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Shōnishin (from Japanese shōni = little child, shin = needling) is a non-invasive method of acupuncture which was developed in Japan for pediatric treatment around 100 years ago. Instead of using needles there are different tools and instruments. They are used for rubbing and tapping on certain reflex zones and meridian areas, as well as on acupuncture points for gentle stimulation along the torso and the extremities.
The therapeutic effect of Shōnishin is to regulate and support the specific development of children, especially the central and autonomous nervous systems. Therefore the treatment is very effective, especially for children with different disharmonies or illnesses from birth to school age. As Shōnishin has no side effects and is absolutely painless, this kind of treatment is made-to-measure for the needs, complaints, and illnesses of babies and children.
Other client groups who can benefit from Shōnishin
Shōnishin is being used as an alternative to acupuncture in women’s shelters, mother-child facilities and nurseries. This aids women and children, who are in difficult social or monetary situations, abandoned and without any obvious way out. This includes traumatized women and children (e.g. survivors of rape), who are only able to permit touching via the “interposed” Shōnishin instrument where no skin-to-skin contact happens.
Another field of application for Shōnishin will be in the treatment of older adults. Particular parameters like skin conditions and mental conditions seem to show retrogression into childhood. First experiences with Shōnishin in homes for the aged show promising treatment approaches. Even here it becomes obvious, that treatment with a Shōnishin instrument is advantageous as older adults often suffer from a shortage of caring touch. With Shōnishin the contact doesn’t take place directly, but indirectly with an instrument. Thus, older adults have no fear of contact and are willing to allow the treatment. Yet another advantage of treating elderly people with Shōnishin is that as many of them have to take blood-thinning medicines, with the non-invasive and gentle treatment technique with Shōnishin, there is no contraindication.
Training in Shōnishin
Training in Shōnishin varies a lot in the way it is done outside Japan. In Germany there are trainers who offer one-day courses. This, of course, entails the risk that therapists with minimal training could bring Shōnishin into public disrepute if they treat children outside their own household.
As a member of the Japanese Scientific Association of Acupuncture for Children (Nihon Shōni Hari Gakkai), my main aim in running courses is to set a high quality standard in the interest of both small and older children. My courses are based on current traditional Japanese medicine research and on Western health sciences on the other.
Knowledge on child development from both Western and Eastern points of view are an essential lesson of the course. Shōnishin training is best acquired after a basic training in a meridian therapy (e.g. acupuncture, Tuina or Shiatsu) and a minimum six days course. Since, ultimately, children are going to be treated, the motor and sensory aspects of child development in the first 12 months of life are taught, as is energetic development. The most important thing is to understand how the meridians develop, and their influence on child development and development in later life.
Theoretical Basics of Shōnishin
I have based my training of Shonishin upon my nearly 30 years’ experience of working with children. My wife, Karin, initially trained as a physiotherapist and and went on to study shiatsu in Japan. In 1985, she and I founded an institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine just outside Frankfurt, Germany. Karin teaches baby and child shiatsu internationally and is a Founder of the German Shiatsu Society. She has written a number of books on the subject, including Children at Their Best and Baby Shiatsu.
Together, we have developed a model of energetic development that can serve as the theoretical foundation for Shōnishin. It is the basis for understanding child development in its energetic aspect, and ultimately for diagnostic and therapeutic processes that depends on the stages of development.
The model of energetic development is an attempt to bring the knowledge of modern neuroscience, developmental psychology and developmental physiology into harmony with the knowledge and experience of oriental medicine.
The model states that each energetic stage of motor and sensory development builds on the previous developmental stage. The meridians play a primary role in this and represent a communications network connecting the child with her external world. They are then also responsible for the child’s development of posture, movement, patterns of behavior and personality.
Knowing about the ways motor, sensory and energetic functioning are interwoven, opens up new perspectives on child development, resulting in specific treatment approaches. Ultimately, it is the knowledge of meridians in developmental stages forms the foundation for treatment of children of all ages with Shōnishin.
Shonishin Training with Thomas Wernicke in the UK:
3 day course as part of the 6 day Shonishin Training with Thomas Wernicke:
When: Saturday 30th May to Monday 1st June 2015
Cost: Early Bird booking by 31st March 2015 £235, full cost thereafter £260
For more information and to book your place (places limited to 12 people) contact:
Svenja Schaper, Shiatsu Practitioner, Dip. BSS, MRSS, PGCE
email@example.com mobile: 07842 563 298
Thomas Wernicke is a licensed General Practitioner with qualifications in complementary medicine, Chinese and Japanese acupuncture, as well as manual therapies including craniosacral therapy and osteopathy for adults, children and babies, psychosomatic therapy and homeopathy. He is a member of the Japanese Scientific Society for Shonishin, and since 2004, he has been the Training Manager for Daishi Hari Shonishin in Europe. Thomas is also Founding Member and President of the International Society for Traditional Japanese Medicine. He lives in Hochheim, Germany. He has written Shonishin: The Art of Non-Invasive Paediatric Acupuncture publishing by Singing Dragon.
Shōnishin is a non-invasive form of acupuncture developed specifically to respond to the needs of children. Instead of needles gentle stimulation all over the body is performed with a tool, which is rather like a nail, by different stroking techniques. In addition to the stroking techniques, different tapping techniques are used in certain areas and vibration techniques on acupuncture points.
In the past few years a steadily increasing interest in Shōnishin has become noticeable outside its home country of Japan, especially in Europe, Britain, and the United States.
So what makes Shōnishin so popular with therapists, parents and children? There are many reasons:
Another reason for the spreading of Shōnishin is that this treatment method can be used field-specifically. Depending on the therapist’s professional background, as a doctor, alternative practitioner, Shiatsu-practitioner, physiotherapist or midwife, the patient collective, and thereby the indications, are different.
By way of example, approximately 70-80% of all midwifes in Germany have an acupuncture education – and thereby are qualified to practice Shōnishin. For them, Shōnishin offers great opportunities to support newborn babies suffering from feeding difficulties, abdominal pain, developmental problems or even excessive crying. In the event of a needle phobia, Shōnishin is an alternative for pregnant women while preparing for birth or as a supporting treatment for women who have recently given birth and suffer from involutional problems or blocked milk ducts.
The area of application of Shōnishin for orthopedics is completely different from that of midwives. Their focus is mainly on children with problems related to posture and the musculoskeletal system. On the other hand pediatricians apply Shōnishin with infants suffering from problems of the digestive system, the respiratory system or developmental disorders, whereas allergies and neurodermatitis are in the foreground with older children.
General practitioners are finding the technique useful for children or adolescents with concentration problems in school, ADHD or enuresis.
Shiatsu practitioners often apply Shōnishin in combination with baby-shiatsu or children-shiatsu, in order to support them in their development. Physiotherapists can show better successes in the treatment of hemiparetic children, as the usually increased tonicity can be decreased by additional treatment with Shōnishin and thereby the children become more treatable.
For acupuncturists, especially for those who focus on treating children, a new field of action comes in appearance with Shōnishin, respectively an existing one can be widened. Furthermore, Shōnishin is an interesting supplement – or even an alternative for any therapist with acupuncture knowledge using manual methods.
Shōnishin is being used as an alternative to acupuncture in women’s shelters, mother-child facilities and nurseries. In this case women and children who are in difficult social or monetary situations, abandoned, without any obvious way out, are supported. These include traumatised women and children (for instance victims of rape), who are only able to permit touching due to the “interposed” Shōnishin instrument which means no dermal contact with the skin takes place.
Another field of application for Shōnishin will be in the treatment of the elderly. Particular parameters like skin conditions and mental conditions seem to show retrogression into childhood. First experiences with Shōnishin in residential care homes show promising treatment approaches. Even here it becomes obvious, that treatment with a Shōnishin instrument is advantageous: seniors often suffer from a shortage of physical contact. With Shōnishin the contact doesn’t take place directly, but indirectly with an instrument. For that reason seniors have no fear of contact and are willing to allow the treatment. Another advantage of treating elderly people with Shōnishin is that many of them have to take blood-thinning medicines. Due to the non-invasive and gentle treatment technique with Shōnishin, there is no contraindication.
Shōnishin is about to play an important role in the treatment of children. Shōnishin finds its application in doctor’s or acupuncturist’s surgeries, midwife work and increasingly in clinics. During the last years we can observe in the framework of congresses (TCM, acupuncture, pediatrics) an increasing demand for Shōnishin lectures and events. An increasing number of doctors and non-doctors (alternative practitioner, physiotherapists, midwives, Shiatsu-practitioners) are discovering this exceptionally gentle and effective type of treatment.
Thomas Wernicke is a licensed General Practitioner with qualifications in complementary medicine, Chinese and Japanese acupuncture. He has been the Training Manager for Daishi Hari Shōnishin in Europe since 2004. His new book: Shōnishin: The Art of Non-Invasive Paediatric Acupuncture is now available from Singing Dragon. This complete and user-friendly guide provides everything practitioners should know about Shōnishin and how this therapy can be used with different age ranges, especially young children.
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‘An important part of what we do is trying to put parents and baby in a different connection, where the parents are more aware about the needs of the baby – and also aware of their own needs.’
In this interview, author and Shiatsu practitioner Karin Kalbantner Wernicke recounts the travels through Japan that helped her to compile the techniques that form Baby Shiatsu, describing the very real benefits that these techniques can bring to parents and to babies from both Eastern and Western medical practice.
What is Baby Shiatsu and why is it so important for young children?
Baby Shiatsu is a special form of Shiatsu which really looks into the development of the baby from both a Western and Eastern viewpoint. It follows what we know about infant development from Western medicine, but we also use the Eastern viewpoint to look at how the meridians develop. When you use both approaches together, they give a more complete understanding of a child’s development, and of the interaction between parents and children.
It is also really important, in our opinion, that Baby Shiatsu supports the child at the stage they are at in the present, without any preconceived ideas of what the child should be doing either now or later on in life. When doing Baby Shiatsu, we are just thinking about what is necessary for the child now, and what a parent can do now to help their child take their next step in their own time.
Baby Shiatsu also offers so much support for the little daily problems – when babies are teething, when they can’t sleep, if they have gas. There are so many simple techniques from Shiatsu that parents can use to support their child.
How did you develop this approach?
That’s a long story! Many years ago I studied Shiatsu and I lived in Japan. While I was there, I was of course influenced by their approaches to health. After coming back to Germany I met my husband who had previously worked as a doctor in the Philippines. As he was also interested in Oriental Medicine we went together to Japan where he studied Shonishin (special acupuncture for children). I’m also a physical therapist, and my husband is a doctor, and we both specialise in working with children and babies.
When we were in Japan, we wanted to understand how all of these different therapies help children and babies – where they differ and what they have in common. So we travelled around Japan, we made a film, and we analysed what different therapists were doing and the impacts that these different techniques had. We also met families who used techniques passed from mother to mother to mother, through the generations. During this time, we discovered many techniques and views, and we put them together with what we already knew from theory and practice. You see, in Japan one thing that we saw was that sometimes, even though the techniques worked wonderfully well, the therapists themselves couldn’t explain why they worked. We, with our education in oriental medicine, modern physiotherapy and western development could really see how these varied approaches support one another, and how they work together. This is what Baby Shiatsu is based on, but it is growing year by year. New studies and observations continue to bring out new ideas and techniques, and we take this all in, as well as feedback that we get from parents and colleagues.
What are the changes that you see when you work with children?
You can see many changes – for example, when you do Baby Shiatsu in the hand and arm with a baby, suddenly the baby can develop a real consciousness of their hand – you see them realise ‘this is my hand!’
But what is really important for us is to teach parents to see what their baby or young child needs – when it’s time for a break, when it’s time to cuddle, when it’s just time to do nothing. When this baby becomes conscious of their hand, he or she needs time to lay there, to look at their hand, to touch their hand, whereas most of the time the parent just wants to go on. It’s difficult to understand when to slow down. Nowadays, parents want so much for their baby. An important part of what we do is trying to put parents and baby in a different connection, where the parents are more aware about the needs of the baby – and also aware of their own needs.
In your book you show that Baby Shiatsu can also be used to help parents support themselves – can you tell us about that?
There is a Japanese saying: ‘If you want to strengthen the baby, strengthen first the mother or father.’ When we are doing mother-baby shiatsu classes it’s very important to always work on the same developmental theme, or Qi flow, with both baby and mother. Nowadays, more and more fathers and mothers are coming together to sessions with baby and that’s great – it really supports the whole family and many of these techniques get great feedback from the parents. Parents can even use the techniques that we teach them on each other if they have any problems.
Baby Shiatsu is so simple to use, and because we don’t use oil and the baby remains clothed you can do it everywhere – if you have a few minutes to spare you can do it with the hands, or with the feet. It’s really very practical.
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