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Originally from Toronto ON Canada, Grace Visconti is a graphic designer (print and web), published magazine writer, and shiatsu therapist. Her company Eagleheartdynamic has focused on creative solutions for independent and small business owners since moving to Calgary, AB. Her career has taken many unexpected twists and turns.

One of the greatest challenges is to reinvent oneself on a consistent basis. When life throws you a curve you have to move with the curve or resist it. That has been her theme and challenge as a graphic designer, personally and professionally. She chose to "go with the flow," which is not always an easy task. There is a difference between walking the path as a designer and implementing design. It is a matter of depth and introspection, of walking the talk not talking the walk. So rather than supply a brief list of accomplishments, sharing a theme that reveals her role is preferred.

When you take design beyond its usual boundaries and into the realm of animating consciousness, this is what design and its effects is about. Perception is a kaleidoscope, a sharing of consciousness. We have, as graphic designers, the power to shape the direction of individual and global consciousness, thereby making the world a better place to live.

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Computer Terminal Stress and Shiatsu — An Introduction
By Grace C. Visconti
Fifteen years ago, when I was a graphic designer working for Harbourfront Corporation in Toronto, ON Canada, the seed was planted for adding another profession to my repertoire, that of shiatsu practitioner. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, computers were just emerging on the design scene as the next apparatus for delivering graphic design solutions. There was only one Mac SE 30 and seven full-time designers and production personnel. Since the demand for that little SE 30 was high, to avoid undesirable behavior, we had to sign a schedule to book time on the machine. Of course, as all designers know, time isn’t an issue when you love what you do and when you are engrossed in a project. Often, a designer went over the time limit, leaving the next designer waiting in line cursing over his or her shoulders. The only way we could convince the designer sitting in front of the computer to leave was to bribe the person with shoulder and neck massages. This is when I was told, “Grace, you are in the wrong profession!” They got off promptly as I would find the knots in their neck and shoulders, dig in gradually and press until they had no desire to design anymore. That’s when the “ah” experience set in, making them forget what it was they were doing at the computer in the first place! I gained a reputation as the only person in the studio who could get rid of a headache in ten minutes flat. Even my boss was convinced that I could “get rid of a headache anywhere.” For some reason, my co-workers’ comments made a lasting impression.

The design and production landscape has changed since then. What used to be a novelty is now a necessity, as computers have cut the labor for the designer and production staff in half. Now there are ample computers, but there is something more hidden that is prevalent and debilitating: computer terminal stress. There are a lot of designers who experience computer terminal stress that includes: viewing the screen for long hours resulting in eye strain; neck and shoulder tension; mid and lower back stiffness; improper circulation as a result of sitting for long hours; Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI); and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). Poor eating habits and not taking enough breaks can also be included as a negative effect of computer terminal stress.

In the early 1990’s after I left Harbourfront Corporation, I continued to freelance. One day near my home, I saw a sign on Danforth Avenue which advertised “Shiatsu Academy of Tokyo, Basic Shiatsu Course.” I was intrigued by all of the dots that were placed on the human body in the poster and wondered what they meant. Curious, I walked in and picked up a flyer. A week later, I put my last $250 down as a deposit for the year long, three nights a week course, not knowing how I was going to come up with the rest of the money. I made a commitment to this course and my gut feeling was that somehow, this was the right path to take. Surprisingly, after I committed to the shiatsu course, I got a contract job at City Hall that allowed me to pay for the course. The rest is history.

Years following, in collaboration with my shiatsu teacher Kensen Saito, I was able to use my skills as a graphic designer and writer to bring awareness to the public and in the process educated them on the benefits of shiatsu. This assisted in instigating a movement to get shiatsu regulated, where legitimate shiatsu practitioners were granted the Holistic Practitioner’s License, thereby eradicating an archaic by-law that placed legitimate practitioners under the Body Rub Parlour jurisdiction. Good design and thought provoking writing helped to change a by-law at the Municipal level. The discovery that a graphic designer could move beyond the swatch books, fancy effects of computer software programs and inadvertently spearhead a campaign to change a by-law at the Municipal level, was liberating. The movement then was timely, as shiatsu is one of six manual therapies being approved by the World Health Organization in the near future.

Becoming a shiatsu practitioner taught me two valuable lessons. Firstly, as a designer, I learned how to go beyond the “status quo” and redefine what it is to be a designer with a social conscience. By implementing design and writing, a worthy cause was animated; it created change for the shiatsu profession at the community level. Seeing how this worked in action allowed me to step back and view my graphic design skills in a different light. Secondly, I could serve my co-workers and fellow designers as a shiatsu practitioner to help them deal with computer terminal stress, a condition that is not going away anytime soon.

As designers, the importance of maintaining a balanced life can’t be emphasized enough. Computer terminal stress is no laughing matter since it can bring a career to a gradual and then an abrupt stop over time through its crippling effects. Since the beginning of time, stress has been imposed upon the human race and its effects have been felt in various degrees on the physical, mental and emotional levels. Stress will always be with us, so it is how we choose to manage stress in our lives that is the key to preventing chronic conditions and health crises before they arise. Kensen Saito, my teacher who is also the Director and owner of the Shiatsu Academy of Tokyo in Toronto ON, studied in Japan with the founder of shiatsu, Tokujiro Namikoshi. Saito explains, “I am seeing a rise in stress levels among people. Physical and mental discomfort is a stress related problem. Humans have always faced stress where it has affected human physiology. Stress has been the cause of many conditions throughout history. It is the cause of human aches, pains and discomfort.” Counter to drug therapy, shiatsu is a preventive measure, allowing the body to heal itself, restoring homeostasis physically, mentally and emotionally. Saito continues, “Regular shiatsu treatments make the clients know more, as the body innately senses how to bring it into balance. In other words, the body has its own inner intelligence when shiatsu is applied on a regular basis. The maintenance of the life force becomes more direct. The sense and direction of what to do for the body becomes apparent. The knowledge of well being is communicated to the client through the intelligence of his or her own body.”

Shiatsu’s inventor Tokujiro Namikoshi, born and raised in Japan, developed shiatsu in the early 1900’s at an early age. The “shi” of shiatsu means “thumb and finger” and the “atsu” refers to “pressure” in Japanese. Shiatsu is a gentle, soothing pressure applied to specific anatomical points on the body using the thumbs, fingers and palms. There are 700 pressure points in the body. The purpose of shiatsu is to stimulate the body’s natural powers of recuperation by: relaxing the nervous system; improving the circulatory system; and correcting the structural imbalance of the body. Shiatsu is administered to a client lying on a soft mat on the floor, special therapy table or chair. Loose-fitting clothing is worn during the treatment such as shorts, a t-shirt, or light track pants. Pressure is applied to the whole body as a basic treatment and if there is a pathological condition, the practitioner focuses on that area after the basic treatment. Shiatsu alleviates migraine headaches, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), menopause, premenstrual discomfort, depression, stress and numerous other conditions.

In order to maintain a healthy body overall, consistency in using preventive measures should be applied both internally and externally. From an internal standpoint, by implementing proper eating habits and cleansing, the body can flush the toxins out and keep the levels from getting too high. In addition, regular exercise optimizes healthy living by including it into one’s daily regiment. There is no question that the body is meant to move. Movement encourages the flow of endorphins that promotes natural healing. Both exercise and the application of shiatsu create this result. Shiatsu complements other preventive measures and assists in harmonizing internal bodily functions, thereby returning the body to a state of homeostasis.

Structural imbalance is one of the causes of stress today. For example, people sitting at a desk for eight to ten hours don’t use their lower limbs, causing tension in this area. Over a long period of time, sitting in one position using the arms only on a daily basis precipitates an energetic imbalance in the body where some muscles move but not others. Consequently, this causes an imbalance in the whole body.

“When you overuse one part of your body mechanically compared to another,” explains Saito “then the body is thrown off mechanically. A mechanical imbalance leads to an energy imbalance that causes stress on other levels. This causes emotional and energetic stress. The circulation is going from the brain to the right hand all of the time which then causes an imbalance in the circulatory and nervous systems.” Shiatsu positively affects the autonomic nervous system by creating a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions. Consequently, this relieves stress on an emotional level. Some positive results of shiatsu leading to equilibrium in the body are: improved function of the endocrine system; deep, sound sleeping patterns; better posture; a reduction in blood pressure; improved circulation; and easier breathing.

“Lack of exhaling deeply causes blood pressure to go up,” says Saito “and as practitioners, we always try a counter approach when doing shiatsu so that blood pressure doesn’t go up because of shallow breathing. Longer, deeper breaths stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system whereas short breaths make the sympathetic nervous system hyper.”

Saito suggests that people are mentally and physically defeated when they cannot handle stress. Negative energy must be transformed into positive energy so that the liver function is healthy and detoxifies properly. When you don’t handle stress well, the liver doesn’t assist in digesting with a proper balance of enzymes. One must be ready to handle stress at all times in a good way. As a drugless therapy, shiatsu allows one to let stress go more readily so that there is not a build up that causes detrimental responses in the body.

“We cannot avoid stress,” concludes Saito. “We respond to stress all the time, whether we can cope with it or not. How we deal with stress is the key. When we have good health, we can handle the stress but if we are not healthy, then we are overloaded and the stress suppresses our physical and mental states. There must be a readiness always to handle stress. It is part of the human physiology. Basically, the human body is adaptive. It can adapt to stress levels but it needs some help if the stress levels become overwhelming. This is where shiatsu can help.”

For designers, applying healthy habits to cope with the pressure and stress in the workplace should be emphasized more and supported. Healthy, happy employees lead to a more proficient design and production team where the public is better served. Balance is the key; it’s the first line of defense in protecting the immune system and making it work properly. As designers, let’s remember to take care of ourselves like we do our clients.

© Grace C. Visconti, March 2005

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