An Interview with our Shiatsu Therapist

Lisabetta Vilela, Shiatsu Therapist at The Little Escape

Shiatsu is a Traditional Japanese bodywork used to stimulate the body by applying pressure to points across the body to affect the circulation of Ki (energy). Deep rhythmic movement, assisted stretches and the treatment of specific release points helps to release and stimulate the body to regain its natural equilibrium. Shiatsu treats the whole person, concentrating not only on the symptoms but also on the individuals’ vitality and innate healing power. 

How did you first find out about and get into Shiatsu?

Firstly I discovered Reiki in 1999 and learnt how to give and use Reiki on myself, family and friends. After a year I wanted to learn a similar therapy with a focus on energy, but one within a system of medicine with its own history and lineage – with greater diagnostic methods to help people in more depth.

I came across Shiatsu at my local college and enrolled on a 10 week evening course. I was completely hooked! Not only did I love receiving and giving Shiatsu but I also loved learning about the ‘Ki’ energy system and its mechanisms, traditions and knowledge. I left each class feeling uplifted and excited. On the final class I was paired with the instructor and gave twenty minute swaps of the techniques we had learnt in the past 9 weeks. Her treatment was amazing – so different from any other massage I had experienced before in the way that she connected with me on a deep level. Through her treatment I became aware of the anxiety I had been carrying all day and was finally able to release it. Afterwards I felt calm, peaceful, yet energized.

Within months I enrolled on a 3 year Professional Practitioner Course with the European Shiatsu School and begun my shiatsu journey in the autumn of 2002. I completed the course and received my Practitioner Diploma in 2007 and have been practising ever since.

What about Pregnancy Shiatsu?

Shiatsu during pregnancy is a brilliant support system for all women. It is a gentle yet deeply relaxing therapy which supports and nurtures women through the rapid changes of pregnancy helping them adapt to their changing bodies as well as evolving emotional states.

I was pregnant during my course and as a result I received a lot of shiatsu from students and teachers alike. I loved it and looked forward to my lessons not so much to learn or give but to receive! I guess I needed the support at the time.

The focus on treatment changes as the woman’s body and emotional needs change. This is an aspect of Shiatsu as a whole; the treatment is adapted to suit the individual and their needs at any point in time. Last year I learnt with Suzanne Yates who is the leading expert on shiatsu in pregnancy and labour and runs courses for midwives and massage therapists. Her knowledge and dedication in this field is truly inspiring. She demonstrates how Shiatsu can be a supportive therapy during circles of change in a woman’s life: like pregnancy, labour and menopause.

Where else did your studies take you?

I have completed several courses with prominent Shiatsu teachers specialising in particular fields, or just vastly experienced and hugely inspiring.  I’ve worked with Dan Stretton who deals with pelvic re-alignment, posture and working with back problems; Bill Palmer on movement shiatsu; Suzanne Yates on Pregnancy Shiatsu and Michael Rose, a prominent shiatsu teacher full of great wisdom and humility. I also took a workshop on Shiatsu for Autism, which was not only fascinating but renewed my belief that Shiatsu as a therapy can be helpful for everyone.  I attended this course more out of curiosity as a friend’s young son was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. From the Practitioner’s experience many of the children responded and appreciated strong holding pressure. They wanted to feel their physical boundaries and the practitioner created a space for this to happen, making a 30 minute treatment fun and physical.

I’m also interested in the energetics of food, based on eastern and oriental system of medicine and tradition. I was fortunate to have met the late Chris Jarmey who was an expert in this field and founder of the EuropeanShiatsuSchool. He was one of the first practitioners to have practised shiatsu in an NHS hospital in the 70’s. His research into food energetics was inspiring and empowering.

My interest in healing all aspects of ourselves has led me to study other energy systems; the Light body system, the aura, the chakra system and how bringing these systems to balance can help clear and heal long standing issues.

Shiatsu for me is a labour of love.  There is a lot to learn and experience and I’m looking forward to the journey.

After a decade of studying and practising Shiatsu how do you feel you’ve changed: or what do you feel you’ve learned since you first began your journey?

A lot of changes have taken place since I first began this journey. When I started my course our teachers said that during the 3 year period we would experience a number of changes within us. Apart from having a baby I didn’t feel I had changed any throughout the course – perhaps as my focus was on my new baby rather than on myself. It has been in these last four years, however, that these changes have really occurred. Maybe I was ready for change, ready for my healing journey….to find my way to The Destination?…finding out who I AM….will I arrive there? Perhaps I will, perhaps I won’t, but either way I have no doubt that the journey will be fascinating!

Learning Shiatsu, and all the disciplines that go with this (qi-gong, yoga postures, body awareness) has benefited me greatly. My awareness of my own health has improved and I’m better at listening to my body’s signals for rest, sleep, exercise, better nourishment and better relationships; allowing myself time to also do the things I enjoy. It all sounds good in theory but in practise it takes some effort. The effort is in slowing down and being still, being present, feeling what’s happening inside and what will help nurture and support you at this time.  The mind can be too busy and consequently doesn’t help, so stillness and presence can help bring in some clarity.

What other holistic therapies do you have done for yourself?

I have tried many holistic therapies over the last 15 years. Whatever therapy I’m drawn to at the time is for a good reason. Sometimes curiosity drives my decision and sometimes it is for support in order to heal a physical or emotional issue.

In the last ten years, I have learnt to become more self-aware – listening to my body, my health, and my needs both physical, emotional and (in the last two years) spiritual.  If you’re not meeting your needs your body will soon tell you.  Your level of awareness and desire for positive change will determine if you hear the body’s signals and deal with the problem sooner rather than later. If I feel discomfort in my body or I feel my energy is low I try to find out why and deal with it quickly. For example, I may need to do specific yoga stretches to help with stiffness or aches. Perhaps more rest, more sleep, good, nourishing foods, nourishing relationships, or a walk in the country – being among nature.  If I am unwell I cannot give a treatment, therefore I need to be mindful of my health. Whatever I feel intuitively will help usually does.

If I need extra support to ease a pain, discomfort or tiredness then I seek the following therapies:

Shiatsu massage/ Deep tissue massage 




Energy Healing

I also self- treat with HomeopathyHerbs, Essential Oil and Crystal Therapy.

Qi-gong, yoga and meditation help to centre ground and calm the body and mind.  I will do these practises when I feel in need of more balance and energy in my life. What I find most important, however, is to know when to take some time out and give yourself permission to stop the hectic life routine and spend some time doing the things you enjoy the most – those that nourish your heart and soul.

How do you feel after giving a treatment?

After receiving a treatment I feel great. The outcome can be determined by the type of therapy itself, or my own reason for the treatment, but generally I will feel relaxed, rested and supported.

After giving a treatment I feel peaceful and centred.  Shiatsu takes a lot of focus, so to do it effectively I have to be present and mindful. I listen to my client’s Ki energy, as I follow the energy meridians along their body.  If I listen with focus, an empty mind and non-judgemental heart then the client will lead me to where they need support and I will provide a space for healing to occur. Whatever the reason for the treatment, a specific problem or general self-maintenance, a change will occur.

Could you explain what you mean when you say self-maintenance?

Urban life creates stresses on the body and mind. Commuting in London with millions of other people; sat at a desk, over a computer for 8 hours – these things are all stressful on the body and stagnates energy.  London life is stimulating, great at times, but overstimulation will put stresses on the nervous system. So we need to do things that counter this lifestyle.  It’s not always possible to change our jobs or our environment, so maintaining one’s health to counter the stresses of urban life will help.  Nourishing food, appropriate exercise, connecting with nature, techniques to release tension and stresses that have built so your energy can flow freely and bring you to good health once more.

Regular Shiatsu treatments help prevent the build up of stress in daily life, which in turn restores good health.

How do you connect with your clients?

On the first treatment I take information on the client’s lifestyle and medical history. It’s fairly brief but essential to gather background information on a person’s overall health.  I will also do a postural observation. Then, after establishing the client’s needs and desired outcomes the treatment begins with the client lying on their back, fully clothed on a futon mat. I will initially do a hara evaluation which is a light palpation of the stomach area to see how the general energy flow is and allow this knowledge to guide me from there.  The treatment takes place either on their back, in a side position or on their front. I focus on my client’s breath in order to connect to it. The breath is very important – it encourages the release of tension and stress in the muscles and internal organs and calms the body. Working with long-term clients is hugely fulfilling and trust is increased which allows deeper healing to take place.

I feel gratitude to my clients because I learn through them and with them.  I feel honoured to witness their healing and humbled at their trust in my ability to help facilitate this.

I recently had to deal with some Homeopathy sceptics – it’s an area which raises a considerable amount of debate – have you ever come across sceptics of the therapies you practice? 

I think Homeopathy has some unfair bashing from the establishment. The NHS homeopathic hospital in London has had great feedback from its service users and that should be taken into consideration when deciding on the effectiveness of a therapy. Client feedback is important.

Shiatsu is not the most well-known of massage therapies – most of my clients come to Shiatsu out of curiosity: they try out a session, learn what it is and decide to carry on seeing me. Sometimes people question the idea of the Ki (chi) energy system within our structure because it’s a new concept in our culture and we don’t learn or nurture this aspect of our nature.  In Japan, China, Tibet and India they have been using, nurturing, healing with this vital energy for 1000’s years and there are hundreds of papers and text books going back 4000 years on its existence use in maintaining good health on a daily basis.  Many therapies and disciplines have evolved from the basic understanding of this energy flow within us and in Nature;…yoga, pranayama, acupuncture, moxa, cupping, Chinese herbal medicine, Tui-na, Tai-chi, qi-gong, martial arts, shiatsu, acu-pressure and probably many more …We can adapt any of these to meet our modern needs and lifestyle.

We can all be sceptical and that’s ok if it makes us curious and leads us to ask questions. If someone is sceptical due to lack of scientific evidence and goes no further they may be missing out on the opportunity to realise their own self-healing powers. Holistic therapy works to support and facilitate self-healing and that gives confidence and self-empowerment.

Is there anything final you want to add or say about Shiatsu and your own personal relationship with your art?

I feel blessed to have found Shiatsu and retained the passion and determination to complete the Practitioners Diploma (which took five years due to having my son half way through). After receiving my Diploma I questioned many times if I could really help people. It has been an interesting, dynamic and sometimes challenging journey since then. Shiatsu in my life has helped me to seek positive change that has in turn helped me to grow as a person. Finally I can say ‘Yes I can help’. I have a wonderful tool at my disposal which is Shiatsu, which encourages the flow of energy within, moving stagnant energy, rejuvenating weak areas, encouraging self-awareness and instilling a sense of well-being. The receiver of  Shiatsu begins to feel more empowered and more responsible for small changes so that, over time, the body feels rejuvenated, calmer, and more energized.  I have been empowered by my healing journey.  I hope my clients will feel empowered when they embark on their healing journeys and begin to seek positive change in their lives.

European Shiatsu week begins on the 17th until the 23rd of September. Lisabetta is offering free 15 minute taster sessions on Thursday the 20th of September from 2pm- 5pm. All treatments of Shiatsu or Shiatsu ‘facial’ bodywork are offered with 

Lisabetta also offers Shiatsu ‘facelift’ Massage, Reiki, Alternative Energy Healing and leads a Max Meditation class every Sunday 11-12pm.

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