downside to shiatsu, other than possible bruises. I would take placebo effect. And, if you have some baseline markers to compare over time, you can judge a bit more empirically if it’s having an effect on your illness. I’m thinking of c-reactive proteins from your blood work – that is a good indicator of inflammation – and your own subjective pain scale. And that’s the whole point, your subjective experiences. If your perceived pain levels go down, who cares if it’s “just” the placebo effect?
Chris S 30 Mar 2017: One of my former friends does massage. Part of his training involved a psychiatry course. Sometimes people experience an emotional breakthrough during massage. I did read some sites, sadly those links are lost, illustrating this phenomenon. One anecdote was about a woman with a sore, tight jaw for as long as she could remember. The massage therapist began working her and she was overwhelmed with profound feelings and vivid memories of a pet she lost as a child, and her father telling her not to cry. When the massage therapist relaxed that muscle, she was able to finally grieve after all those years. If massage can recover memories and be psychologically therapeutic, it’s not a huge leap to accept it can elicit altered states of consciousness. Massage profoundly relaxes the body bringing the subconscious to the fore with interesting results. If people can move beyond words like “energy”, “vibrations”, and other new age woo-woo terms, they would be more open-minded about pursuing alternative therapies.
Bruce T writes, 30 mar 2017: If you haven’t seen the movie you ought to, it’s great. It stars a young Tim Robbins as Vietnam vet w/ flashbacks to a horrific incident during the war he doesn’t recall triggered at first by shiatsu massage applied by his therapist played wonderfully by the late Danny Aiello. The movie is based on an urban legend that made the rounds in the early 70’s about a super hallucinogenic developed by underground chemist in the Bay Area in the mid-60’s called “Blue Cheer”. In the story, the chemist is either grabbed govt. or is brought into work for him. They want a drug that will turn their front line units into raging beserkers and weaponize “Blue Cheer”. They’ve done some lab tests, which supposedly went as planned with prisoners and decide to test it in the field on a recon company sent deep behind enemy lines. A small plane administers the Blue Cheer over the unit as they’re making their way across an opening in the canopy. The drug does as advertised, but with one fatal miscalculation, the soldiers turn on each other and wholesale slaughter ensues. When the drug’s effect wears off, specialists are dropped in to see what has happened and are horrified. The handful of survivors are badly wounded and in a daze. The ones that are cogent of what went on are interviewed in the field, and killed on the spot. The others are sent to military hospitals stateside, to recover and be “reconditioned”, ie; brainwashed about the incident. The chemist is bumped off by the govt. and the program shut down. The only way the story gets out is some of the survivors start to recall what happened. These men are hunted down and likewise eliminated. The Blue Cheer story was claimed to be gospel by your more wild eyed longhaired conspiracy types in the period. Two notes on the Blue Cheer story. You didn’t start to hear it until details of MK-Ultra started to get out and reports of use of chemical weapons in S.E. Asia by the US began to get out. It had been known for some time that govt. had tried to weaponize substances that would make opposing forces blithering idiots for 12-24 hours. When the three facts combined with release of the Pentagon Papers and the reasons to impeach Nixon, anything seemed possible from Washington. IMO, Blue Cheer was the right story at the right time.
EM writes, 30 Mar 2017: You asked for readers’ hallucination experiences. I have had 3 in 70 years. About age 12, having just come back from a camping trip and preparing a bath, I kept hearing a confused murmur of voices, like a lot of kids jabbering outside. Looking out the window, there was no one. Then I realized it was all in my head. It worried me for a while, but after a good night’s sleep it was gone. In the 1980’s I was waking up from a nap on the couch. When I opened my eyes, a 7-foot spider was standing 4 feet from my head and grinning at me. As I sat up in surprise, it vanished. I knew it was a hallucination because it looked like a cartoon spider, not a biological specimen. Most puzzling is what took place a few years earlier. I was walking across Key Bridge from Washington DC to Arlington, Virginia one evening and saw a searchlight darting about the bushes along the shore 80 feet below far the end of the bridge. Having occasionally seen police helicopters using searchlights in exactly this way, I wasn’t surprised, until I looked up into the clear blue sky and saw no helicopter or anything else in the air. There was no helicopter sound either. The beam of light seemed to come from thin air a couple of hundred feet above the bridge. I was no more than 2000 feet away with an unobstructed view. After a few seconds the light too disappeared. I kept trying to spot an airborne vehicle as I walked closer, but there was absolutely nothing there. If it wasn’t a hallucination, it could only have been an invisible UFO with a visible searchlight. A similar event happened years later (not an hallucination, but puzzling nonetheless), I took a tour of the Naval Observatory in Washington DC. It started before dark on a summer evening, and as I approached the observatory I noticed Jupiter very bright in the twilight sky. Inside, the astronomer tried to show us the moons of Jupiter through the big telescope. He entered the coordinates into the computer-controlled mount, but there was nothing visible !! Ocular inspection through the opening in the dome confirmed that, defying all expectations, Jupiter had disappeared from the evening sky. We even went outside for a better view. It was still not there. Astronomer very embarrassed. Tourists very puzzled. There were no clouds or haze. Sky was crystal clear. Other stars started to come out in the expected places. Next morning the news made no mention of a planet missing, and next evening I saw Jupiter in the right place.. Although the astronomers couldn’t explain it, I assume the problem had been caused by some thermal inversion or refraction in the atmosphere, or some interplanetary dust cloud that temporarily occulted the biggest Planet in the solar system.